Are you curious about Unleash Today, but do not want to wait for our book launch in January 2021? Then our sneak peeks are for you! We will give you a little glimpse into the world of ambitious confident women and give you a taste of the experience and knowledge Kate, Sarah, and our guest experts share - packed over seven chapters.
Chapter 1 - Here I Am
[Authors’ note: This is part of chapter one from our upcoming book Unleash Today. We would love to hear any feedback you have on how to improve this chapter. Please share your comments, memories, or any other ideas with us. We are looking for experts (men and women!) to share their lessons learned to help women Unleash Today!]
Imagine you are joining a new workplace. You are likely to be nervous and tense and have a million questions in your head: ‘What time should I arrive?’, ‘What should I wear?’ and ‘Should I reply to every email with “Dear Mike” or get straight to the point?’ You might not be able to follow internal jokes or grasp work routines immediately. You are not the only one with these questions and uncertainties in your head. Everyone goes through this when they join a new working environment and it takes on average ninety days to get accustomed to the new work routines.
In our first chapter ‘Here I am’, we discuss how you can create your best first impression and say: ‘Here I am!’ with confidence while staying humble and creating respectful relationships. We discuss specific examples based on personal experiences and give you tips on how to create a positive first impression with a long-lasting effect. One of the examples we discuss in our book is the significance of power posing.
Power posing - with hands on your hips and legs hips-distance apart - was first suggested in a 2010 paper by Carney, Cuddy, and Yap and came to prominence through a popular TED talk by Cuddy in 2012.
Research shows that people subconsciously have two questions in mind when they first meet someone: Firstly, is this person trustworthy? And secondly, can I respect him/her? They then make an initial judgement of that person based on these questions and their body language. If we feel insecure, nervous, or apprehensive for any reason, we tend to contract or collapse our body. Others will pick up on this as having a lack of confidence and being less trustworthy.
"The epitome of confidence and power is a power pose."
However, you don’t have to power pose every minute of your day. It’s about spending a little time in the bathroom or somewhere private where you can look at yourself in the mirror and power pose for your own benefit. This has proven to increase testosterone and, therefore, increases the feeling of power and confidence. Sounds good, right?
It’s not about faking it but rather about practising these poses to change your mindset and feelings so you start believing in yourself. Find some time for yourself before an important meeting in a private place with a mirror, like a bathroom. Look yourself in the eyes and power pose. Try to stand in that high-power pose for two minutes. Close your eyes, breathe in deeply for a count of three, hold for one, and then breathe out fully for a count of five. This combines breathing exercises, meditation, and power poses for relaxing and confidence-boosting before you start your meeting.
Kate remembers: When I worked in Luxembourg, we used to have a stand-up meeting every morning to discuss the events planned for the day and the individual action points for team members. I always looked around and I noticed some people with crossed arms, some lingering in the back, and some tapping their feet or playing with their phone. I started noticing these patterns and actively focused on conveying a positive message by straightening my back, holding my head up and uncrossing my arms. My colleagues have praised me as they felt that this posture made them feel more welcome to ask a question compared to others who were frowning with crossed arms.
Lesson learned: Observe other people’s body language and try to read their emotions to understand them better. Be mindful of your own body posture.
Sarah remembers: We often received visitors at work and finalised a meeting with a group picture. When I looked at the photos afterwards I would, like most people, have hanging arms. I thought I looked unhappy and weak, so I consciously decided to put one arm on my hip from then onwards. I immediately stood out with my different pose. It also made me feel stronger while taking the photo.
Lesson learned: Simple changes in familiar postures can have an impact on your feelings and appearance.
Tomorrow, when you enter your workplace again, think of the power pose and uphold that confidence and believe in yourself. Create the best first impression and reiterate it every day.
We lead the way, Unleash Today!
 Carney, Dana R.; Cuddy, Amy J.C.; Yap, Andy J. (January 10, 2010). "Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance" (PDF). Psychological Science. 21 (10): 1363–1368 doi:10.1177/0956797610383437. PMID 20855902.
 Cuddy, Amy (June 2012). "Your body language may shape who you are". TED. Retrieved 31 January 2020.
