Elevate others. Selfless leadership is key. I found early that promoting myself was great and helped my brand. Now, I feel like giving back and elevating other voices is right for me and my brand. My goal was always to help people and I love to see others SUCCEED.
Starting something new is scary. Learning to believe in yourself can be a critical precursor to starting a new initiative. Why is it so important to learn to believe in yourself? How can someone work on gaining these skills? In this interview series, we are talking to business leaders, authors, writers, coaches, medical professionals, teachers, to share empowering insights about “How To Learn To Believe In Yourself.” As a part of this series we had the pleasure of interviewing Carrie Davenport CMP-Fellow, CEM, CSEP.
Carrie Davenport is CEO of CEOCarrie.com and the Face It! Brand. Carrie is a speaker, writer, career coach, women’s leadership business mentor, and full-time event planner. Carrie sits on several advisory boards to include the Virginia Tech Hospitality and Tourism Management board and she’s currently writing her first book, Face IT till You Make It! — her story about how to succeed in the face of adversity. Carrie has been deemed a Woman to Watch, Industry Influencer, and has recently been named to the All-Time Hall of Fame for Smart Meetings Magazine. You can find her writing for Golf & Travel Magazine, Women’s Health Magazine or at her blog CEOcarrie.com, sharing authentic life and leadership lessons for women.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in a small town in Virginia to a mechanic father and nurse mother. The second I could leave town, I did. I was the first person in my high school to take college classes my Senior year instead of sticking to the regular curricula, and as soon as I could I moved to Australia to study abroad. I guess you can stay I’ve been writing my own script for years.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I went to college to be a psychologist. Apparently, I give great advice. However, someone in my dorm told me that I should really be a meeting planner with my organized type-A personality. I didn’t realize that was an actual job and told them as much. When I did a little research, I found out you COULD do meeting planning for a living, and I immediately switched gears. I studied events in Melbourne, Australia at Victoria University and started planning events right out of college at some major military installations and entities like the DIA and FBI. Almost 20 years later I have had an amazing career in the meetings and events industry that has opened so many doors and introduced me to incredible travel, experiences, and people! I tell people all the time that I am truly living my dream, my way.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Oh yes! I was working for a technology exposition where I had to make sure everyone that visited the tradeshow checked in. I was incredible at walking up to anyone fearlessly and asking them to sign in. I noticed an important looking guy heading into my show at the J. Edgar Hoover building and I rushed up to him to make sure he signed in. His bodyguards (that I didn’t initially see) jumped in front of him and said, “Mr. Mueller can go wherever he likes in HIS building”. My face turned red as I realized at 23 years old that I had just tried to stop the Director of the FBI and force him to sign my check-in spreadsheet!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Right now, I am focused on putting together my leadership lessons throughout the last 20 years into a way that connects to a younger generation authentically. My credo has long been “Face It till You Make It” not FAKE IT till you make it–so I’m leaning hard into that brand right now. I’ve made some mistakes and learned some hard lessons over time, and I think that by sharing those authentically I can help others succeed! I am developing a book under the same name with some candid leadership advice so that hopefully my learnings can give people a head start earlier in their career. Especially women!
For those specifically in the meetings and events sector, I’ve produced a Podcast along with an international women’s leadership coach Juliet Tripp called “Like an #EventBoss”. There you can also follow along to some of our authentic and raw career lessons in real time.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to believe in yourself? Can you share a story or give some examples?
One of my favorite stories goes back to 2014 when I wanted to launch a women’s leadership organization in the events sector. I felt to my core that there was a need for a space JUST for women in the events industry. Even though other organizations were touching on some women-centric topic — I felt that a full organization dedicated to advancing women into leadership positions wasn’t being completely being fulfilled in the meetings and events sector. So, I went to several mentors and pitched my idea. Many said it would fail. I did it anyway. In 2015 with my co-founders, we launched the Association for Women in Events, an organization dedicated to advancing women and quickly grew to over 1,000 members. There was clearly a need and to this day I have incredible mentors, cheerleaders, coaches, and colleagues that I can rely on because of the incredible work that organization provided to the events community. It is my living legacy.
What exactly does it mean to believe in yourself? Can I believe that I can be a great artist even though I’m not very talented? Can I believe I can be a gold medal Olympic even if I’m not athletic? Can you please explain what you mean?
Believing in yourself just means leaning into what you feel and what you believe, in my opinion. It is listening to your gut or that tiny voice in your head that is screaming, “THIS is right, YOU are right, this FEELS right”. It is looking at all your failures, successes, learnings and believing that it can elevate you to the next level, ALWAYS. It isn’t shying away from trying, it is forcing yourself to face it -even when it may be hard!
Was there a time when you did not believe in yourself? How did this impact your choices?
What woman in America hasn’t looked at herself in the mirror at some point and felt doubt? I think for me, I had to push myself for a mindset change. Instead of feeling like I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, thin enough, liked enough, tough enough, WHATEVER enough for people I had to say — am I doing my best. I love the term “progress-over-perfection” and as a recovering perfectionist, I must give myself some credit to slow down and not do it all and be everything to everyone. Sometimes just to make it through the day when I am dealing with a low-energy day or moment of self-doubt I have to say to myself, “Am I doing my best?”. “Are you proud of what you are doing? Would you scream it from the rooftops or be ok with reading it on the internet?”. Not every day is a 100% perfect self-esteem day. For me, figuring out how to meet myself halfway, some of the way, or all of the way, and giving myself what I need to do my best and fill my cup is really important. That doesn’t look the same every day despite popular belief. Some days that may be grinding and going all-in 9am to 9pm. Other days it is taking a mental health wellness day and pulling back to nurture myself.
