Confidence. Do YOU have it?

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life

From the moment Diego and I received the email from Starting Strength that they had decided that all 2010 coaches needed to get re-certified, I started to doubt myself as a coach. Our certification expired the end of March so if we wanted to stay certified, we needed to register TODAY. From that moment until the day I stepped into Crossfit Retribution for the seminar, I was a complete and utter fucking goddamn mess. Me, a coach? No, no, I’m sorry, you are mistaken. I am not a coach. I am a fake. I have fooled everyone into thinking I am one but really, I have no clue. That weekend, as I sat there listening to Rip talk about the evaluation procedure (the same procedure from 4 years ago), THIS was the bullshit that was running through my mind: “You’re a fake. You are not a coach. You suck. You have no idea what you are doing. Do you even coach???” I started to sweat. I panicked. I quickly wrote a note to Diego asking him whether or not we were “Opting In” to the be evaluated as coaches. No joke. To prove it, here is my actual note that I wrote to Diego.

This is how nervous I was.

“Are we opting in?” After three years being a Starting Strength Coach and many, many, many, many, many….(you get the point) clients later, there I was, sitting in my chair scared shitless that I was going to make a complete fool of myself that weekend. The look on Diego’s face was priceless when he saw the note. He looked at me like I had lost my ever loving mind. I seriously thought that he was going to strangle me right then and there. He stared at me incredulously and then leaned over to me and whispered “Of COURSE you are opting in?!!! What the hell do you think we are doing here?” I was scared to death. Fear came over me like nothing I had felt before. I was not scared the first time we were certified back in 2010. Why? Because I had no damn clue what to expect. Now I did.  What happened if after three years I still did not know how to coach? What happened if I made a fool of myself on the platform? What would they think of me? Would they question why the hell they had certified my the first time? Would they laugh at me, talk about me behind my back? Would I be laughed off the platform?

Basically, I tortured myself for 6 months, from the time we registered for the seminar, through the exam process and until I got the call from Rip in May. When I did finally get the call that we had passed (again!), I immediately inquired about becoming a Starting Strength gym and wham, bam, thank you ma’am, we became number 12 in the country. But it wasn’t until I had gotten the word that I was re-certified, that I had the balls to ask about becoming a SS gym. Diego already knew he had passed. And the fact that he got a 100% (AGAIN!) on his exam did not surprise him either. So why was I so insane? Why did I not believe in myself the way he believed in himself? Why was he SO confident in his abilities and I was, well, NOT?

At the end of April,  we received the May issue of The Atlantic Monthly. On the cover was Katty Kay of the BBC World News and Claire Shipman, a reporter for ABC news. The title of the feature story that month was “Closing the Confidence Gap” with a side bar that read “Even successful women lack self-assurance at work. Men have too much.” The article was actually a section from their booThe Confidence Codek, The Confidence Code: The Art of Self-Assurance-What Women Should Know. I just stared at the cover. It seemed to be fate. Here I was feverishly trying to figure out why I had been beating myself up for the past five months and the answer now lay right in front of me. I immediately tore the magazine open and began to read the article.

As I read the article, I finally began to realize that I was truly not alone in the fight to be perfect. As Kay and Shipman stated in their article, “Perfectionism is another confidence killer.  Study after study confirms that is is largely a female issue, one that extends through women’s entire lives. We don’t answer questions until we are totally sure of the answer, we don’t submit a report until we’ve edited it ad nauseam and we don’t sign up fort that triathlon unless we know we are faster and fitter than required. We watch our male colleagues take risks, while we hold back until we’re sure we are perfectly ready and perfectly qualified. We fixate on our performance at home, at school, at work, at yoga class, even on vacation. We obsess as mothers, as wives, as sisters, as friends, as cooks, as athletes.”

As I continued to read the article, I found myself smiling, sighing, nodding, as if the women could see and hear me. This is ME they were talking about, I thought.  Nothing was ever good enough.  I was never good enough, smart enough. I would spend hours, DAYS writing essays for English class only to watch my male counterparts write their essays five minutes before class started…..and subsequently, receive the EXACT same grade!! It wasn’t fair! I worked longer on it. I poured  my soul into it. I could never understand why I had to take so much time to work on assignments, why everything took longer with me.  This lasted through high school and into college. After reading the article, I eagerly  shared it with Diego.  “Read this article!” I shouted.  “Read this article and then you will understand my insanity and why it is so damn hard to be me. Now you will understand why I asked if we should “opt in?” I don’t believe in myself even though I know I should!!!”


