Have you ever been in a conversation with someone about their work and found yourself wondering what on earth they were talking about? How did you feel in that moment? Did you feel left out? Even worse, did you feel out-of-touch and small? Did you wonder how you got to this place? Finally, did you despair of ever being able to comprehend, or even contribute, to such a conversation?

Yep. That’s “less than” thinking in action. It happens when you encounter a situation where you feel so out-of-touch that you cannot even contribute anything but an affirmative murmur or a nod of recognition. It can happen at work; it can happen at home; it can happen at lunch with a friend; it can happen in meetings with your kids’ teachers; it can happen anywhere.

Your strengths brought you here.

My clients talk about this feeling of being left out a lot. The ones who are returning to work after a sprint (yes, a sprint) as a stay-at-home parent are particularly susceptible to these feelings. It’s so easy to feel “less than” others when you’ve chosen a different path from most people. You forget that it’s your strengths that led you to your decision to stay at home with your child, or keep working outside your home while raising your child, or start a new business, or travel for a year, or change careers midstream, or go back to work after years at home.

So let’s inventory those strengths then explore them (so you can claim them, please!):

  • Courage to try something new.
  • Faith in your ability to accomplish something new (and there’s nothing that gives you that rookie feeling like being a new parent or starting a new business!).
  • Determination to find what you need to accomplish your goal.
  • Resilience in the face of obstacles.
  • Flexibility to change your direction or tactics.

Courage to try something new.

It takes a lot of courage to even think deeply about trying something new. You have to re-imagine your life, your skills, your experience, your future. And, since it’s not enough just to think about these things, you actually go out there and take the first step. You make a call to a former colleague. You Google that career you’ve been thinking about. You talk to other parents who’ve gone back to work.

And then you took a deep breath and did that thing. You did it even though you weren’t sure you would succeed. You did it with the support of some friends and the skepticism of others. You didn’t succumb to the fears that kept you up at night. You didn’t fall prey to the procrastination bug that kept telling you to wait, try this another time, you’re not ready. You did it. And you did it because you had

Faith in your ability to accomplish something new.

Faith plays a huge part in being able to start a new pursuit. I’m not sure that we always remember to label this part of the process as “faith,” but we should. When you have faith in your own abilities, it becomes possible to do virtually anything. When you say to yourself, “I know I can do this!” you’re making a statement to the universe that you believe in you. And let me assure you that there is absolutely no more powerful force in the universe than faith in yourself.

You see, people can feel that faith emanating from you. To be clear, faith is different from self-confidence. Faith in yourself is bedrock, foundational – and people are attracted to people who are stable, grounded, sure of themselves in elemental ways. Because people who have faith in themselves are able to instill faith in others.

So when you have that moment of doubt “Can I really do this?” the universe tells you via that little voice in your head “Of course you can!” And you pay attention to that voice and you go out and do it.

Determination to find what you need to accomplish your goal.

It’s easy to dismiss the value of this particular strength. Here’s the thing though. You can have the courage to try something new and the faith in your ability to do it. But if you don’t have the determination to find the resources within yourself and outside of you to accomplish your goal, it won’t happen.

This one was probably scary for you because it forced you out of your comfort zone in real ways. Your baby ran a high fever and you had a huge presentation due at work and your partner was out-of-town. You were offered the job of your dreams at an absurdly low salary. You worked for a startup that you really believed in whole heartedly and it went under. You decided to go back to work and you had to find the very best childcare possible for your children. Your child has been sick off and on for months and no one can figure out why.

And I’ll bet you made each of these scenarios work. Maybe you panicked at work (I’ve been through a couple of these myself and, believe me, panic happened first, then the determination to make it work!). But you didn’t quit. You didn’t stop in your tracks and say, “I cannot handle this! I’m going back to bed and pulling the covers over my head!”

You did not. Instead you Googled and called and prayed and pushed and pulled and thought and sweated and maneuvered and twisted and turned until you worked it out. You probably found help in unexpected places. Why were you able to find that help? Because you let people know that you needed help and support. People want to help you. You let them see your vulnerability and they stepped up and helped you. You opened up the space for your determination to work, and it did.

Resilience in the face of difficulties.

This is the sister to determination. When you’re resilient, when you open yourself to the possibility of success, you also open yourself open to unimaginable amounts of guidance. The universe wants you to succeed, your friends want you to succeed, your family wants you to succeed, your co-workers want you to succeed.

So, when you fall down on the job or forget the meeting with your child’s teacher, or blow a presentation, or miss a deadline, you beat yourself up for a little bit. Then you pick yourself up and carry on. You do this because you know this flub is just a blip in time. There will be more ways to mess up and there will be an equal number of ways to recover.

Since you’re daring to exercise your strengths and going for your dreams, the whole universe conspires to help you stay resilient. Because you also know that you will have another chance to shine, the universe rewards you both with the opportunity to shine and the ability to see that opportunity when it presents itself to you.

Flexibility to change your direction or strategy.

You use this strength when something comes up and smacks you in the face. You’ve decided to stay at home after the birth of your child and your partner loses their job. You go back to work and your elderly parent needs more care and to move. You’ve been at your dream job for a while and you realize it’s not really your dream job after all.

So what do you do? Since you’re both determined and resilient, you can see opportunities and ways through crises that someone who’s not so intentional might miss. You realize that being flexible in the face of a situation that you have very little control over means a better outcome for everyone. And, since you’re flexible, you also know that there’s only one constant: change.

So when your partner loses their job, you decide to look for a job, too, on your terms. You look at the options with your partner and once again you leave yourself open to endless possibilities by asking people for help and ideas.

Then surprising things happen. You find out your mom was ready to retire and she’d love to help out with child care – she’s begging you to let her help you. Or maybe you realize you have wicked skills that would make you a great virtual assistant (a VA). You do some research and realize that you can be a VA and stay-at-home mom. All you need to do is take a couple of online classes to get up-to-date. Win, win.

Or when your elderly parent needs more help and you have to be at work, you’re able to find caring, compassionate help – because you let the universe and the people you know help you. You opened your mind and your eyes and the help came to you.

Not such a dream job after all.

When you realize that your dream job isn’t such a dream after all, you go back to the exploration process that helped you identify that dream job and you pick up where you left off.

Please, please, please remember this:

No work you do is ever wasted. Ever.

 This is the real life corollary to Newton’s Law of Physics stating that no energy ever leaves the system. When you’ve taken the time to examine and identify the work you want to pursue, that knowledge never goes away. Not even when you end up in a not so dream job. That job becomes one more piece of the puzzle you’re working on solving. I like to say that knowing what you don’t want to do (or how you don’t want to pursue your dream) is just as important as knowing what you do want.

There are no final answers.

So, you stay flexible because you realize there are no final answers in life. When you keep your eye on the big picture and own your part of that picture, you automatically know that something else is coming your way. You don’t have to panic because you can find a new strategy or direction – you’ve done it before in both large and small ways.

So when that stupid voice in your head tells you that you’re less than everyone around you: “You’ll never understand this technology jargon!” “You’re too old to learn new things!” “You’re so out of touch!” you know it’s not true. You know it because you’ve made things happen in your life using the same core strengths you can use to regain those feelings of competence, and belonging, and usefulness.

Believe in yourself. I do.

You’re courageous, you have faith in yourself, you’re determined to do your thing, you’re resilient in the face of challenges, and you’re flexible enough to course correct. You are a strong capable person who has done amazing things before and you can do new ones now. I believe in you. You should believe in you, too.