 Cuddy, Amy (June 2012). “Presence“: http://www.amazon.com/Presence-Bringing-Boldest-Biggest-Challenges/dp/0316256579?tag=bisafetynet-20.
 Carney, Dana R.; Cuddy, Amy J.C.; Yap, Andy J. (January 10, 2010). "Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance" (PDF). Psychological Science. 21 (10): 1363–1368 doi:10.1177/0956797610383437. PMID 20855902.
Chapter 2 - The Confidence Muscle
[Authors’ note: This is part of chapter two from our upcoming book Unleash Today. We would love to hear your feedback on how to improve this chapter. Please share your comments, memories, or any other ideas with us. We are looking for experts (men and women!) willing to share their lessons learned to help ambitious women #unleashtoday]
Imagine you are invited to a meeting. When you enter the meeting room, there aren’t enough seats for everyone, so you decide to stand in the back rather than taking up the free chairs in the front. Although you listen carefully and mentally comment on everything being said, you refrain from raising your hand to express your opinions or to ask follow-up questions. You might feel you misunderstood the whole discussion or could embarrass yourself in front of everyone, come across as unprofessional or unprepared. You are afraid you could say something “stupid”. You might even feel like a “fraud”. Sounds familiar?
“Everyone can learn to be confident. Learn to say: Imposter syndrome, adieu!”
This phenomenon of capable people being plagued by self-doubt is often referred to as “imposter syndrome”. While both men and women are vulnerable to it, studies show that women tend to be affected by it more intensively . Women tend to dwell extensively on negative feelings, worrying about whether we are liked by our colleagues, whether we are attractive, or whether we outshine others. We may tell ourselves that we are incompetent, not worth the money, or the job position we hold. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, puts it well when noting that in addition to institutional obstacles, women “face a battle from within” .
“Women need to break free: They need to care less about what others think about them and stop second-guessing their value.”
This is no news, of course. Google “confidence” and “women” and various articles stipulate that a lack of confidence is holding working women back while providing advice on how women should dismantle their imaginary hurdles in their heads. What we find problematic about this “self-confidence formula” is the implication that women are patients to be treated. What is the doctor’s prescription? Encourage women to be confident and strong, and they will become leaders in the workplace. Quite easy and straight-forward, right?
We believe change is needed to ensure women unleash their potential at an earlier state. Women need to break free: They need to care less about what others think about them, stop second-guessing their value, and be true to themselves. Too many women are held back by society whispering that they aren’t good enough, leaving them doubting their confidence.
Let’s start with the good news: Everyone can learn to be confident. Here is the bad news, though: Building your confidence is continuous work in progress. While confidence is partially ingrained in our genetic make-up, it requires very hard work, determination, and time. You won’t become a confident woman overnight. You can train your confidence by making the act of “confidence-building” a serious part of your life and consider it an actual goal that requires a development plan.
“Once you have named it, your fear loses its power.”
To boost your confidence, one of the aspects we advise you to work on is courage. Franklin D. Roosevelt once said: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something is more important than fear.” We are often surprised to meet people that believe confident persons display a “natural bravery” as if they had a magical button that takes their fear away. However, courageous people were not born like this. They learned to face their fear by naming it. Once you have named it, your fear loses its power. Try it now: What are you afraid about? What would you do if you did not have any fear?
Now that you have identified your fears, you can train your confidence! Imagine confidence as a muscle in your body. You don’t have a six-pack unless you train, either. Just like your abs, you can train your confidence muscle by overriding fear with action. Action is the best option to get things done and leave fear behind to achieve your dreams. Showing confidence means that you act in spite of and in the face of fear.
“When in doubt, do it anyway.”
In your driving lessons, you were always told to refrain from crossing the traffic light when in doubt about the orange light. However, at work, the opposite applies. We advise: “When in doubt, do it anyway!” In such situations, remember that “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” . Whenever you feel something is too big for you, you lack experience or competence, just do it! It might seem frightening but as soon as you’re on the road you’ll realise that it isn’t so bad. Stop thinking about what others may say, let go of all the what-ifs, and do it anyway.
