I'm not sure if you've ever heard the phrase, “have the confidence of a mediocre white man.”
I certainly have, and it's especially relevant in the context of dealing with imposter syndrome, trying to overcome insecurities and a lack of confidence. It's even more applicable when you think about women and their careers.
Many women I know, including myself, struggle daily with being heard, proving our worth, and remaining confident in ourselves. What's sad about this is that we are often overqualified for our jobs, work harder than the average Joe to be seen as good enough. We seldom ask for the salary or perks that we deserve (which our male counterparts so easily receive).
When I've spoken with friends and colleagues about this, this phrase of having the “confidence of a mediocre white man” has come up several times. It's a really interesting phrase if you think about what it's saying. Let's get into its meaning and how you can use it to help put things into perspective.
The Confidence of a Mediocre White Man
I want to be clear that this phrase is not meant to be racist or demeaning. This phrase encompasses a certain persona of white male America that we all have seen and interacted with professionally. In our interactions, I'm sure many of us have been confused and mind-boggled by the confidence we see in some people. That's what we're here to discuss.
So what exactly is this phrase really saying?
1 – You Don't Need To Be Perfect
Women are often held to a higher standard to produce, excel, and climb the career ladder. But deep down, I think we all know perfection is not necessary. We see this all of the time across every industry. Of course, this doesn't mean that you drop all of your efforts. Instead, shift your focus from perfection to tasks that actually do help you progress.
Look to see what your mediocre white male counterparts are doing. I'm willing to bet they spend their time networking and building relationships. Or they are doing the bare minimum required of them, and they are sure to let everyone know that they've met their minimums.
Alternatively, instead of avoiding and fearing failure, allow it to happen. Use it as a learning opportunity, find ways to leverage what you learn, and do NOT shoulder all the responsibility. White male colleagues never take responsibility for mistakes; 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 special 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 dude is average. He doesn't have special skills and may not even have the ambition around it.
If you tie confidence to a skillset, then you'll always be chasing it because there will always be someone who knows more than you and has more experience (mediocre white man or not). So instead, work on your inner self. Use your experiences and life lessons to build your confidence in who you are versus what you're capable of doing.
In this way, you'll avoid the pitfalls of taking negative feedback; personally, you'll be more likely to work less (should you need or want to) and not feel guilty, and you'll be more able to accept compliments when given.
3 – You Have To Believe In Yourself
The average Joe is confident because he believes he's awesome. Of course, his white male identity has likely been propped up by society telling him he's awesome and deserving of everything he has. On the flip side, you've been told you have to work hard and harder to earn what you get.
No matter the narrative you grew up with, I think a real belief in yourself can surpass any barriers others may put in your way. Walk into the room with confidence, speak your truth, and don't apologize; remind yourself of everything you know and highlight that instead of focusing on your weaknesses.
4 – Race Doesn't Actually Matter
Race really doesn't matter. You don't have to be white to have confidence, ambition, or skill. 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 write this as an Indian – American female. So no, I'm not disillusioned. I've seen how people have reacted to me in the past. I'm not the smartest, or with the highest test scores, or even the most confident. I've struggled, but I've worked to stay true to myself because I know what I'm capable of. I spoke to my strengths, stayed positive throughout my interactions, and I did not fake it. What's funny is that I've actually had the most support in my career from successful, ambitious, white men.
People with confidence, skills, and a strong sense of self-belief always come out ahead. Your skills and knowledge don't have to be perfect; you really only need to be better than a mediocre white man. That isn't difficult.
5 – You Can't Care What People Think
You really can't. We've all heard, “what people think of you is none of your business.” Just think of that phrase when you find yourself getting bogged down by others' opinions.
Think about it; your mediocre white colleague does whatever he likes, regardless of what anyone, even the boss, thinks of him. He says what he wants in meetings (or doesn't), takes the vacation he wants and is generally unconcerned about the consequences.
Of course, if you're ambitious and have actual goals, then you may be worried about how you come across and about being seen in the right way. The point here is not to get so bogged down by what people think you forget to be yourself. Don't be so concerned about job security that you forget to say no to things that don't align with your interests or help you achieve your goals.
Bringing It Together
This may sound like bogus nonsense for anyone reading this who's ambitious, hardworking, and driven. But it's actually all true. You can set high goals for yourself and aspire to be like the high-achieving person you admire. That's all fine. The idea here, though, is to realize that you don't need to beat the best person in the room to be confident, have clout or achieve success.
You don't need to be perfect or be the most skilled to climb up the ladder. You don't need to be of a certain race or gender to be taken seriously. A confident mediocre white man often gets ahead because those around him aren't confident enough to speak up for themselves or make the moves necessary to move forward. A confident mediocre white man isn't questioning himself, second-guessing his moves, or worrying about what anyone thinks. He's saying and doing what suits him.
Has society given white male mediocrity a lot of power? Yes. But that power was given, not earned. So, it can easily be rerouted. You have to step up to the plate. Channel your inner mediocre white male colleague, combine it with your unique skillset, and wield your power.
Sanjana is a physician anesthesiologist, avid traveler, and entrepreneur. She founded The Female Professional in order to give women a voice, a community, and provide resources to help them overcome hurdles and achieve success.
With her experiences as a physician, as a CEO of a startup, and as a writer, she understands the struggles and frustrations that women face. She also understands what it takes to move past those things and come out on top.
Through this platform, Sanjana aims to empower women to be their best, authentic, selves, achieve work/life balance, and live life to the fullest.