as i've been widening my network in SF over the past year, i've heard a repeat note on my personality: that i don't have enough confidence.
i struggle with this feedback, because, mostly, I get it. professional confidence is a thing. i'm ten years into my career, and i'm not a complete idiot. i've worked at some of those "go-getter" type companies where people describe themselves with words like "thought leader" and "proactive" (don't get me started on 'empathy' and 'assuming good intent'-- that for another day). it's a big part of my work to make people feel assured that i'm completing my work in a professional way. this is what people mean, i think, when they talk about confidence. and i have a lot of methods to make people feel assured. documenting my projects, making my assumptions and my work reproducible and defensible-- these are core aspects of my profession. i understand, in my head and through my experience, that it raises more questions than it answers for a personal to truly "lack confidence" in their professional work. and despite the processes i've learned and developed, i understand that i don't always project that confidence that makes people feel assured.
but something about this feedback just doesn't sit right with me. i'm an analyst, and my job is to create frameworks that help guide decisions. it's often extremely "gray area" subjective work that needs to be defensible, as if it were objective. so my 'bottom line' is often, "Can we make a decision based on this information?" Being able to get an analysis to the realm of directing practical decisionmaking is really important. "good enough to make the next decision" is often the goal of my work.
what "good enough" means, though, changes so much from project to project. it requires getting into the mindset of the team i'm working with. it can mean "good enough for us 3 for the next week" to "good enough to scale to 80 million users." i have been able to roll with those levels of changes because i've been willing to listen, learn, change my perspective. i've had many "oh god, i'm totally wrong about my approach" moments-- made possible by my ability to change my mind.
so what i don't get is why projecting a personality that's just 'confident' in any way relates to my ability to produce results, as a professional, in my line of work. i do understand that humans are animals that respond strongly to social cues, and confidence is associated with leadership. i get it. i get it.
but isn't it also just a little bit silly to expect a statistician to project absolute confidence at every stage of the analytical process? my job often involves calculating the appropriate range of values that i can express a certain amount of confidence in. i can often eyeball those calculations, because i've been doing them a long time. i'm comfortable with "is 'probably' good enough?" conversations.
the point is that it's a professional skill i have. i get myself into a lot of situations where being able to say, "this value will fall in this range 95% of the time" is the biggest part of my value add. "Be more confident," to me, means widening a range of predicted values. i understand this type of confidence. If you want me to be 100% confident in a projection, then that projection is going to be "somewhere between negative infinity and positive infinity." More confidence can make decisionmaking not just more difficult, but practically impossible.
So i guess I struggle to see the value of an analyst who projects a lot of social confidence-- not only because we have to change our mindsets and learn so much, but also because of the nature of what we do. i do understand an analyst projecting confidence ad nauseam when they don't want input from colleagues at all. sometimes that's a thing that's important and necessary and it doesn't mean anyone's dumb (or not confident).
but i don't usually take jobs that look like that. I don't like jobs where i'm the expert, or i'm not learning anything new. they can pay well, but they can be quite boring, too. so for my jobs, diversity of thought and input and discussion are important to the process. being able to solicit new perspectives and mindsets isn't the same as losing control of the analytical process, it doesn't mean giving up authority or control. it's an important part of what i love to do. to me, a good analyst spends a lot of time listening and exploring possibilities. this can often be restated as 'a good analyst spends a lot of time feeling like an idiot.' whether you feel that way or not, most people would agree, 'learning' isn't a mindset that lends itself to unbounded confidence. you can't discover something new without being open to it. you can't make progress without being able to critique yourself.
but i hear the criticism of the way i come across socially. i just struggle with what feels like the right fix. acting like i never doubt myself seems incredibly stupid. in a professional setting, i just don't respect people who don't doubt themselves. i don't respect arrogant people in the workplace. and worst of all, i don't respect people who refer far more to their own experience to make business decisions than they do to any kind of shared or larger experience. sometimes those people get lucky, that their individual experience happens to be shared, and their work ends up being relatable. that's just rolling dice, to me. so maybe i'm reacting, a bit strongly, to the many "go-getters" I've known who behave this way (or worse, convincing their conscious minds that their work is good for their business, when they're making very poor decisions for the business long-term).
i think my problem is that showing ANY uncertainty registers as too much for so many people. for some reason, people seem willing to have perfect faith in each other (or act like they do?), until it's suggested to them, explicitly, that maybe they shouldn't. to me, that's not really a problem i want to work around. i don't actually want to be part of a world like this, where the average person is expected to be so easy to manipulate. i agree that it's a waste of time to fundamentally question each other's work and methodology all the time, but there are so many cool ways to make our work reproducible and transparent now. i don't want to spend NO time allowing for discourse about our uncertainty and lack of knowledge. we don't know everything-- so it's going to come out eventually, whether we pretend we know everything or not. to me, we need a steam vent.
what i'd love is a way to project a specific level of confidence, socially. i'd like to be able to say "i have no fucking idea" in a way that still makes me look competent.