J: You're listening to the Vibrant Happy Women podcast, episode number 131. We're talking today about how to boost your self-confidence. Stay tuned.
Intro: Welcome to the Vibrant Happy Women podcast, stories of vibrant women living happy lives. And now, your host, Jen Riday.
J: My guest today is Claire Shipman and she's a journalist, author, and public speaker. Before turning to writing, Claire spent 14 years as a regular contributor to Good Morning America and other national broadcasts for ABC News. Prior to that, she served as the White House correspondent for NBC News. She also worked for CNN for a decade, covering the White House and was posted in Moscow for 5 years. She studied Russian at Columbia College and earned a master's degree from the School of International Affairs there. She's now a member of Columbia's Board of Trustees and lives in Washington DC with her husband, son, daughter, and a pack of dogs. Claire, welcome to the show.
C: Thank you so much, Jen, thrilled to be here.
J: What is a pack of dogs and by your definition?
C: My definition is 3 dogs because 2 was just kind of a nice pair, pretty calm, I feel like 3 turns it into just chaos.
J: (Laughs). Yeah, it is a pack then.
J: That's funny. Well, to start off the show today with a favorite quote from you that might lead us into our topic or any quote really.
C: You know, one of my favorite quotes is actually a quote my daughter pointed out to me 4 or 5 years ago and it's a Gandhi quote which is, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” And it just reminds me… I mean, I don’t… it just reminds me about everything I want to do all the way down to just my daily life in parenting which is, you know, is so important to just act the way I want my children to act, right?
C: Act toward them the way I would like to see them acting towards either me or the people. And, you know, role modeling is so important, but it's just… I think it's so easy to sit back and dream and think about all of the ways we should be and to judge other people for the way they are, but the hard stuff is just one step at a time, you know, representing what you want.
J: Mm-hmm. Well, so I know we're going to dive in and talk about building confidence for girls and that's all based on your book, ‘The Confidence Code’, tell us the story of where you decided, “Hey, we need this change in the world,” and how you've got to the point of taking such amazing action on that topic.
C: Well, I worked as a journalist for a long time as you heard in my bio, and one of the things I struggled with quite a bit 10 years ago really was balancing motherhood and work. And as we know, for those of us who have children, motherhood really does change you.
C: But I will also say it's broader than that, but I think what I've come to realize after an enormous amount of research about women and work and I wrote a couple of other books about that, is that women often want different things out of our lives than men might and we value different things in the workplace. So often, it's, you know, whether you have children or not, we're often making different calculations about what's valuable and how do we want to spend our time and what's worth it, and kids can exacerbate that. So my friend and I wrote a book called ‘Womenomics’ initially, which was about women and work, our approach to work, what would make things better, working more flexibly, all the great data that shows what women bring to the bottom line of companies; it was really exciting. But we noticed this trend where we would talk to women who were unbelievably successful or… and, to us, looked unbelievably confident and they would say things to us like, “Well, I don't think I'm ready for this promotion. My boss wants me to do this, I don't know if I can do it.” And it's just like, you know, they were awash in doubt which was really surprising to us. I mean, of course because we always felt like we're awash in doubt, but we didn't know anyone else who was (Laughs). So we started doing research about confidence and we came to realize that, in fact, especially in the workplace, there's a pretty big gap in confidence between men and women. And in the course of reporting that out and looking at the science and origins of confidence and what makes it, what we realized is, is that this confidence gap between men women actually seems to start at puberty for girls.
J: Oh, okay.
C: And that really intrigued us, but we didn't, you know, when our… we wrote this adult book for women called ‘The Confidence Code’ and then when we were thinking about what do we want to do next, we just thought, “Gosh, what if we could do something that gets people focused on this at an age when it's easier to make a change?”
C: So that's what this book is about.
J: And tell us the full title of the second book.
C: So this book is called ‘Confidence Code’, of course it's not that original because it's a, you know, ‘The Confidence Code For Girls’, but the subtitle is ‘Taking Risks, Messing Up, and Becoming Your Amazingly Imperfect, Totally Powerful Self’.
