I have no confidence. It’s true. I lack that inherent belief in myself that so many confident people seem to have.
When I was 13, my parents sent me to visit friends of theirs that lived over 600 kilometres away. They owned horses and I was mad on horses. My parents could not afford to buy me one, so they opted to fly me down to these friends where I would have a week of unadulterated horse heaven.
It wasn’t a great week for me. I was, largely, neglected and ignored and I only got to ride once. The mother yelled at her children a lot and she refused to let them call her mum. It was very scary for me.
I stayed in my room a lot. In that room I happen to chance upon a woman’s magazine. I think it may have even been the first women’s magazine I had ever read. In it was an article about some actress I didn’t know. Immediately I noticed she had the air of confidence that I instinctively knew, even at the age of 13, I didn’t have. The article spoke about her confidence and how at the age of thirty-something she had now reached the point where she was completely comfortable in her own skin.
Years later, in my thirties, this ‘being comfortable in your own skin’ thing was still eluding me. I lost 30 kilograms and still didn’t feel wholly comfortable (though shopping for clothes did take on new meaning). I read another article where another celebrity had finally discovered skin comfort in her forties. There is hope for me yet, I thought.
Now, well into my forties, the feeling still eludes.
And so it was that I found myself at the School of Life’s workshop on How To Be Confident. For those of you who aren’t familiar with School of Life, it was a school started by Alain de Botton and other philosophers aimed at giving people practical skills on how to deal with the living of this thing called Life.
It was an intimate group of people. I was as anxious as anything, so I grabbed my friend to come along with me.
I am not going to declare that the course was life changing. That would be silly. And naive.
What it did do was give me some really tangible things to walk away with and work on. It helped me to question my point of view and it also helped me realise that there are a couple areas of my life in which, when I really think about it, I am fairly confident.
Here are the nuggets that were relevant to me. To find your own nuggets, I highly suggest you attend the course. It is three hours of your time and you even get tea and morning snacks. Plus, you never know who you are going to meet.
1. Identify those who you feel are confident and identify the qualities they have that you admire (Role Model 101)
Most of us struggled to identify people who are confident and who we admire. I ended up choosing Mr C. He is, in fact, the most confident person I know. He has a quiet confidence though as he is an introverted person.
He has an inherent belief in himself that he can achieve anything he sets his mind to do. He identifies something he wants to do and then he sets about mapping out a path to achieve it.
He used to run ultra marathons. But when he left school he couldn’t run at all. He had done absolutely no sport. So he set himself the goal to run around the block with no stops. Once he achieved that, he set himself the goal to run 5km, then 10km and so on until he finally ran a 90km race. When his knees got buggered, he started to cycle and last year he cycled the last 8 stages of the Tour de France route.
2. Confidence is about hope and trust
Continuing to use Mr C as an example, he has belief, trust if you will, that he can achieve his goal. It is a goal in the future, it is hope for the future. And he trusts that whilst the road may be a bit convoluted that goal can be attained. Sometimes, it isn’t even a specific goal.
I tend to catastrophise my life. When I hit a blip in the road, I throw my arms up, declare the world is conspiring against me and curl into a ball and howl.
His approach is completely different. He acknowledges that life throws up at us many different bumps, but ultimately life is good, that it is meant to be good, that the end goal of a life well lived will be achieved. His hope and faith in that never waivers.
Every year, he wakes up on new years day and declares that this is going to be the best year ever. I get frustrated, since he declares it every year and every year we have drama. He doesn’t care, for him it is just the journey, an adventure. His faith in his future is unwavering.
3. Confidence is about optimism
I didn’t like to hear this. I am a clinically depressed person. I get so very tired of the rhetoric that if I was just more positive I would feel so much better.
Sigh. If only it were that easy. But the truth is that confident people are essentially optimistic. Hope, faith and optimism all go hand in hand. Mr C has unrelenting optimism about the future. Despite the blips along the way. I say that nothing ever goes our way. He agrees, but then highlights that we are still on our journey, moving forward. It doesn’t matter if the journey isn’t taking a straight line, it is nevertheless moving forward.
4. Confidence is about never taking your eye off the ball
When I started my blogging journey, I quickly bought into the numbers game. Commercialisation of blogging has meant that numbers count – a lot. I look at my little following and immediately I thought that I, yet again, had failed. However, if I reframe that and say to myself that my goal is to get 1000 followers as a starting point. If I then plot that amount on a graph, followed by plotting the followers I already have, I can see that already I have made progress. That number will change as people drop off and people add on, but that is okay, because I know that my target is 1000 and as long as I am moving towards that, that is okay.
Confident people keep their eye on the big picture all the time. They don’t get bogged down in the minutiae. Mr C wanted to become a Financial Director. It took him 20 years to get there. The person who had the role before him was much younger. He didn’t worry about that. He just knew that whilst it wasn’t happening as quickly as he liked he was still moving forward. Now he is there, he has set another goal. Another few years perhaps, but that is okay.
5. Confidence is about running your own race and being prepared to take risks
Setbacks in life are natural. Fear is also natural. I, for one, know that I let the fear of failure prevent me from even beginning. I tell myself that I have no right to write or create because I am not JK Rowling, or some other major creative superstar.
Mr C on the other hand does not try to be like anyone else. He is not the fastest runner or cyclist, he is not a career superstar. But he knows that what he does is enough. For him. And him alone. He does not worry what other people say or think. He is comfortable in his own skin and he’s comfortable running his own race. He doesn’t compare himself to others because he inherently knows that “Comparison is the thief of joy”.
He doesn’t consider failure as the end of the world. He acknowledges that today’s run wasn’t that good and endeavours to do better tomorrow.
6. Confidence is a process, surround yourself with those that support the process
No-one ever woke up one day and found they were brilliant at something. Even Mozart and Picasso had to have had lessons in their prospective arts. They just practised until they became really good. Okay, brilliant.
In this fast tracked, very visual world we live in, there is an expectation that we place on ourselves that says we should be brilliant at whatever we turn our hand to in a very short space of time. The reality is that it takes time to find confidence in something. It takes time to become experienced at something well enough that we can safely say we are good at it. And we fail to understand that mastering something doesn’t mean we have to be brilliant at it.
Mr C knows that he is competent at running and cycling. The very act of achieving the long distance events is enough for him. He has surrounded himself with people who support that endeavour. They push him, yes, to be better, to go further, but they don’t berate him for not being fast enough, or strong enough. They encourage him.
I, on the other hand, have previously surrounded myself with people that have reinforced my own opinion that I am not good enough. They have been more than happy to oblige in telling me where I am falling short, rather than focussing their efforts on what I have achieved and how I might go about achieving even more.
And there you have it – my nuggets. I learned a lot in those three hours. I learned about the applicable habits of those who are confident. I learned that confidence can be learned. If we can convince ourselves to take the risk of failure, take that leap of faith, and believe that we can achieve the small goal on the way to achieving the big goal, then our path to confidence will be secured.
If we can understand that set backs happen, that there will always be someone out there more competent than us, but that is okay because it is not about them, but about us, and our own race, then we will finally start beginning to be comfortable, be confident, in our skin.
I also learned that a lot of women were quite interested in meeting my husband, but that is another story entirely.