Sarah remembers: After three years working in Brussels, I needed a change in life. I remember the awkward feeling in my stomach area when I seriously considered taking up a job offer in China. Beijing was so far away. I did not know many people, I did not speak Chinese, and I was not familiar with the new company. It was the fear of the unknown I experienced at that moment. I took a step back and observed my feelings from a distance. I had lived in seven other countries on different continents of this world before. I was nothing less than an ambitious woman travelling the world! Of course, I could do this. I signed the contract and moved to Beijing.
Lesson learned: When in doubt, just do it!
“Take charge of your behaviour by stepping forward, leaning in, and claiming a seat at the table.”
Another piece of advice we would like to share with you in this sneak peek is to be more conscious about your behaviour. Take charge of it by stepping forward, leaning in, being assertive, and claiming a seat at the table. Raise your hand, speak up first, and lead presentations whenever possible. Stop overthinking what people might think about your comment, if your contribution might be stupid or if it’s phrased perfectly. While you are occupied with your doubt, your colleagues may already have raised their hands and possibly made the point you intended to contribute. Demonstrate how confident you are by knowing and insisting on sharing your ideas and views. Even when you think your contribution might not be worth gold, it is still worth sharing it!
Kate remembers: My male colleagues often used to talk over me and interrupt me in the middle of a sentence. I always left these meetings frustrated and feeling I had not communicated properly and hadn’t brought my point across. Today, I raise my head up high if someone interrupts me or speaks over my colleague. It’s very powerful: people freeze and try to understand what has just happened. The less aggressive way of doing this is the “bridge method”. Start by nodding when your colleague says something, raise your hand horizontally in front of you(like you would like to shake their hand), and turn your palm up facing up in the direction on where they are sitting. Keep holding the hand up. Once they have finished talking, turn your palm facing down, keep holding your arm straight, and “close off the conversation”, look away. You need to stop making eye contact to let them know you are no longer listening to them. Try this method a couple of times with your friends to make it smooth and help you to feel confident before you try it in an office setting. I explained my feelings to my colleagues and how degrading I find it when they interrupt or talk over me. Now, even my male colleagues use this method and the atmosphere in our meetings has improved extensively.
Lesson learned: Try the “bridge method” to address any interruptions during your speech.
Your way of speaking conveys a lot about your level of confidence. It also has an impact on how you feel about yourself. We recommend playing with your communication style. Find out what makes you feel good and competent. Different things work for different people.
For instance, you can vary the pitch and tone of your voice: Females tend to raise their voice at the end of sentences as if they are asking a question or seeking approval. Instead, when stating your opinion, use the authoritative arc where your voice starts on one note, rises in pitch throughout the sentence, and then drops back down at the end. The goal is not to sound manlier, but to bring some variety into your conversation and avoid sounding monotone. Speak clearly so everyone can understand you. Articulate words well, particularly if you speak in a foreign language.
Sarah remembers: What helped me to improve my voice was to listen to recordings of myself. Since I do interviews with Here She Is, a podcast featuring inspiring diversity leaders, I’m forced to listen to myself a lot. In the beginning, I was always afraid to listen to my recordings. I didn't enjoy hearing my own voice and was embarrassed to realise how many filler words I used, and how fast I spoke. However, it essentially helped me to understand how others might perceive me and consciously adjust my way of speaking.
Lesson learned: Be conscious of your voice. Record yourself and listen to how you sound, such as on your podcast or WhatsApp voice messages. Accept your voice or work to enhance it in the way you feel more comfortable with it.
“Remember you are not your emotions and they will eventually pass.”
Lastly, let us also discuss how a positive attitude and mindset can help you when dealing with a spiralling mind. There are different and highly individual ways to maintain a positive mindset. Yet, it all boils down to finding your mental well-being by (re)connecting with your inner self and seeking an internal balance. Learn to listen to your body’s wisdom and boundaries; nurture your body, mind, and soul on a regular basis. Think about the ways that help you relax and refocus your mind. Identify routines and practices that become a permanent part of your everyday life. Some people may like yoga or meditation, others enjoy going for a regular run, axe throwing, ballet dancing, playing music, arching, having meaningful conversations, or watching a comedy.