J: Oh yeah, I love this. (Laughs)
C: And, you know, that is everything… that's basically, right there is the recipe for confidence which is, you know, taking risks, failing, getting over it, you know, that's how you build confidence. You know, and being yourself; you're really never going to be fully confident less you feel you're able to embrace authenticity.
J: So how do you present this to girls? Are… are they being given this book by their mothers? Are there workshops? I mean, I would be so curious to see how girls receive this, you know, especially in a group.
C: Well, yes, me too. So we wrote the book, the book is targeted at 8 to 12 year old girls, but I actually think it probably goes all the way through high school.
C: It's heavily Illustrated, it's got a lot of graphic novel panels, and it's full of scenarios and quizzes and lists and, you know, so it… because the idea of a self-help book basically for 8… the 8 to 12 year old set was just like, “What?” That's just… other than puberty books, right, like there's just nothing particularly that says girls are dying for this kind of nonfiction book. And so we really tried to make it kind of with an enormous number of stories from real girls, written in a way that was just kind of interactive; as interactive as we could make it.
C: But I think that the real value will come. We just did an event here in Washington at a local school and they had given the book to sort of 4th through 8th grade, and we tried some really interactive exercises on this subject and just getting girls to name what feels risky to them.
C: And that's different for everybody. To help each other through proposed failure scenarios, you know, like, “You don't make the play and then what are you going to do?” and, you know, give them some tools, but then get them involved in helping each other out, and it was… it was just fabulous; I was so excited. So I agree with you, I mean, my real hope is that like counselors might adopt it, and when they're meeting with girls and groups in schools, we've been talking to the Girl Scouts about different ways to use it. So I think having it be a tool would be my goal, but I certainly think like parents giving it to their daughters will be effective. I don't know how many girls are going to rush up to it in a bookstore and jump up and down and say, “Buy me this book.”
J: Right, right. Well, it's such a great title. It seems like the perfect book when a girl does, you know, become an adolescent, even though you said it's geared for 8 to 12, anywhere in that range where you sense they're starting to feel more like an adolescent, you know, ‘Taking Risks, Messing Up, and Becoming Your Amazingly Imperfect, Totally Powerful Self’, is that right?
Okay, so when you had this opportunity to share it in the schools, what kind of answers were you hearing from the girls about, “What feels risky to you?” or getting through failures? I'd be so curious.
C: I mean, it was really interesting. We had everything from getting a B was risky.
C: “Talking to my parents, talking to… asking a teacher for help.”
C: “Jumping off a cliff.”
C: Yeah, so there were some physical things like swimming really deep in the ocean. But a lot of them had to do with school, right, really, bad grades were very common, telling a friend something hard, talking to someone you don't know, trying out for a sport.
C:So in a way, what you would expect, but I was really struck by, you know, the level of anxiety around school and grades especially.
J: And what would be the main difference that you start to see in that age between boys and girls in terms of risk-taking and failure?
C: Yeah, that's a great question and so important. And I think I'm going to take one step back and say, you know, we spent years literally researching what confidence is and how you make it.
J: Ah, yeah.
C: And I'm going to give you the shortest possible definition, this is the shortcut which is, first, “Confidence is what turns our thoughts into action.” So it's really important to understand that confidence is about action, it's not just…
C: “I feel like a good person.”
C: Right? That's self-esteem. So confidence is like this grease that propels us to act, and I think what we found in general with women is that they often were great at thinking (and we think a lot), but we often hesitate before we act, right?
C: And part of that is because we don't… you know, things seem riskier to us.
C: You know, the same task, the same challenge, the same, “Put your hand up for this job, say you're going to go do X, “you know, whatever it is can feel a lot riskier to us than it might our male colleague. And so we'll often want to perfect it first or we often think we're not ready, right? So we're sort of constantly judging ourselves too harshly. And that is something that we have, in a way, its… it's of course its nature and nurture, but it's a little bit more nature than we thought, right? So we looked at the brain, we saw that there's some things that go on in our brain and different ways we use our brain that help our brain kind of operate it in a more cautious way.
