At least once a week, I have a conversation with someone that goes something like this:
Person: …I would like make a change but I just don’t have the confidence.
Me: What do you think you can do to get the confidence you need?
Person: I think if I could just believe in myself enough it would be easier.
Me: OK, so how do you start believing in yourself enough?
Person: Um, I guess I need to be less anxious. To stop worrying and self-doubting so much.
Me: Sounds great! What do you think will help you feel less anxious?
Person: Having more confidence.
Somehow, somewhere, at some point in time it seems that a lot of us were sold a bill of goods about confidence; that it’s something we will spontaneously wake up with one day, maybe when we are old enough, good-looking enough, or when enough of the right people like us enough. Spoiler alert…
The myth that confidence is something that will suddenly be bestowed upon us when we have enough of whatever keeps us on the hamster wheel, using a lot of energy and getting nowhere. The reality is that confidence requires growth through experience.
In her book, “Why Not Me?”, Mindy Kaling shares her take on this, including her own experiences of low and growing confidence, her understanding of entitlement, and her value of hard work.
People talk about confidence without ever bringing up hard work. That’s a mistake. I know I sound like some dour older spinster chambermaid on Downton Abbey who has never felt a man’s touch and whose heart has turned to stone, but I don’t understand how you could have self-confidence if you don’t do the work.
But what if you don’t know what “the work” looks like for you?
Then it’s time to work on clarity. Take time- somewhere between 10 minutes to 2 years- to identify your values, your strengths, and your needs. Work with a professional, a group, or your partner as you map these things out, knowing that the paths will grow and the routes may change as you become more aware of “the work.” Then, get ready to get at least slightly uncomfortable…
Because tucked in between the knowing and the doing of the work is the promise of vulnerability, uncertainty, and/or exposure and for each and all of these, we need some courage.
Courage makes it possible to put and keep ourselves out in the midst of something new and challenging, qualities inherent in anything with serious growth potential. And yes, of course we have some Brené Brown to back this up:
You gotta be in the game. By virtue of the fact that reflexive cynicism is rampant, showing up requires a lot of courage.
Though we’ve outlined that we can come to confidence by way of knowing the work/clarifying our values, showing up with courage, and being a little uncomfortable as we do the work, what we really experience through out all of this is connection. Connection to ourselves, our values, our “bigger than self” and connection to others. This is why the “spontaneous confidence” myth is so hurtful: it creates a variety of ways to disconnect from our true selves and the world around us.
So here is a rough draft version of our Connection-Confidence equation:
Connect with our selves: Take the time to clarify our values, strengths, challenge areas, areas of avoidance, desires.
Connect with courage: Purposefully tap into what it will take to show up. Hold up both the risk and the value of what we’re doing.
Connect with the vulnerability of the moment: Feel the feelings and (what is it the kids say these days?) “lean in” to the discomfort, not for the sake of simply feeling uncomfortable but as a way of continuing to move through the experience.
Connect with that which is outside of ourselves: In these feelings notice the tendency to pull away or isolate. Instead, “tend and befriend“, be in community, connect to and environment that grounds us, whether that be a walk in the woods or the rush of a city during lunch break!
And finally, connect with the whole experience: Take stock of what we have done, where we began, where we’ve arrived, where we wanted to bolt but stayed firm, where we surprised ourselves.
Most importantly, take the time to name where you took the values and strengths within you and connected them with choice and action.