Once you have found your way to relax, relieve stress, and keep your body healthy, write down your individual activities and look at them every morning and evening to develop a routine. Take a moment now to think about how do you connect to your inner self.
Sarah remembers: I always thought meditation, yoga, and mindfulness were awkward and something for “hippies” who want to relax in Bali. Yes, I believed in this stereotype. When some good friends advised me to invest more time in finding inner calm and serenity, I forced myself to meditate. I hated it and considered it a waste of time. My mind constantly drifted off and I didn’t see any value in spending time doing nothing. My friends insisted I continued. Today, I meditate every morning for 10 minutes and I have already become much more well-balanced and in tune with my emotions.
Lesson learned: Developing new routines takes time. Be patient and do what brings you joy.
Consciously distance yourself from the emotions you feel at a certain moment. Remember you are not your emotions and they will eventually pass. Make a deliberate effort to let your emotions pass and act calm - if necessary - a moment later. Always sleep over an issue and put away your phone, as you may write things you could regret later if you’re emotional. Emotions continuously try to trick you into negative ruminating. If they play a game with you, you can play with them, too. Make your body and mind as strong as possible to overcome destructive emotions: Be prepared for low-points and develop an individual “calming down” recipe, which may include the following ingredients:
Power Food: Identify the type of food that your body needs in different moments of the day. Have power snacks at your disposal to prevent “frustration eating” during low points.
Get intellectual input: Keep a stack of books at home that make you feel good and that you can dive in at any time.
Surround yourself with the right people whom you trust in and can share your worries with. Speak to them about your concerns and then talk your fear away. Be careful not to overshare with colleagues and people that happen to be around you in an emotional moment.
Read motivational quotes: We follow Instagram accounts that feature daily quotes for motivation and encouragement. Sometimes, a photo or quote is more impactful than talking something through for hours. Waking up to open Instagram and read the motivational quote is so empowering! Try our Unleash Today Instagram account (unleash_today).
Meditate: Spend 10 minutes in the morning (we recommend the Calm App) to embark on a new day with a calm mind.
Listen to empowering music: This is very individual. However, we put together an Unleash Today Spotify list for you that can help you regain your energy every morning when you wake up (@Spotify: UnleashToday)!
Sleep: Get a good night’s sleep to find your voice again and wake up ready to use it! We are particularly negative and act irrationally when we are tired.
End your day on a positive note: Write a gratitude book, which forces you to contemplate on what you are grateful for every evening. (There are also apps like “Gratitude” that you can use if you prefer.) This allows you to shift your focus away from negative thinking before going to bed. Sweet dreams!
Say no: Only do things when you're convinced of their positive impact.
Allow yourself a treat: Have a bath, a facial mask, a glass of wine, or refreshing tea (check out Yogi tea, which has encouraging quotes).
Smile at pain or negativity for a second or longer: Smiling will help to make the pain go away as feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin are released and rush through your body. Restart your mind to prevent negative thoughts repeating themselves in your head.
 A study by Cornell University suggests that women generally underestimate their abilities and performance while men overestimate both although their performance neither differs in quality nor quantity.
 Sandberg, S. (2013), “Lean In. Women, Work and the Will to Lead”, WH Allen, p. 28.
 Quote by Neale Donald Walsch.
 Currently, only 4.9% of Fortune 500 CEOs and 2% of S&P 500 CEOs are women.
[Authors’ note: This is a part of chapter three from our upcoming book Unleash Today. We would love to hear your feedback on how to improve this chapter. Please share your comments, memories, or any other ideas with us. We are also looking for leadership perspectives from men and women in various industries to help ambitious women #unleashtoday]!
