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What if I can do it?
March 04, 2013 COMMENT comment
     
What if I can do it?
Meenakshi Jain
 
Free yourself from performance anxiety and discover your true potential. 'I'm not good enough' is a language pattern that's not going to serve you. Instead of asking 'what if I can't do it', ask yourself, 'what can I do?'
 
My client's body was shaking as she rubbed her sweaty palms. This is a woman with a PhD degree from a prestigious university in the UK and was considered by her peers and professors as one of the smartest minds in the art-history world that they had met. But what turned this gifted intellectual into a nervous wreck is a psychological block that a lot of women today have: Performance anxiety.

I discovered that she experienced anxiety because as much as she was criticised, she was her own worst critic. When she was presenting in class, she was focused on what everyone would think of her and if they would notice her goof ups.
 
Performance anxiety is described as the fear or persistent phobia that may be aroused in an individual by the requirement to perform in front of an audience, like public speaking and attending social events. However, I would like to go further and break down my experience working with clients affected by this state into three categories:
 
1. Self-Anxiety: "I am just not good enough." Women suffering from this feel insecure and don't think they are good enough.
2. Gender Anxiety: "I'm okay… but men really won't listen to me." Women affected by this form of anxiety appreciate their ability and talent, but believe that the men in their workplace won't listen.
3. Helpless Anxiety: "People will laugh at me, humiliate me or worse, go and talk about me to the rest of the team." Women affected by this anxiety feel nothing can ever change.
 
Do men feel performance anxiety at work?
 
Of course, they do. Activities such as speaking up in a meeting, remembering people's names and making presentations can affect both sexes. But a lot of women are affected more intensely because their fear of what others may think of them is amplified by living in a culture where men predominantly hold senior positions. One client who is a senior VP of a ` 100-crore stock-broking firm with pan-Indian presence recently told me that she felt that presenting in a boardroom was like "battling a pack of tigers."
 
In India, women are clearly not given as many opportunities as they deserve. According to the department of labour, women make up just 3 per cent of legislative, management, and senior official positions. However, despite occupying small percentages of leadership positions, 97 per cent of women still aspire to be employed in jobs with increased responsibility. So despite this sense of ambition, why does performance anxiety still grip some women? Due to a catalogue of references (personal, friends, media), many women have built up limiting beliefs about their ability and how men will respond to their ideas.
 
While you can't always control the external factors, you can always control the internal ones. You have the absolute power and ability to shape the meaning of every event, to control your internal beliefs and patterns of focus and language. 'I'm not good enough' is a language pattern that's not going to serve you. Instead of asking 'what if I can't do it', ask yourself, 'what can I do?' 'How will I feel when I do it', instead of focusing on what 'they' will think of you. If you back your ideas with belief in yourself, you will maximise your influence as a leader. I believe each of us has a God-given gift to share with the world. What's yours?

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