C: We're kind of better at seeing… you know, looking out at the future, you know, better at… you know, we all know this multitasking, all of this kind of stuff, we can keep more things in our mind, but a lot of that means that we're kind of aware of the consequences of everything; much more so than boys or men. So this kind of thinking, these thinking patterns often kick in at puberty. Testosterone, which boys get the big boost of it puberty, is actually encourages risk-taking.
C: So there's been incredibly interesting studies that have been done on men who sort of higher levels of testosterone mean riskier stock trades, and it's really well documented of pretty fascinating. We really don't have those levels of testosterone.
C: We have estrogen instead. Yeah, I mean, estrogen’s awesome in terms of bonding, higher EQ, being more conciliatory, you know, sort of pulling people together, like actually incredibly useful skills and incredibly useful in the workplace, but not always fully valued yet.
C: But so what all that can mean is that, here's the other trick. So if confidence is about action, how do you create it? Well, the way you create it is, it's like a virtuous circle by taking action. So the process of taking a risk, trying, struggling, maybe failing, and then working through it, that's what builds more confidence. So if you want to stockpile confidence, you have to get that chain reaction moving. And it's not moving as much for girls as it is for boys because boys… like, girls just start on this trajectory pretty young and then it goes into overdrive at puberty to be perfect, right?
C: We're kind of risk-averse, we're cautious, and we want to get everything right all the time, and… and teachers and parents encourage that.
C: Boys kind of mess up more naturally and they learn that it's okay to mess up, it's okay to take chances; like, the sky didn't fall on my head, it it's going to be okay. And so this was our aha moment and understanding that like nobody's intentionally telling girls, “You can't achieve this,” right? It's almost this culture of perfection and over-achievement that's keeping girls from learning that it's okay to fail.
C: And that's what you need for the real world, like it doesn't… you know, perfection is not really valued in the real world, right?
C: It's just like, you know, no boss is going to say, “Oh, like let me pat you on the head. Look, you've done this assignment perfectly, now you get the big job,” that's not how it works.
J: Right, right. Well, so there's so many ways you could attack this quote-unquote ‘problem’, maybe helping girls increase testosterone with… you know, have you heard of Amy Cuddy with the power posing?
J: I think that slightly raises testosterone, but I mean, what would you say would be…
J: … the best approach to increasing that confidence for girls?
C: You know, well, it is funny because we said this jokingly in our adult book. Like, even though testosterone boosts risk taking, we're not saying, “Oh, girls and women should go slap on testosterone patches.”
C: You know, sort of do that. Because, in fact, they've done some interesting studies and they, with women wearing testosterone patches, have found that, you know, then they work less well together and they… you know, there are a lot of disadvantages that come with that.
J: Oh, okay.
C: And we… we don't really need those disadvantages, right? I mean, actually, they're kind of the same disadvantages you see in men all the time, right?
C: But we don't need to, you know, have those. So what we think is the best thing to do is just to help girls understand at a young enough age when it's easier to make this change that failure’s okay; you know, that it's all right to try, that there's a lot of value in trying something, having it not work out, and learning from it. Because, you know, one of the best test cases of this that we've seen is in competitive sports. And there's a lot of really interesting data that shows that, the longer a girl plays on a team or in competitive sports of any kind, right, through high school and college, the higher level she reaches and the more money she make in the work world.
C: It kind of directly affects their leadership abilities. And it's not because you have to be an athlete to achieve, it's because, for now, athletics is one of the easiest forums in which girls can fail and lose regularly and they put up with it.
C: Because, again, like I said, boys will do this constantly on their own, right? I mean, I just look at my son, like he happily messes up constantly.
C: You know, no matter what I tell him, it’s just like…
J: (Laughs). Yes.
C: … “Oh, yeah, did you send an email to the teacher?”
“Yes. Oh, no, turns out I didn’t.””
C: You know, and I would be quaking inside and he's just like, “Whatever, I'll do it tomorrow.”
C: And it's just been that sort of a more natural attitude and it… you know? So I think encouraging that in girls in all… you know, not just in athletics, in other opportunities, the more parents can do that and the more girls can understand it's… it's okay to embrace some risk, then I think we kind of, you know, just move the needle a little bit so that our confidence is more in line with our capabilities.