Confidence. What is it really? How do you define it?

“Confidence,” they wrote, “is not, as we once believed, just feeling good about yourself. If women simply needed a few words of reassurance, they’d have commandeered the corner office long ago. Perhaps the clearest, and most useful, definition of confidence we came across was the one supplied by Richard Petty, a psychology professor at Ohio State University, who has spent the last decades focused on subject. “Confidence,” he told us, “is the stuff that turns thoughts into action….” “….confidence,” he told us, “is essential, because it applies in more situations… is the factor that turns thoughts into judgements about what we are capable of, and that then transforms those judgements into action.”

Kay and Simpson go on to write the following, “The simplicity is compelling, and the notion that confidence and action are interrelated suggests a virtuous circle. Confidence is a belief in one’s ability to succeed, a belief that stimulates action. In turn, action bolsters one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed. So confidence accumulates-through hard work, through success, and even through failure.”

When I get a new woman in my weight room, I can sense her hesitation and doubt from the beginning. She lacks confidence. Why? Because she does not believe in herself. Although she has taken the first step of getting in the door and getting on the platform, she is still hesitant and nervous. She has not ACTED yet.

We go through the set up for the squat. “Hands together and push the knees out. Just like that. Good. Now let’s drive up with the hips. Great!” She is fine with squatting down without weight. No problem. But then the barbell goes on her back. Now the doubt sets in. “Where do my hands go? Should this feel like this? I don’t know if I can do this. This feels really uncomfortable.” She is about to give up but she’s not ready to….just yet. She squats down and comes up. It’s a little high so we do it again. She finds depth. The next rep she shifts forward and the bar moves which freaks her out. “Take your time,” I tell her. “Big air. Hips back. Knees out.” She takes her breath and squats down again. This time, she comes up with her hips and the bar stays in place. “One more time,” I tell her. “You’re doing great.” She finishes her set and racks the bar. She looks scared but the first set is done. The next set looks even better. We do a third set and now she is in the groove.

We add weight. We add a little more weight. She is beginning to relax, the hesitation is leaving….only to come back when we start to learn the press. The cycle repeats itself. We end the session with the deadlift and afterwards, when she is leaving, there is a smile on her face and not a frown. She has done it. She has squatted, pressed and deadlifted and she did not FAIL. How could she? She has never done anything like this ever and yet, somehow, she was successful in learning the lifts. At her next session, she walks in with a smile. The hesitation is still there, but not as much as the first time. By her third session, she is getting under the bar like a champ. She is thinking about the bar on her back, about her hip drive. She is keeping the bar close to her on her press, driving it to her nose. She is aware of her breath with the deadlift and takes her time with her set up. She is now more confident with her positions. She now BELIEVES in her abilities. She has acted and as a result of her actions, she has proven to herself that she is capable of performing these exercises. With each and ever session, she now holds this belief that she will succeed. Remember the above statement about what “confidence” really means? “Confidence is a belief in one’s ability to succeed, a belief that stimulates action.” By learning how to squat, how to press, deadlift and bench, she has developed confidence in herself. She now believes in her ability to do this work and this belief is what makes her come back day after day, week after week, to add more weight to the bar, to try again. To get stronger. To move better. THIS is what confidence is and THIS is why I believe in strength training.

It is quite amazing to watch a woman who has never picked up a barbell before in her life and go from squatting the empty bar (45#) to squatting 165 lbs in just six weeks. Or watch a woman look at me with an “Are you kidding me?” look when I tell her she’s going to deadlift five more pounds than last week and then she proceeds to pull an easy triple at 200lbs. The look she gave me earlier is now replaced with a “Well, that was pretty easy” look.  This spreads like wildfire around the room. And everyone wants more.

