Like too many women, I’m not always the confident professional I strive to be. I say yes to things I don’t have time for because I don’t want to upset anyone. I mitigate my assertions by ending statements with question marks. And instead of channeling nervous energy into productivity, I often take out stress and insecurities on my poor, unsuspecting cuticles, which is decidedly not classy, and classy and confident should really go together, as every female film icon ever has taught us.
That said, about six months ago I came on as the program director of the massive and amazing ELI talks, a Jewish TED-style speaker series. ELI, which stands for Engagement, Literacy, and Identity, (and yes, TED is an acronym too – digital high-five to the first comment that names it!) is a program which captures, shares, and nurtures conversation around the most compelling and challenging new Jewish ideas out there. But more than that, ELI has grown into a project which profoundly affects everyone who comes into contact with it. It’s about the power of ideas, yes, but it's also about the power of video.
There’s something about working in the world of video that instills a sense of confidence. And I think we all deserve to feel that. It’s essential to our work as do-gooders.
So here are a few quick exercises for all the nonprofit professionals out there (both men and women), a taste of what I’ve learned from my ELI experience to help infuse a bit of confidence in your work:
- What's your story? Storytelling is at the heart of video – and the heart of human experience. Owning your story is a huge part of building confidence. So what’s yours? What are the obstacles you’ve overcome, the lessons you’ve learned, the tools you’ve mastered, and the mentors you’ve met along the way? Think of your professional life in terms of the Hero’s Journey, and ask: how can I imbue my work with my story?
- Limitations set you free. ELI videos follow a particular aesthetic, fit into a strict time frame, and make certain demands of our speakers (no notes, no podium, no prompter…no net). These limitations can seem daunting, oppressive, even confidence-quashing; that is, until they’re reframed as the constraints that make creativity possible. It’s like a painter fitting her work into a single canvas, using a certain brush, and deciding on a particular color palette or kind of paint. Make a list: what are your (perceived) limitations? How can they be spun more positively as “creative constraints” on your work?
- “Kill your babies.” I learned this delightfully gruesome phrase from our crazy talented Executive Producer, Danny Alpert. It’s the graphic term producers use to refer to all the footage that gets left on the cutting room floor during the editing process. We all get attached to things – projects, ways of working, romantic (ex-) partners, pet peeves. But not everything fits into a successful video, or a successful career. Make a list of all of the projects you're working on right now – both professionally and personally – and ask yourself which ones are the most important to you. What are you holding onto? Where can you let go? Sometimes, saying no to something is the best way to make room for really great work.
And finally, it never hurts to take a bit of advice from the great Kate Hepburn, “If you want to change attitudes, start with a change in behavior.”
Go forth in confidence! And in the meantime, I’ll stop biting my nails.