J: Mm-hmm. You have a daughter and so how have you tried to apply this with your own daughter, if that's not too personal?
C: No, it's not at all. You know, of course because I wrote a book on this, that naturally means she wants nothing to do with it…
J: (Laughs). Yes.
C: … and thinks almost everything I talk about is stupid, especially since she just turned 13.
C: But it's really helped me not over parent her and not be a helicopter parent because I was… I'm pretty obsessive, I'm a… you know, still a recovering perfectionist, and I think I see now that her… she spent a lot of years as a tomboy, wanting to wear different kind of clothes, not wash her hair, not… and I finally able to realize, “Yeah, why not?”
C: “Okay, go ahead.” And she's going to learn some great stuff from being willing to be different.
C: I've encouraged her to do things she's not good at; which is not easy. It's not… none of this is easy with the teenage girl. I mean, but I… I've really tried to also just… I mean, my son actually got mad at me the other day because he… I was telling my daughter, I was like, “Really, it's okay, I don't… you're in middle school; really, grades do not matter, just stop, you've done enough homework.
C: And said to me, he said, “You never told me that in middle.”
C: “You told me the opposite.”
C: I was like, “Well, that’s because you weren’t working.”
J: Yeah. (Laughs)
C: “She’s overworking.”
J: Right, right. Oh, that's so funny. Well, and that's got to be hard and as you said that, allowed her to, you know, be different, I think our natural tendency, even my mine, and as you said it, I wasn't aware I had this, but I have 3 boys first than 3 girls, but I do…
J: I want to protect my girls from having their feelings hurt because I know, with their higher EQ, it's just so tender and sensitive and the boys just shake it off, you know?
J: So I don't want to let her fail, at least socially, I want to be protective, but wow, that's great.
C: It is hard… I mean, it's very hard to endure, right? It's hard to endure our kids’ psychic stress.
C: And I think that is one thing I've had to get good at it's just to sit with it, listen, and then kind of convey somehow that, “Hey, you're going to work through it,” you know? And that's what I tell… like some of the most powerful ways you can parent on this stuff is… which is hard for me because my memory is about, but to try to remember. So if you ever in a scenario here sort of… my daughter didn't make one soccer team years ago that… and she was really sad, and finally, you actually went and tried out for a different one (unclear) [17:46]… “… a year late, look what's happened. You were so upset, you took a risk, and now, look where you are,” right? So it's whenever you can connect the dots like that…
C: … and tell them a sort of a complete story, that's really valuable.
J: So have you seen examples or research of… I guess it would be really hard to have research, but… (Laughs)
J: … it would be really interesting if we could analyze somehow parents who are better at doing this, encouraging the failure, and the long-term outcomes when these girls are applying for jobs. Any ideas about that?
C: You're right, there's really not data about parenting, and it would be great to have. The best… again, the best data that I've seen that's really measured and been vetted is the data about girls and sports.
C: And the people who've done all that feel very confident that a lot of it just really has to do with exposure to loss, right?
C: And therefore building of resilience and confidence. I think that, you know, anecdotally, you do hear a lot that girls who have fathers who have really put them in positions where they're, “You know, just go out there and do it, fail, whatever, it doesn't matter,” which is a more of a male attitude generally and the fathers have kind of, you know, what mentored their daughters in a way even through school or professionally, that that pays off. Like, I heard a story one time from the woman who was the founder of Spanx talking about that her father really was the driver of this what… this family ethos about failing. And every day at the dinner table, he'd say, “Okay, how did you fail today?”
J: (Gasps) Ooh!
C: And… right?
C: I love that. And, you know, one thing, we did a poll when we released the book and one of the interesting findings, I mean, A, we found that girls confidence really does start to drop much more precipitously than boys at around age 8.
C: But that often, fathers are better at recognizing a lack of confidence in their daughters than mothers are. And so I think understanding that dads really may have something unique…
C: … to offer girls is important, right?
C: That that… what we as wives or mothers or whatever may… ex-wives, whoever we are may feel frustrated by and think, “Ugh, why isn't he paying attention to her feelings? And he's just… you know, why isn't he..? Why is he telling her to go do this?” and, in fact…
C: … that maybe the best recipe.
