My 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Fisher, often put me in the corner for talking too much.

I always listened up when she was saying something interesting but the rest of the time I was busy “helping” my classmates understand what she had said. 

She would often say, “Ann, who’s teaching this class, you or me?

In third grade, I thought I was pretty smart.

But being stifled all my life, I soon came to believe I wasn’t smart enough to contribute to the conversation.

Remember the mean girls in school? 

Okay, true, some of them are still mean. They covered up their lack of self-esteem by joining a clique, acting aloof, and judging other girls. Classic girl behavior which, unfortunately, you can still see in some adult women who believe that is how to be a leader.

Lots of people fake confidence.

Real confidence takes courage and work. It’s scary to stand up for what you believe, say what you mean, and speak your truth to powerful people.

I think of people like Mahatma Gandhi and Rosa Parks.

If you want to be truly confident, you will have to embrace who you really are and what you truly believe. You will have to stop comparing yourself to others and start being the best version of yourself – the grown-up you are called to be.

And that takes guts. 

To show the world your true self – your mistakes, fears, vulnerabilities, thoughts, and opinions. Everyone’s true self is a little messy. The rub is, we assume we’re the only ones with this messy middle and that makes us feel isolated and alone – like we just don’t fit in.

It’s not comfortable letting others see that part of ourselves, so we cover it up with things that make us appear to be more confident than we feel.

Things like clothes, makeup, cars, partners, degrees, certifications, and God knows, enough social media postings to make others think our lives are way more interesting than they really are.

Who Are You Really?

If you’re doing something inauthentic or not what you were created to be, you may appear confident to others, but deep inside you’re always going to feel like an imposter. 

A big, wet, messy, phoney-baloney fake.

My confidence always takes a hit when I am trying to be something I’m not, a persona I’ve created instead of the flawed person I see in the mirror.

I spent years perfecting that persona.

I wasn’t trying to be fake, it was a defense mechanism and how I survived when I felt threatened by people who seemed more confident than me.

And that if others saw who I really was – dorky, over-the-top optimistic, inclined to trust everyone – they might discount anything I had to say.

Turns out, we all feel that way. 

You know that “you’re not enough” voice in your head? The one driven by the imposter syndrome that says you’re not good enough, thin enough, pretty enough, rich enough, tall enough, enough enough.

We all have one of those.

Mine says, “You’re not smart enough. You can stay as long as you look good, keep us entertained, and don’t get all uppity thinking we’d give a flying fig what you have to say.” That voice.

I hate that voice.

Over the years, I discovered that voice isn’t mine. It’s the sum total of many people who wanted me to conform to rules, standards, norms, systems, procedures, and expectations.

And it was sucking the life out of me.

Each day I didn’t show up as my true self, I would die a little inside.

After five decades on the planet, I’m still figuring this out. My persona wants to impress people enough they will think I am smart. 

The real me wants to connect.

So, what to do?

Do one thing today that feels uncomfortable because it’s authentic. Maybe it’s saying something you really believe or telling someone “no” when you usually say “yes.”

Start to breath again by peeling off that gilded-cage persona you’ve built around yourself – the one you wear because you think others won’t think you’re enough.

Mine is encrusted with street cred that looks like I have it all together.

I don’t. 

My “messy middle” is still run by that third grader who knew exactly who she was before it got troweled over by years of comparison and doubt.

That third grader knew how to connect. I’m going to be listening to her voice more often.

Dr. Ann Vertel is a personal and positive leadership expert, motivational psychologist, keynote speaker, and 20-year Naval Officer who helps individuals and organizations develop positive, resilient leaders who think bigger, act bolder, and take charge. Learn more at


  • Ann Vertel, Ph.D.

    Business Psychologist | Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Ann Vertel is a business psychologist, human behavior expert, keynote speaker, corporate trainer, leadership consultant, 20-year Naval Officer, and the Founder of American Women in Business. She works with leaders and organizations who want to leverage the power of personal development to bring out the best in their people and create a culture of excellence. Her unusual combination of encouragement, experience, and expertise will help you think bigger, act bolder, and take charge of your success. Learn more at