Everyone has moments—days, months, years even—when they question their ability to face challenges and when their confidence feels threatened. For women, this can be especially true when it comes to returning to work after maternity leave or juggling a hectic work–family schedule.

We might question our own ability and wonder if we’re really “worth it”. We might start to devalue our skills, knowledge and experience, just because we’ve decided to put family first for a while. Plus, there are other times when we are just so sleep-deprived it takes all that we have to just show up at work, let alone be confident as well!

Society drums into us that we’re now “not serious” about our careers and others (especially male colleagues or those without kids) start to question our ability to do the job.

So do you really have what it takes to have a serious career and family at the same time? The answer, of course, is yes! But how we do it can make all the difference.

Time and time again I see women hold themselves back because they lack a degree of confidence in their ability. When we struggle with this, decision makers in organisations judge us for better or worse. While no-one is immune to bouts of insecurity at work, this doesn’t have to—and shouldn’t—hold us back.

Confidence isn’t based on our actual ability to succeed at a task but on our belief in our ability to succeed. It is the expectation of a positive outcome, regardless of whether this relates to our belief in our ability to speak in front of a large audience, to learn new technology, to lead a team, to manage a new project, to handle confrontation, to change jobs and careers, to go for a promotion or to start a business.

People often think of confidence as something that the lucky few are born with and the rest are left wishing for. This is not true. Confidence is learnable. It is not a personality trait or a fixed attribute.

Confidence can wax and wane throughout our lives. It’s boosted when we accomplish something great or when we get good feedback from those we trust, and it can take a hit when we fall short of the mark, we feel we’ve got to prove ourselves after an extended break, or we’re criticised, rejected or simply feel a lack of external recognition.

Moving away from being reliant on external affirmation to prop up our self-worth is therefore vital. We must take ownership for the actions needed to sustain our confidence. With consistent effort and the courage to take a risk, we can gradually expand our confidence and with it, our capacity to build more of it. Here’s how you can step up and shine:

Accept you are human

Acknowledge that you are human and therefore, not perfect. We put so much pressure on ourselves to be everything to everyone and that’s not sustainable. As women, we tend to take on more “helping” work and carry more responsibility for everyone around us. Be deliberate about what you say yes to. Mistakes and failure are all part of the journey; you learn from them and you move up—and up.

Develop your self-belief

Confidence is built on you accepting yourself and your abilities, and on you having a go and learning along the way. It is built on taking action and making progress and feeling great about that, and about not being afraid to fail. It’s up to you to take the first step, and then a second step and so on. Nothing helps us along the way more than progress and momentum. Avoid the idea that you have to be all or nothing, because this gets you nowhere.

Get support

Have people in your support network who will give you honest feedback and call you out if you are trying too hard or not trying at all. Often, we are unable to see this in ourselves and can easily convince ourselves why we aren’t ready for the next step of our career. All it takes is a gentle nudge from a trusted friend or colleague to set us on a better path.

Reframe the outcome

Ask yourself this simple question: What’s the worst that can happen? This is the most common question every successful woman I talk to asks themselves, mostly when they get stuck or are avoiding action. Lack of action is often a result of a loss of confidence, whether momentary or long-standing.

Learn to let go of self-doubt and watch your confidence and success soar.                                                                            

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