J: Oh my gosh, you just gave me a total like breakthrough; sorry, I get excited about these things. But I do that I thing.
C: Oh, good.
J: My husband (Laughs)… my husband will kind of call my daughter out and I'll be protective, and maybe I should let her totally experience that so she knows she can; I don't know, because society has really come to this place of probably over coddling children.
C: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
J: I would imagine most of us would agree on that, but wow.
J: “How did you get through a hard…
J: … relationship experience today?” To teach my daughter that, that would be great.
C: So hard.
J: “How did you endure your brother's teasing today?” Oh my goodness.
C: Yes, exactly. Her brain’s… that's exhausting, right? So we try in the book to put a name to it and explain it so they can recognize, “Oh!” And we have this section where we call it, you know, “Are you being a mind reader? Are you set in stone? Are you a catastrophic thinker?” right? catastrophic thinkers just what it is, right? What you think it is just, “Oh my gosh, you know, so-and-so didn't call me, and now that means nobody's going to like me and I'll never get invited to the prom and I won't graduate from high school and then I won't…”
C: You know, that… you know, mind reader is where you're sure, you know, what everyone else is thinking usually about you, right?
C: “I know they're thinking this about me and that and they're spending all their time and…” you know? And the kind of set in stone is the, “I might as well give up because, you know, like, one bad math grade, I'm just never going to go to college,” right, that the… “and there's nothing I can do about it.” And I think it's important to try to recognize those patterns and then help climb out of them to some extent. And it's really, we give them some tools for doing that which really have to do with the best tool is just coming up with a different explanation for any of these things you're ruminating about. You know, and then when you're thinking about, you know, some embarrassing thing that happened in class, even taking 10 seconds to think, “Maybe people really weren't paying attention,” right? Just forcing yourself to have that one thought can stop this cognitive tornado that's going on; and so it's really powerful. You know, and then there's a lot of other ways you can deal with it by, you know, taking 10 minutes to read a book, which kind of lights up a different part of your brain so you're able to calm the…
J: Mm, to stop the rumination.
C: … amygdala down.
C: Uh-huh, exactly. So I think it's important to know that it's… you know, knowing what's happening inside of us is really important.
J: Hmm. So what do you think explains just generally speaking, maybe even across both genders, why are some kids just more confident than others? I mean, I know it's a mix of nature and nurture, but…
C: No, no, and we were surprised when we did the research for the women's book to find that confidence is partly genetic.
C: So there really are some genes… and it's not gender specific by the way. We thought, “Oh, yeah, men just have some confidence gene and that's what it is,” no, not really. There are 3 or 4 genes that they know of right now, and this research is only just beginning, but that if you have a certain variant, you're more likely to have kind of easy access to confidence, right?
C: So a lot of it has to do with this combination of your genes and then how you're raised.
C: Right? And they studied this extensively in monkeys so it's actually really fascinating, because what they found is that, conversely, you can take a child with incredibly sensitive genes (and the sensitive genes are the ones that might be more likely to cause anxiety, right?), but if that kid is raised in a way by a mother who's really kind of paying attention and on it (and I'm talking about monkeys now; it transfers, the scientists think), that baby monkey is more likely to thrive than even the monkeys who were born with the more resilient genes.
J: Oh, good.
C: So it’s interesting, right? Like, if that baby monkey hits a bad patch, right, and his mom dies and everything's awful, he's going to be more likely to be anxious, right…
C: … because he's just gotten… you know? So it is this interesting mix of nature, nurture, but I think that it… you know, it's understanding that, you know, you've got to acclimate your kids to this experiential learning, right, of the risk-taking and the failure. And I have seen it in my own daughter, I mean, she's pretty sensitive. Like, Caddy and I tested her genes, we found out we have horribly unconfident genes…
C: … which I would have guessed, right? Like, I'm more prone to anxiety and… so my kids are too, probably, and my daughter is really sensitive. But I have seen over the last couple years that just with exposure to trying things, taking risks, being very deliberate about it because she doesn't embrace it, right, it's just slow, but that she's learning, she's more willing to do stuff. It's… you know, it's not like… it doesn't come as easily as it does for my son, but I think you can… you know, you can get there.