But Emily, you may ask, YOU strength train and yet YOU still had a hard time acknowledging that you knew what you were capable of doing at the seminar. You are right. I did not believe in myself as a COACH. I believed in my abilities as a LIFTER, but not as a coach. These are two different things. It was not until I stood on the platform and took someone through the method that I realized I could do this and do it well. Once I started talking and coaching, once I was made to ACT, I realized that I was more than capable of coaching. My doubt was gone. My hesitation was gone. I now had the confidence to get on the platform again for the press and then the deadlift, the power clean (the one that I had the least coaching experience with up to this point turned out to be my BEST coaching lift of the weekend!) and the bench. I finished the seminar in high spirits. I WAS a good coach. I did know what I was doing. I wasn’t a fraud. But the months leading up to it were terrifying and I made myself crazy. Why? Because as women, we expect to be perfect. We are praised in school for listening, for raising our hands, for doing our homework while the boys run around and beat each other up and never listen. Because we are literally wired differently. As Kay and Simpson write in their article, “So let’s be clear: male and female brains are vastly more alike than they are different. You can’t look at scans as two random brains and clearly identify which is male and which is female…..yet male and female brains do display differences in structure and chemistry, differences that may encourage unique patterns of thinking and behavior, and that could thereby affect confidence.”

Believing you will succeed is confidence. Acting on your belief encourages your ability to succeed thus making you more confident. It becomes a circle of belief. When I stood on the platform and began to coach the squat, I ACTED. By coaching the squat and proving to myself that I was capable of coaching someone, I turned my thoughts into action, thus demonstrating to myself that I had the ability to succeed, thus giving me the confidence to get back on the platform for the press, deadlift, power clean and bench. I COULD coach. I was capable.

Nurture also plays a key role in the confidence gap and where else to look but school, the playground and sports. “School is where many girls are first rewarded for being good, instead of energetic, rambunctious or even pushy,” state Simpson and Kay. “But while being a “good girl” may pay off in the classroom, it doesn’t prepare us very well for the real world.” Girls are more easily socialized early on in their lives and often receive more praise. In turn they start to want that approval all the time, to be rewarded for their good behavior. As a former school teacher, I would often remark at how well my girls behaved, how nicely they listened, how good they were while the boys were talking and pushing each other and getting into fights. I fed right into it as a woman. As Kay and Simpson write, “There’s certainly no harm intended by overworked, over-stressed teachers (or parents). Who doesn’t want a kid who works hard and doesn’t cause a lot of trouble.”

But what happens to these young girls as they grow up and become young women? As Kay and Simpson state,”And yet the result is that many girls learn to avoid taking risks and making mistakes. This is to their detriment: many psychologists now believe that rist taking, failure and perserverance are essential to confidence building. Boys, meanwhile, tend to absorb more scolding and punishment and in the process, they learn to take failure in stride. ‘When we observed in grade school classrooms, we saw that boys got eight times more criticism than girls for their conduct,’ Dweck [A Stanford psychology professor and author of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”] writes in Mindset….’Boys mistakes are attributed to a lack of effort……girls come to see mistakes as a reflection of their deeper qualities.'”

Boys take risks. Girls do not. Enter the world of sports, where, according to the article, “fewer girls that boys participate in athletics, and many who do quit early. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, girls are six times as likely as boys to drop off sports teams, with the steepest decline in participation during adolescence. This is probably because girls suffer a larger decrease in self-esteem during that time than boys do. What a vicious circle: girls lose confidence, so they quit competing, thereby depriving themselves of one of the best ways to regain it.”

As I read and re-read that line, I began to think about the women I train. Is this what is happening to all of those women who are NOW strength training? Have they finally found their sport??? They were not competing BEFORE they started strength training. Now, they are training, lifting more and more weight each day, talking with each other about their upcoming bench, wondering when the next Strongwoman contest is, thinking about doing powerlifting meets, excited to finally feel, wait for it, CONFIDENT. Because NOW they believe in themselves. Because NOW they understand what confidence feels like. Because NOW they have been made to act on their belief that they will succeed and they see themselves succeeding every time they walk in they gym. And they are finally OKAY with failure….because they understand that along with doing, FAILING is gonna happen….and when you fail, it means you have ACTED and THAT is confidence. So your squat sucked ass today. That’s OKAY because your benched kicked ass. 😉 So you could not pick that bar up off the ground today to save your life. That’s OKAY because you killed your squat today and left all your energy there. 😉 This is what it means to be confident ladies. Believing in yourself and your abilities and capabilities.

