Prep Trap: 4 Tips On Declaring You're Ready Now

Needing to over-prepare may stop us from moving ahead.

Needing to over-prepare may stop us from moving ahead.

I don’t know any woman in business who fakes it until she makes it.

I think “winging it” is insulting to the audience and colleagues. So I prepare mightily for every speech, presentation, meeting and work event believing that it matters.

I also am afraid of what may happen if I am not diligent about professional preparation.

Many of us don’t know any woman in business who fakes it until she makes it. But needing to over-prepare may stop us from moving ahead.

Research shows women are more likely to underestimate what they know and can do. Men claim having potential makes performance a done deal, and women like to have the actual experience under their belts before they claim expertise.

This notion that women do not claim expertise has been assigned to a confidence gap.

Read more from Gloria Feldt on claiming your power.

According to Lisa Damour writing in the New York Times, “When investigating what deters professional advancement for women, journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman found that, ‘Underqualified and underprepared men don’t think twice about leaning in. Overqualified and overprepared, too many women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect.’”

Research shows women are more likely to underestimate what they know and can do. #ImposterSyndrome

But maybe it isn’t about confidence, but about the notion of preparedness.  Maybe women tend to prepare too much. And that comes from not feeling what we do is good enough.

According to Laura Guillen, an Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior at ESMT Berlin, writing in Harvard Business Review, “While self-confidence is gender-neutral, the consequences of appearing self-confident are not. The ‘performance plus confidence equals power and influence” formula is gendered. Successful women cannot lean in on a structure that cannot support their weight without their opportunities (and the myth) collapsing around them.”

Read more in Take The Lead on self esteem.

Guillen adds, ”The takeaway is not, then, that women should forego developing the skills that build their confidence and bolster their performance. Instead, it is that organizational systems and practices should change so that women are rewarded equally. Companies can adopt processes, rules, and safety checks that ensure that all employees are being evaluated according to the same criteria. “

So what can you do about confronting the notion that you have to be perfect and overprepared for everything?

Ignore the imposter.  Because almost everyone has the Imposter Syndrome and it isn’t valid. NBC reports, “According to a clinical research paper published in the Journal of Behavioral Science, it’s estimated that 70 percent of the U.S. population has experienced what’s known as impostor syndrome. However, there are a few factors that increase your chances of experiencing impostor syndrome — one being your gender.” Additionally, “As children, boys are socialized to be more risk takers and girls not as much,” Cara Maksimow, LCSW explains. “Girls are socialized to be more risk averse than boys, and it often comes out in adulthood and in situations related to career. In careers that are more male dominated, women feel isolated and begin to doubt themselves and their ability to be where they are — despite the evidence that they deserve to be there.”

Read more in Take The Lead on Imposter Syndrome.

Say yes and know you are good enough. Of course you can prepare a little more for everything you do. But set a limit and know that self-doubt is inevitable but you should also be self-aware that you can handle the challenge. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand and world’s youngest female leader having taken office at the age 37, told Forbes,“Never feel like you have to tick all of the boxes on everything to be able to feel like you can do a job. I have heard it said many times before and it is so true. If you sit and wait to feel like you are the most confident person in the room you are probably going to be left by yourself.” She adds, “ It wasn’t that I found some miraculous way to overcome the natural self-doubt, particularly the heightened self-doubt that women tend to feel. It was more that I eventually just said yes.”

Practice enough until you get it just right.  This doesn’t mean pulling an all-nighter, it just means having familiarity with the materials, anticipating questions and scenarios and running them through your head. “Practice isn’t glamorous or even fun. But when I practice my presentations in front of (a partner)  to get and incorporate her feedback, I’m infinitely more confident and prepared when I step on a stage,” writes Jim Ninivaggi, Chief Readiness Officer at sales enablement solutions company Brainshark, in Forbes.

What can you do about confronting the notion that you have to be perfect and overprepared for everything? Ignore the #impostersyndrome, know you’re good enough, practice enough until you get it just right, imagine it going really…

Imagine it going really well. Instead of catastrophizing possible outcomes, try to picture a great reception for your work and positive feedback. Jessica Bennet, author of Feminist Fight Club: Survival Manual for A Sexist Workplace, writes in Fast Company, “Olympic athletes do it; so do military officers. Visualize precisely how you’ll navigate the situation—successfully—before it happens.” She writes, “The words you say to yourself can actually change the way you see yourself—boosting confidence during a nerve-racking event.”

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About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon