The Confidence Code


Let’s get cracking!

So, I’m kind of fascinated by confidence. It is something that I have always had a good amount of, and my levels have been steadily increasing over the past year especially. I read Amy Cuddy’s book Presence and it got me really thinking about my confidence, which prompted me to write this follow up piece: Confidence is Security. Well, seeing that I am going through some kind of obsession, I was recommended the book The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman.

Here is the Amazon summary:

Following the success of Lean In and Why Women Should Rule the World, the authors of the bestselling Womenomics provide an informative and practical guide to understanding the importance of confidence—and learning how to achieve it—for women of all ages and at all stages of their career.

Working women today are better educated and more well qualified than ever before. Yet men still predominate in the corporate world. In The Confidence Code, Claire Shipman and Katty Kay argue that the key reason is confidence.

Combining cutting-edge research in genetics, gender, behavior, and cognition—with examples from their own lives and those of other successful women in politics, media, and business—Kay and Shipman go beyond admonishing women to “lean in.”Instead, they offer the inspiration and practical advice women need to close the gap and achieve the careers they want and deserve.

Because the summary starts by discussing some other books, I will too. I read Lean In just before starting The Confidence Code and both “examine how a lack of confidence impacts our leadership, success, and fulfillment.” There were a decent amount of overlaps between the books (specifically around big themes or breakthrough research studies), but not enough to warrant reading one book in place of the other. I would definitely recommend both.

As for Womenomics, I wasn’t overwhelmed by it. Their first book focuses more on the woman’s current role in the workplace, whereas their second analyzes why that might be (hint: it has to do with out traditionally lower confidence levels). If you are only going to read one of their books, I would go with The Confidence Code.

Here are the over-arching themes that I want to talk about from The Confidence Code:

Making mistakes and taking risks are necessary to building confidence.

This isn’t a new theory, but I don’t believe it is as wide-spread as it should be. The whole idea here is that lots of little failures prepare us for the bigger failures that might come in the future. The classic example here is the helicopter parent that does not let her kid take a step without assistance. True, the child rarely falls and gets hurt, but he also learns subconsciously that he will need help when trying something new and failure is a bad thing. With time, this becomes the difference between viewing a loss as a failure or as a possibility for growth.

So let’s say you do it all “right.” You take a step back and let your kid take her first step forward, you encourage your kid to raise his hand even if he doesn’t know the right answer, and you encourage your daughter to try out for the debate team. Despite all of this, there are still a few reasons why your son might develop more confidence than your daughter.

First, your son is more likely to play sports. There has been a big movement around getting girls outside and on the field, and rightfully so. Male’s involvement in sports far outweighs females’ and a sports game is the perfect way to practice losing in a small way. Boys are learning sooner than girls that when the whistle is blown, they can pick themselves back up, have a juice box and cookie, and try for a better outcome the following Saturday.

Second, your daughter is more likely to pick up what you are putting down. Girls begin to catch on to social cues at a younger age than boys. They notice sooner that teachers appreciate quiet and easy students in the classroom and that tones change when you get the answer wrong. These social cues are what make our world function smoothly, but girls are learning first through rewards systems to “sit still” and “keep quiet,” and researchers think that may be one of the initial reasons why we aren’t making it to the C-suite.

So, boys have more opportunities to make mistakes as children and it is serving them well.


Confidence and Genetics

As with most personality traits, we as inquisitive and science-minded humans want to know how much our genes control our personalities. Essentially, are you born confident or is it something you can learn? The classic nature vs nurture debate.

Shipman and Kay put this to the test on themselves. They completed genetic testing of their own confidence genes and found an unexpectedly mixed bag of results. According to the authors, nature and nurture both play a role, but nurture is the clear winner when it comes to gaining confidence. As the research cited, “we can all chose to become more confident simply by taking action and courting risk, and those actions change our physical wiring.”

Ultimately, they argue, while confidence is partly influenced by genetics, it is not a fixed psychological state. You won’t discover it by thinking positive thoughts or telling yourself (or your children) that you are perfect as you are. You won’t find it either by simply squaring your shoulders and faking it. But it does require a choice: less worrying about people-pleasing and perfection and more action, risk taking, and fast failure.

Well, this is encouraging to hear! To have your level of confidence be predetermined and stagnant would make for a harsh reality for many. It is nice to know that we have a decent amount of control over our confidence.


In addition to the above themes, I liked that the authors interviewed a wide variety of female leaders, everything from politics, sports, the military and the arts. Yes, they were all high status and successful women, but it was nice to draw comparisons between so many different employment backgrounds.

The authors also talked about meditation and its link to reducing stress and boosting confidence. The positive affects definitely had me curious to learn more and try meditation for myself – which is why it ended up on my 2017 New Year’s Resolutions.

Overall, I really liked this book. I thought it was good summary of their research findings and it got the wheels turning in my brain, but didn’t leave me wanting answers now to all of the problems and disparities the authors addressed (as I found to be the case with Lean In). If you are interested in learning more about confidence, give this book a read.


Do you think confidence is more nature or nurture based? Let us know below.




One thought on “The Confidence Code

  1. Pingback: Raising Confident Kids – From Brown Eyes

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