• Ciara Ungar

Being Your Own Cheerleader

I recently read Rachel Hollis’ 7 Secrets of Confident Women and it hit me hard how much I had been subconsciously dealing with this topic as of late.

photography by Jeffrey Zicker

More than ever, I’ve recently had to describe myself to others, both professionally and personally. For one reason or another, I’ve had a lot of conversations about my accomplishments (which has always been very difficult for me to discuss), how I’ve grown and changed and what makes me different. Talking about accomplishments isn't hard because I don’t have accomplishments, but because of how we’re conditioned to talk and think about ourselves from childhood.

In Hollis’ article, she talks about being your own cheerleader and how to talk confidently about what we do and what we’ve accomplished - “it’s not bragging, it’s being proud of who you are.” And that’s the piece that hits home. I grew up in the middle of nowhere in Indiana, where the Church was a big part of my life. I learned to “sacrifice” and “lay down my life for others”, which is often taught in a very martyr-like way. (Not by all, but by many.) I have no regrets about my involvement in the church at a young age - it made me who I am and taught me fundamental lessons about showing compassion, having forgiveness, loving others and having a greater purpose beyond ourselves. I’ve come to recognize that it’s this mentality that also conditions us to think that talking positively about ourselves isn't humble. And although I know not all churches are like this, the vast majority do teach this (intentionally or accidentally), which molds young people - young women particularly - into thinking they cannot speak highly of themselves without “bragging.”

I 100% struggle with this, and only recently did I begin to recognize its manifestation in me as a professional woman - I've had to challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone. I’m a cheerleader at heart - I’ve always been a cheerleader and I probably always will be in one form or another -, but I’ve always cheered for everyone else. Unless I’ve been in an interview, I would never have felt comfortable talking about my accomplishments with conviction and confidence. Even then when I’m expected to “brag” about myself it has been uncomfortable. In the last several months, something just clicked and I realized I had to fight for my own right to be in a room or at a company - but more importantly, let myself FEEL like I deserve to be there and let that be OK.

Having to fight for my right to be at the board table isn’t new - in a historically male-dominated industry, I’m very used to being the only female at the table with male executives, finding myself having to talk louder, be more assertive, be more … well, "manly." What’s also not new, is knowing I deserve to be in those conversations and situations and navigating the world of patience until others see it, too. For those who have known me for a long time, you’ve seen my journey. In the last few years, I have gone through hell and had to fight through a lot of new situations - moving to New York City, starting new jobs in order to make ends meet, new doctors for Lyme Disease, and a whole slew of other crap that has just seemed relentless. And what has come out of that is that I’ve had to sell myself - explain myself - every single day to someone new in some new way. And it has always felt uncomfortable to do so.

But fact:

We weren’t a wealthy family growing up. I graduated from two highly respected schools (Purdue University and Georgetown University) with a collective 6 majors. I’ve excelled in my career, live on my own in one of the most expensive cities - I have a lot to be proud of.

It wasn’t until recently when I decided it’s OK to say this. It’s OK to sit across a table or on the phone and - when appropriate - say exactly what you’ve accomplished and why you deserve to be there. Further, doing so without feeling ashamed or nervous that others will perceive you as bragging. Owning who you are is truly life changing and it’s the only way you can get to that next level of success. The way others perceive you, starts with you. (And I say that delicately, recognizing that it’s also important to not give too much weight to what others think about you). If you want to be perceived as deserving to be at the table, put that out there. Say it.

Actionable Takeaway

When you wake up in the morning, establish a self-affirming routine. Answer these questions for yourself, to yourself, in your mirror. Add your own to fit your life accomplishments. If you're struggling to come up with any, please reach out to me here or on Instagram, and I'll help you identify some.

I woke up today.

My name is ___________________________________________________________

I graduated from _______________________________________________________

I deserve my seat at the table because ________________________________________