The Cohort: Confidence matters — but how do you find it?

October 20, 2016
Category: Newsletters

The Cohort is Poynter’s bi-monthly newsletter about women kicking ass in digital media.

There’s a common refrain I hear from women, whether through Poynter seminars, at conferences or during conversations with friends: they don’t feel confident. This isn’t surprising. Research shows that women across the world lack the self-esteem of men, a frustrating fact considering that confidence matters just as much as competence when it comes to climbing the career ladder.

I know all of this, and yet, I regularly struggle with my own confidence. When women ask me for advice, I often feel like a fraud. If I haven’t figured out to be confident, then how can I help someone else?

About a week ago, my self-esteem hit an especially low point. There wasn’t one thing that caused it — rather a combination of life stress, election stress and having a break in travel to stop and think about things. Imposter syndrome kicked in big time and I found myself in a position that I’ve been in before but didn’t want to be in again, struggling to feel like I was a smart, capable and deserving person.

I did a couple of things to climb back from that point. First, I reached out for help. I asked friends for their advice on what to do in times of self-doubt and got dozens and dozens of brilliant, heartfelt responses in return. Secondly, I identified what helps me to feel my best, and began a healthy routine of meditation, light exercise and walking to get coffee before work.

There’s something about owning and getting a boost from small victories that helps you feel more equipped to take on bigger challenges. My morning routine is a small thing. But for me, the consistent act of taking time for myself is huge. Most importantly, I feel like I’m building a stronger foundation for the next instance that self-doubt rears its ugly head again.

I realize I’m not far into my routine (today marks day 12), and there’s still plenty of work to be done. Keeping in mind that habits take two months to stick, I’m following Jerry Seinfeld’s trick of creating an unbroken chain of progress and remembering to be kind to myself if I slip up.

If you’re suffering from a lack of confidence, please take some time to read the wonderful advice that my friends shared. And lean on your own friends, too. I’m sure they won’t be shy in telling you how truly amazing you are.


ONA just opened up applications for their new Women’s Leadership Accelerator. The Accelerator was borne out of the Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media, which ONA and Poynter launched in 2015. The end of our two-year partnership means that we can offer twice the training available for women, which is such an awesome win.

Applications for the Accelerator are open through Nov. 15, and Poynter will open applications for the third Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media on Nov. 1. Which one should you apply for? ONA has a FAQ to help answer that, and I’ll have more details about our program in an upcoming newsletter. (You’re also welcome to apply to both.)

Also! The Washington Post’s Alex Laughlin (previously featured in The Cohort) is hosting a NewsU webinar on Nov. 17 on making side hustles work for your journalism career. Use promo code 16cohort25 to get 25 percent off.

Things worth reading
Oh, how different the New York City subway map could be. On genius and gender — men are expected to be struck by ideas, women to nurture them. This column from Shaun R. Harper is on point: “When men fail to challenge other men on troubling things they say about and do to women, we contribute to cultures that excuse sexual harassment, assault and other forms of gender violence.” This makes me feel better about loving performance evaluations. And here’s a resource worth bookmarking: Practical frameworks for beating burnout.

Meet Sami
I can’t remember exactly when I first subscribed to Sami Main’s Pep Talk newsletter, but I’ve been a fan ever since. Main, 25, is an optimistic, energetic force for good — essentially the real-life version of her daily missives, which include motivational quotes and fun GIFs.

As of this week, she’s sent more than 550 issues of her newsletter. “I don’t remember exactly why I wanted to start it,” she said. “I think it’s because I wanted some personal pep talks, and figured other people might, too.”

Main, who started her career at BuzzFeed and now works as a digital media reporter at AdWeek, recently launched a second newsletter, Bouncy Castle. The project, which she created with Josh Gondelman, Jonathan Sun, and the mysterious darth, is a weekly letter “filled only with things that make us smile”.

“One day, I was like ‘Wow, everything is terrible,’” she recalled. “The news cycle isn’t getting any better and there are still weeks left in this election. I wanted to do something to help stop the general despair.” Main says she’s pleased with how many people signed up immediately and showed interest in the idea. “I think it speaks to what people want.”

Both Pep Talk and Bouncy Castle are separate from Main’s day job, but she says she enjoys putting time and energy into side projects. “No one is paying me, but it’s part of who I am in a weird way. I can’t imagine not trying to make people happy or bring them joy and laughter.”

“I know side hustles can come about for a number of reasons, but for me, they’re mostly because I want to address a lack of positivity in the world.”

Main and I ended our conversation by talking about imposter syndrome. Her advice was fantastic. “I try to remember that no one is 100-emoji confident all the time. Everyone has issues and it’s not just me. That doesn’t diminish what you’re feeling, but it can be a comforting thought.”

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The Cohort is part of Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media. Props to pep talk champion Kristen Hare for her newsletter edits and insight.