At what point did you realize that in order to get to the next level, it would be necessary to build up your belief in yourself? Can you share the story with us?
I think that ultimately, I have always believed in myself. I am smart, capable, and able to make big things happen. But I haven’t always had the confidence to promote myself or use my voice. Now, I am big into shameless self-promotion. No one is going to love me more than me, spend more days in my head and this body than me. Once I stopped negatively talking to myself, I saw an immediate change.
What are your top 5 strategies that will help someone learn to believe in themselves? Please share a story or example for each.
1 . Be Authentic. I spent a lot of my career trying to make it look like everyone else’s career. Once I stopped trying to be everyone else or do what I thought was supposed to be done, I started to WIN. For example, I was told that to succeed in my specific career, I could never leave the Washington DC metro area. I had grown my personal brand there for too long, and I needed to show up every day to keep it strong. However, I decided that to thrive in my daily life AND in my career, I need change and I needed to feed my soul. I needed to be myself. At that moment I realized I had a choice — I could buck the trend and be brave or I could slowly die a “corporate” death. In 2014 I sold or gave away everything I owned, sold my house and bought a yacht. I moved across country and lived on a yacht in the harbor in downtown San Diego and worked remotely before that was a “thing” and changed my mind set and ultimately my life. I fed myself FIRST. I listened to my gut and did what I needed to be mentally stronger.
2 . Embrace Failure. I used to try to hide when “bad things happened” early in my career. Once I was fired. There, I said it — it happens to the best of us. Ok TWICE in my career I was fired. I wasn’t a good fit and was “let go” for one, and the other was honestly a stupid mistake and the company regretted it. In fact, I am still friends with the hiring manager, and she still follows my career and says I was her best hire ever. So, instead of hiding the bad, I worked to find the lesson…and I turned my learnings into a speech that I would give (and gave a lot) virtually at conferences during COVID. Not everyone can hear all the good ALL the time. Or be perfect all the time. Once you learn to embrace that, the rest is easy. People want authenticity, the good AND the bad.
3 . You do you. Please see story above where I moved onto a yacht and became a sea captain — all while balancing a career as an event manager and working as a consultant on the side. Call me Captain Carrie! I do feel like I need to say this though — not everyone’s version of success looks the same way. Just like how not everyone’s version of “filing your cup” looks the same. As an introvert, mine is finding time to myself to reset. Alternately, my husband — the extrovert — fills his cup by being AROUND people. When you lean into which one you REALLY are, you can find what fills your soul best. My advice? Try it all and see what fits.
4 . You can’t do it all alone. Don’t even try. Find a sponsor, a champion, an ally and a coach. You need someone that will connect you with opportunities, success, and money. You need someone that cheers all your ideas on. You need someone that can RELATE to what you do or how you feel, and lastly you need someone to bounce things off of –someone that can provide you with coaching and clear direction when you feel foggy.
5 . Elevate others. Selfless leadership is key. I found early that promoting myself was great and helped my brand. Now, I feel like giving back and elevating other voices is right for me and my brand. My goal was always to help people and I love to see others SUCCEED.
Conversely, how can one stop the negative stream of self-criticism that often accompanies us as we try to grow?
This can be inevitable for those of us with OCD, ADD, a Type-A personality or just about anyone that desperately wants to succeed in life or in their career! Negative thoughts are like a sneeze, the more you try to stop it-the more you need to release it. My advice is to really let yourself feel it, let yourself lean into your doubt or negative thought for a moment and then release it before it hurts you more. Sometimes fighting a negative though instead of addressing it will just allow it to pop up at the worst time possible in the future. FACE IT!
Are there any misconceptions about self-confidence and believing in oneself that you would like to dispel?
Absolutely! Especially for women. I can’t tell you how many times my confidence or determination has been perceived as cockiness, coldness, or as one person so eloquently put it the other day, “You must think you are God”. My jaw dropped when this person said that — they clearly have no idea who I am. But determination and self-belief is going to inevitably bring on a certain amount of criticism. We as women are not traditionally viewed in the best light when we ACT powerful. If I could dispel anything, it would be, “Powerful women are intimidating”. No, no we are not. Powerful women get stuff DONE. Hitch your cart to a powerful woman as a mentor, champion or sponsor and mark my words on how determine they can be.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with imposter syndrome?
I’ve struggled with this term. I think “Imposter Syndrome” is just a part of growth. We almost never feel we are where we are supposed to be. I think of it like this — as a child you watch adults, and you desperately wanted to be one. And then when you are one, you want a nap! We built up ideas of what success FEELS like or LOOKS like and when it isn’t exactly like that — or when it comes easier or when someone give us credit for our work it may feel strange to accept the accolades that come along with your success. It is all part of the process of learning how to be an evolved human and accept your career growth.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I hope I am doing that by the work I already do! I fundamentally believe that with my platform I have to give others the stage. OTHER voices and diverse voices are good for all. Through my work on Events: From Black to White — a series about diversifying the events industry and through my work mentoring students and elevating others I hope that my legacy will inspire others to do the same. We rise by lifting others!
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
How can our readers further follow your work online?
www.ceocarrie.com is a great place to start!
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.