“Perfect does not exist. Accept it. Strive for excellence and be happy.” - Kate Surala
It’s 10pm on Friday night and you are the last one still working. You can barely keep your eyes open while reading, again and again, the memo you have been working on for the past five days. Your mind is playing tricks on you as you get interrupted by a sudden image of your friends enjoying their Friday night with a gin and tonic. You are stuck here alone. Then the inner brave voice reminds you: “Keep going. You need to make sure it’s perfect.” You get injected with the last flash of energy after a seventy-hour week. You finally send the email, shut your computer down, drag yourself from the office to your empty apartment, and fish out a ready meal from an almost empty fridge. After finishing your late-night dinner, you crash into your bed almost immediately. What a lovely Friday night!
Have you ever felt this constant urge to re-read everything you write multiple times? The need to only present things to others when you are completely satisfied with them? Have you ever had the explosive frustration or niggling sense of irritation that’s hard to ignore when trying to finish something and let it go half-finished? Do you feel morally obliged to overdeliver? If you could answer one of these questions with yes, then keep reading to learn how being ‘excellent’ is enough and how to free yourself from the shackles of perfectionism. Idealism and perfectionism prevent creative people from seeing their work objectively, impairing their ability to assess its worth. Perfectionism is the ultimate enemy of creativity, and unrealistic expectations can even cause chronic disappointments and unhappiness.
“My life has been nothing but a failure,” perfectionist Claude Monet once said.
He often destroyed paintings in a temper, including fifteen pieces meant to open an exhibition.
Many of us struggle with perfectionism, so you are not alone. Perfectionism is like a blood-sucking vampire. It criticises you, demands constant attention, and leaves you drained, anxious, and exhausted.
On the other hand, excellence focuses your attention on what’s right and a successful result. It’s not what isn’t working or achieving a hundred percent perfect result. Excellence helps you to achieve a good work-life balance, shifts your attention onto the positives, and how things could be even better.
Kate remembers: My to-do lists are always too ambitious and I add way too many items to them for a specific day. When I go through my list in the evening and see what I achieved, I usually end up being disappointed. Sometimes, I don’t even start a very complex task because I feel I cannot give it a hundred percent, so I tend to procrastinate and delay.
Lesson learned: Complete your least favourite and most painful tasks first and set achievable to-do lists. By ‘achievable’ we mean specify the time the task will probably take and add an additional forty percent buffer time.
Chapter three of Unleash Today helps you to acknowledge your perfectionist tendencies and accept the excellence standard as the one you should be aiming for instead. Perfection is more about focusing only on the results, while excellence is about enjoying the process equally as well as the result.
“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential...these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” - Confucius
PART I: Choose your ‘perfection’ wisely. Goal setting
Step 1: Change your mindset
For perfectionists, our performance is intertwined with our sense of self. It’s very hard to change your mindset from one day to the other. It’s a continuous effort and work in progress. When you don’t succeed, you are disappointed with yourself. You might even feel ashamed about who you are. As a result, the pursuit of perfection becomes a vicious cycle - and it will not stop until you stop it. You might be caught up living in the future and think that you will only be ‘good enough’ when you have achieved something - when you have graduated from a top university, bought an apartment, saved X amount, or found the right life-partner. When you have achieved your goal, you might not even realise it. The pleasure you get from those achievements lasts moments before you want to move on to a new goal. And you keep planning, achieving your goals, and falling into the misery of feeling that you have not done enough again. The resulting disappointments can lead to discouragement, which generates depression and self-loathing, leading to a feeling of worthlessness. We recommend to focus on enjoying the progress instead.
Tennis star Serena Williams is a self-described perfectionist who destroys racquets and casts blame when things go wrong – outbursts that have cost her victories.
You can change your mindset, but it's hard work. It took us around twenty-five years to do this and we guess some people take much longer! Remember that you can be happy with what you have right now and you don’t need anything else. The first step is to accept yourself for who you are. No one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes, and that’s ok. Look at it from a different perspective: it’s great to make mistakes, as you can learn from them and develop new skills and experiences.
Chapter 3 - I'm a Recovering Perfectionist
Chapter 4: Mastering the Art of Networking
[Authors’ note: This is a part of chapter four from our upcoming book Unleash Today. Please share your comments, memories, or any other ideas with us. We are also looking for leadership perspectives from men and women in various industries to help ambitious women #unleashtoday]!