J: Yeah. I like how you said exposure, taking risks, being deliberate. So we really need to… I was just seeing an article the other day how parents are way more likely to tell girls, “Oh, you can't travel alone, you can't walk alone,” and I'm sure those statements over and over and over compound to make them not want to take risks or expose themselves to new things, so just being aware, I suppose.
C: I know it is hard to… I think that one area with just safety, physical safety, is really tough, right, because… and I'm conscious of that with my daughter too, I want her to not feel afraid.
C: But then I also don't want to be stupid.
J: Yeah, right. (Laughs)
C: And… you know? So it is tough; tough.
J: Right, right. Well, this is fantastic. Everyone, make sure to read… if you have girls especially in your life, make sure to read ‘The Confidence Code For Girls’ and give it to the important girls in your life. What's ahead for this movement? I think it's a movement you've started. What do you think's coming next as part of this? (Laughs)
C: Thank you. Well, we're thinking about some other books, but I'm also really excited about the idea of creating a curriculum and maybe an online interactive curriculum for confidence.
J: (Gasps) Yes! My daughter will test it for you. (Laughs)
C: I think it would be great. Oh, good, that would be great.
C: I just think it's the way kids learn now and it's… I think that some of these socio-emotional skills, you can really learn through scenario-based educate and I think online it's just a great way to do it, like sort of gameified learning. So I…
J: Mm, yeah.
C: I would love to pursue that and see what we can create.
J: That's really great. And you almost need a…
J: … a parents’ curriculum as well so parents are constantly made aware when they're not teaching girls to go ahead and fail, “Hooray for failure!” you know? So…
C: Exactly. And the other thing I'll say too by the way is, like it's a relief too to know because just when you're suffering for your child who's failed, right…
C: … you can at least tell yourself, “Oh, right, this is going to be a growth experience; this is good. He needs some failure, she needs some failure,” right?
J: Yes, right.
C: So it’s a way to get through this as a parent and not overreact to failure.
J: Yeah. And I think as a society there's a cool shift happening there, you know, how we start to celebrate failures various CEOs might have had or before they got to the top or whatever (Laughs). So…
C: Yes, exactly.
J: Well, I’ll remind our listeners, we’ll have a link to your book and anything else we've talked about on our show notes page at jenriday.com/31. And now, our big question we like to ask at the end of the show, Claire, what does it mean for you to be a vibrant happy woman?
C: Such a great question, so I love that; I just love that thought. For me, being a vibrant happy woman means being calm and centered in my brain because my brain can get a little bit overactive. And so when I can feel kind of calm and in the moment, and sometimes I do that with meditation or sometimes with swimming, I just feel like I can contribute to the world and my family in a really positive way. So that's my vibrant happy woman recipe.
J: Perfect, being calm and centered; that's exactly what I'm focusing on right now, I hear you. Well, thank you so much for being on…
J: Thank you so much for being on the show, Claire; I loved it. I can't wait to…
J: … make sure my daughter learns how to fail, so thank you so much.
J: I mean, that sounds funny. (Laughs)
C: My pleasure, thank you so much too.
J: That sounds so funny.
C: I know, yes.
J: But I want to teach her to celebrate failure; that's part of it, you know? So thank you.
C: Yes, absolutely. Yes, thank you; thank you, thank you, John, I appreciate it.
J: Yeah, take care. I appreciate it.
Great advice, right? So I want to challenge all of you listening to work with the girls in your life, with the women in your life, encouraging them just to be more confident using all of these tips; and be more confident yourself, take that action, take a risk, work through it. Every time you take a risk, you get somewhere. And I like to say and I've said it before, “All good things are on the other side of fear.” Take that risk and start to train your brain that the reward is on the other side of that fear, and you move that needle a little bit, just like Claire said in the interview. I will be back later this week with a happy bit, talking about some of the ways we've tried to instill confidence in our girls and in our sons. And thank you so much for listening I appreciate you being here, being a part of this movement, and I will see you later this week. Until then, make it a great week. Take care.
Outro: Thanks for listening to the Vibrant Happy Women podcast www.jenriday.com.