The article does end on a positive note, acknowledging that we as women can change who we are and begin to develop more confidence. All we have to do is ACT. I have said this over and over again to myself and to other women at my gym. “Stop thinking so much and just DO. We, as women, need to desperately stop THINKING so much and we need to start ACTING. As Kay and Simpson write,”….to become more confident, women need to stop thinking so much and just act…..Almost daily, new evidence emerges of just how much our brains can change over the course of our lives, in response to shifting thought patterns and behavior. If we keep at it, if we channel our talent for hard work, we can make our brains more confidence-prone. What the neuroscientists call plasticity, we call hope.”

Luckily, I am able to work with women on just this issue at my gym. Strength training is a physical, mental, emotional force and due to the nature of the work, it requires women to really take a good, hard look at themselves and ask themselves, “Am I capable of doing this??” Because it will be hard. Because I may fail at times. Because I may not be “perfect.” What these women discover about themselves through strength training they may never have discovered had they not decided to learn to squat, press, bench or deadlift. It is not easy for a woman to tell other women what she does (at least other women who do not do what she does.) She may be ridiculed by her friends who don’t lift or by her family. This has never happened to me but it has happened to many of my ladies. She may be looked at funny when she is shopping for clothes. She may be questioned by others about the bruises on her shins from deadlifting. She may be asked why her lunch bag is packed with so much food. NONE of these concerns should be any of those people’s concerns. Now do you wonder why women have such a hard time gaining confidence in themselves? Men are not questioned about these same issues but women, well, we are easy targets. But what do my women say to this? Nothing. They say nothing and they move on. Because they have built confidence, because they know themselves, because they have chosen to act, not just “try.”

Rewind to March 2014. So there I was, sitting in my seat, scared shitless. After being reprimanded by my husband for writing my note,  I nervously got up and wrote  my name down on the piece of paper indicating I wished to be evaluated as a coach. After three hours of lecture, our first day was done. We went out to dinner around 9:30 and then headed to our hotel. I was exhausted, so exhausted that I did not even notice that my stomach was neither distressed from eating so late nor from eating out. The next day, we got up and  had breakfast at IHop. No stomach distress. We headed to the gym and after an hour or so of lecture, we were on the platform for the squat. The SECOND I hit the platform and listened to Matt Reynolds explain what we were going to do, I started to relax. “I can do this,” I remember telling myself. “I GOT this.” We were paired up and when it was my turn to coach, I got right to it. As I started wrapping up the end of teaching the squat from the bottom and moved on to getting Jessica under the bar, I heard Matt say something to the effect of “And that’s how you teach someone the squat.”  😉 And just like that, I realized I could do this. I chose to ACT at that moment, not just try.

“Success is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.”
 Coco Chanel, Believing in Ourselves: The Wisdom of Women


5 thoughts on “Confidence. Do YOU have it?”

    1. Glad it home a little for you too Susan! Don’t be scared!!!! ACT!!! You will find yourself pleasantly surprised that you have a lot more in you than you give yourself credit for. 😉 Good luck!


  1. Pingback: Great Reads: Top Articles This Week (12/18/14) | A Healthier Suze

  2. Great article- right on the pulse of what is both the hardest and best part of strength training for women!

    Thank you for all this truthful food for thought.

  3. Carmen DiGiandomenico


    First, I truly admire your honesty. A true leader / coach is willing to show vulnerability and you sure do that in this post. Thank you for having the courage to share from your heart. I don’t know you that well, but one of the things I respect most about you is you wear your heart on the outside. Very special and inspiring.

    As we all learn at some point in our lives, chasing perfection is not important. Being the special person God created us to be is important. “Striving for excellence motives you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.” Harriet Braiker – US Clinical Psychologist

    One last point, I played 20 years of competitive ice hockey, including at the colligate level, I had a jr national tryout (three steps away from the Olympics) and a tryout for the NHL to be an on ice official. Additionally, over the years I have trained with 4 personal trainers. None of this makes me an expert, but I have been exposed to different coaches and styles.

    YOU are at the top of the list. Never doubt yourself. Look in the mirror and see a very special women with a ton of passion and talent. You are special with a God given gift. Believe!



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