“Your network is your net worth.” - Richard Brandson
A client is organising a panel debate, preceded by a networking coffee. The topic is semi-relevant to you, but you know you could meet potential clients so you decide to attend anyway.
When you enter the room, you see various tables. Most are surrounded by groups of attendees who are already engrossed in conversations. Most of the attendees are men. You are quite tired and what you really want is to go home. Tomorrow morning you have a presentation due that you might want to rehearse for when you get home. You are starting to doubt whether it is worth being here, surrounded by strangers with whom you do not really know what to say. It is a daunting experience. “I just hate networking,” you think and end up drinking your champagne alone in the corner.
Have you ever experienced feeling isolated at a networking event? Did you wish you were somewhere else? To the majority of people we know, networking is something that makes them feel uncomfortable and sometimes even calculated or exploitative. We think the bad reputation and apparent natural aversion towards networking is entirely undeserved. It is all about the right mindset: If you approach networking with excitement, curiosity, and an open mind, many possibilities can unfold and you will learn to love it.
Part I: Overcoming your networking fear and aversion
We encourage you to refrain from thinking of networking as an immediate transaction. Instead, try to focus on getting to know the person you are speaking to at that moment. Concentrate on building a long-term relationship, and on learning from each other and identifying common interests. Try to understand the level of influence and power of that person and how you might be able to help him or her in the long run. If you just think about what this person can give to you, you will not get anywhere. At the end of the day, there is nothing to fear.
Sarah remembers: I used to be anxious before networking events because I was unsure what to speak about. I realised that I don’t need to speak as long as I just listen well and ask questions that demonstrate genuine curiosity. I end up soaking up a lot of information while creating a bond with another person who feels flattered to be asked so many questions about her life. At the end of the evening, I often hear, “Oh, now I did not hear anything about your work, actually.”
Lesson learned: Learn to ask compelling questions. You can train asking meaningful questions. You can purchase question card games like Big Talk. They give you some inspiration for questions to ask.
Part II: Planning, planning, planning: There is nothing like a coincidence
Some people think we go out there with a natural talent for speaking to strangers, always confident and knowing - by sheer coincidence - what to talk about, how to arrange a coffee afterwards, etc. All wrong! We are successful at networking events because we diligently plan each step. We do not just show up at an event - we prepare!
Before embarking on your networking journey, you should first make a conscious decision as to what your goal is. Are you new to the city and want to gather as much intelligence and make as many new contacts as possible in a short amount of time? Then go for the quantity of contacts. Are you already established in a city and dispose of a big professional circle? Then we recommend focussing on the quality of contacts, on individuals who are most relevant to your role and career. There are many different reasons for attending a networking event and these could be to:
Meet new/specific people or potential clients
Get inspiration and input
Distract yourself/change the setting
Get out of your comfort zone
Learn about new job openings
Present and sell your work
Enjoy a casual evening over free drinks and food
Sarah remembers: One of my biggest strengths and weaknesses has always been my interest in everyone and everything. When I started working in Brussels, I came across networking opportunities basically every day of the week. In the beginning, I went to every event. It was a great way of getting to know new people and learning about different policy fields. Chatting to strangers (without a carefully prepared pitch and elaborated routine) over snacks and white wine several times per week became very exhausting. Most people I met I didn’t see again. I realised I was not clear about my “why”.
Lessons learned: Once you sit down and determine your “why” it is much easier to be selective about events.
Don’t waste your time
If you felt like you ended up talking to the “wrong” person, have the courage to leave the conversation politely. Once you realise there is little overlapping interest, do not be afraid to end a conversation and move on. This is your time! A “yes” to something must mean a “no”’ to something else. Cut a tie when it is no longer worth it and look for a new conversation partner. However, do not judge too quickly and show genuine interest in anyone you meet before coming to a conclusion.
There is no need to make up excuses. Simply thank the person for the conversation, excuse yourself, and move away. If you feel uncomfortable just leaving a conversation, you may add something like “I would like to say hello to an old friend”, “I will visit the restroom”, or “I would still like to speak to someone else.”