These are pretty strong words and likely bring on an interesting visual. Let’s explain what this means.
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “Have the confidence of a mediocre white man“?
I certainly have, and it’s especially relevant for women dealing with imposter syndrome, trying to overcome insecurities and a lack of confidence in their careers.
Many professional women struggle daily to be heard, prove their worth, and remain confident. What’s sad about this is that these very women are often overqualified for their jobs and must work harder than average to be considered good enough. Women also seldom ask for the salary or perks that they deserve (which our male counterparts so easily receive)
In recent conversations with friends and colleagues, more than once someone has mentioned having the “confidence of a mediocre white man”. It’s interesting if you think about what it’s saying. Let’s understand its meaning and how to use it to help put things into perspective.
The Confidence of a Mediocre White Man
To be clear, this phrase is not intended to be racist or demeaning. This phrase encompasses a particular persona of a white man in America that we are all familiar with. In our interactions, I’m sure many of us have been utterly confused by the confidence we see in some people. That’s what we’re here to discuss.
So what exactly is this phrase saying?
1 – Perfection Is Not Required
Women are often held to a higher standard. But as we see time and again, perfection is not necessary. Of course, this doesn’t mean you stop trying or abandon hard work. Instead, use this knowledge to shift your focus from perfection to concentrating on tasks that help you progress.
As an example, look to see what your mediocre male counterparts do. They likely spend their time networking and building relationships. Or they are doing the bare minimum required of their jobs and will let everyone know that they’ve met their minimums.
If you make a mistake or fail to accomplish a goal, use it as a learning opportunity instead of getting down on yourself. Find ways to leverage what you learn, and do NOT shoulder all the responsibility. Our male colleagues never assume full responsibility for mistakes; instead, they discuss how to fix them.
White male mediocrity doesn’t get promoted or get new opportunities in any company or industry because they are unique or perfect. They get it because they are the ones who show up, are confident, don’t put themselves down, and aren’t afraid to toot their own horn.
2 – Confidence Is Independent of Skill
Women often don’t feel confident unless they’re perfect (as mentioned above) or have a specific skill set that they’ve determined they need to boost confidence. But a mediocre white guy is average, doesn’t have unique skills, and may not even have the ambition to go with it.
If you tie confidence to a skillset, you will always chase it. There will always be someone who knows more than you and has more experience (mediocre white man or not). So work on your inner self instead. Use your experiences and life lessons to build confidence in who you are versus what you can do.
Doing this will allow you to avoid the pitfalls of taking negative feedback; you’ll be more likely to work less (should you need or want to) and not feel guilty. You’ll be more able to accept compliments when given.
3 – Believing In Yourself Is A Must
The average Joe feels confident because he believes he’s amazing. Of course, society has likely propped up his white male identity by telling him he’s fantastic and deserving of everything he has. Conversely, you’ve learned to work harder to earn what you get.
Regardless of the narrative you grew up with, a fundamental belief in yourself can surpass any barriers you encounter.
Walk into a room confidently, speak your truth, and don’t apologize; remind yourself of everything you know and highlight that instead of focusing on your weaknesses.
4 – Regarding Confidence, Race Really Doesn’t Matter
You don’t have to be white to have confidence or ambition. Most white men are confident because that’s how they are raised, but a confident person of color (no matter their gender) can surpass that white man with minimal effort.
I am an Indian – American female. So I know this is possible. I’ve watched people react to me in the past. I’m not the smartest; I’ve never had the highest test scores or even the most confidence. While I’ve struggled in some ways, I’ve excelled in others, mainly by staying true to myself and touting my strengths. What’s funny is that I’ve had the most support in my career from successful, ambitious white men.
People with confidence, skills, and strong self-belief always come out ahead. Your skills and knowledge don’t have to be perfect; you only need to be better than a mediocre white man. That is easy.
5 – You Can’t Care What People Think
The saying goes,
“What people think of you is none of your business.”
Just think of this when you get bogged down by others’ opinions. Then remind yourself that success in life and at work doesn’t mean you sacrifice everything to achieve it.
For instance, your mediocre white colleague does whatever he likes, says what he wants in meetings (or doesn’t), takes the vacation he wants, and is generally unconcerned about the consequences.
Of course, in the pursuit of certain goals, you may have to remain mindful of how you come across; however, the point here is not to worry so much that you forget to be yourself or your priorities.
This discussion may sound strange and even a bit obvious, but it’s also all true. You don’t need to be exactly like someone else to get ahead. While hard work is necessary, and yes, expectations are higher, use it to your advantage.
Speak up. Speak out. Acknowledge that you deserve to be in the room. Understand that you don’t need to be the best person in the room to be confident, have clout, or achieve success.
You can be flawed and get promoted. You don’t need to be of a particular race or gender to be taken seriously; you need to be confident in what you do know and stop second-guessing yourself! You need to tout your accomplishments!
Has society given white male mediocrity a lot of power? Yes. But that power was given, not earned. So it can easily be rerouted. Step up to the plate. Channel your inner mediocre white male colleague, combine it with your unique skillset, and wield your power.