Do you remember how excited you were at the beginning of your career? You couldn’t wait to get into your field, make your mark, and have everyone speaking your name in awe. Somewhere along the way, though, something happened. And now you struggle to regain that fierce optimism. Catherine Gates, Executive Director for Women in the Marketplace, guides us through the idea that our lack of inner strength and resilience stems from allowing insecurity to win, and how we can rally against that insecurity to win back our drive.
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In your opinion, as a leader of an organization, what has been the biggest enemy to inner strength in your employees, especially women?
The biggest enemy to inner strength for the women I work with, and even myself, is insecurity—putting too much stock in what other people think. Insecurity can show up in so many ways, but it is often the unfortunate result of experiencing years of microaggressions. On top of that, women are often asked to take the notes and make sure there’s coffee and water, while men are rarely, if ever, asked to take on those tasks. Even if women aren’t told directly that their time is not as valuable, the way they are treated can communicate more loudly than if it was said with words.
The crazy part is so many of these women are extremely intelligent, highly skilled, and excellent at what they do. It would be easy to assume they have the confidence that anyone with their talent and dedication should have. But the fact is, too many women give in to doubting themselves, spending precious brain space and energy worrying about what others think. They would benefit greatly from simply having their leaders communicate the value they see in them. That would go a long way.
Why do we struggle with resiliency and feeling confident about ourselves?
Women don’t always start out struggling with confidence. Those who have high aspirations for their careers often start out with as much ambition and confidence in themselves as any man. It is often the experiences women have once they enter the workforce that contribute to their struggle with resilience and confidence. For example, women are often perceived as less competent than men are until they prove otherwise. Men, on the other hand, are assumed to be competent until their results show the contrary. There is also still substantial inequity with respect to pay. On average, women make 20% less than men with the same qualifications and skill level. As a result, women have come to believe they are 20% less valuable than men.
To make matters worse, women struggle with finding role models, mentors, and sponsors who can support them in their growth and advancement. Men in management and executive positions are more likely to sponsor and mentor men. It’s hard to emulate what you don’t see and challenging for anyone to advance without support. Women who are determined to climb the corporate ladder have a tendency to think they need to be more like the men they see in order to be successful. This can work in the short-term but will ultimately take a toll over time as women try to suppress their authentic voice and leadership style. We have no idea just how stressful it is to put so much effort into being something you’re not, not to mention the damage to your self-esteem if you believe who you are is simply not ever going to be good enough.
What are ways you personally build up your inner strength and bolster your resilience?
Personally, I find it very helpful to recognize the unhealthy patterns for what they are. My struggles with insecurity are not who I am but rather are the result of working in dysfunctional cultures in which I was not valued for the skills I bring to the table. I’ve recognized that my worth and value don’t come from what I do or from what people think about me. We live in a broken world and we are not always going to be treated fairly.
I need to take an honest inventory of what I have accomplished and how I have contributed to the companies for which I’ve worked. Each of us has been blessed with skills and talents. While I always have the opportunity to improve, and I want to be aware of where I need to grow as well, I know I have also made important contributions, whether anyone acknowledged them or not. Particularly because I have a strong work ethic.
Here’s the good news: God is the One who has the ultimate say about my value and worth—and yours—not man. When I can truly walk in my identity in Christ and stay connected to the Lord all day every day, He gives me the wisdom, the strength and the favor I need to accomplish the purposes for which He created me. And He will do the same for you.
Here are my daily practices and ways you can build up strength and resilience:
- Make your relationship with God your first priority. Read God’s Word, pray and listen to God’s still small voice, not just at the beginning of the day, but throughout the day, at work and outside of work. I love the way one woman in my small group put it, “After my quiet time, I don’t hang up on God!” Since God is our source of strength and wisdom, staying connected—or tethered as another woman put it—means you are connected to the power source so you have access to everything you need for each day.
- Get to know who you are in Christ. Identify the lies you have bought into about who you are and replace them with what God says about you.You are a new creation in Christ. The old has passed and the new is here (2 Corinthians 5:17). You are God’s masterpiece, created in Christ to do good works which He prepared in advance for you to do (Ephesians 2:10). You are more than a conqueror through Him who loves you (Romans 8:37).
- Thank God for your successes daily. Whether success means you made it through the day without getting upset, or you achieved an important goal, giving thanks to God for every good thing that happened keeps your heart in a posture of humility and gratitude (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). The power in this is you’ll be more committed to seeking God tomorrow, as opposed to falling back on doing it all yourself. We are dependent on God, not designed to be self-sufficient.
- Step out of the boat. Staying connected to God helps you remain sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. As you listen, God may be calling you to take a risk, reach out to someone, or do something that might not make sense in that moment. The more connected you are to the Lord throughout the day, the more courage you will have to take those steps of obedience. Taking risks and watching God go to work will help you build your confidence and resilience based on the One who is able to do more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
If you could say one thing to a woman who is struggling to find the inner strength to be resilient right now, what would it be?
Find a community of like-minded women. We were all designed for community (Hebrews 10:24-25). Too many of us have become isolated and are lacking the supportive, encouraging community our souls desperately need. I’m talking about a small group of three to six women who also want to honor God with their work and all of life. An important part of honoring God is stewarding the gifts and talents He has given you well so you can accomplish the purposes for which God created you.
Small groups take time, but when it is done well, the time invested in relationships will pay dividends. The Bible tells us, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). When we come together with other women who are also committed to their growth and for a purpose, the conversations you engage in will be life-giving and help you support each other in facing challenges and achieving goals with grace.
Catherine Gates is Executive Director for Women in the Marketplace, a national nonprofit that equips working women to confidently pursue their faith and career for the glory of God. She is also the author of The Confidence Cornerstone: A Woman’s Guide to Fearless Leadership. Catherine has supported others in integrating their faith and work since 2012 as a speaker, facilitator, writer and mentor. She has contributed to several workplace Bible studies and over a dozen YouVersion reading plans. She is on the board of Ladies of Grace, a women’s prison ministry, and on the executive advisory council of the Women’s Empowerment Center. Originally from Long Island, NY, Catherine lives in Northwest Arkansas with her husband Thomas and has one adult son. Her mission is to equip Christian women to reach more of their God-given potential.