The Confidence Game

Recently I sat with a friend as we watched his nine-year-old daughter compete in a gymnastics competition. Standing only four-feet-eight inches tall, she walked straight out onto the floor after her name was called and nailed her routine. Then she returned calmly to her place on the bench with all the other gymnasts, back ramrod straight, head held high. I turned to look at my friend, amazed by his daughter’s poise and confidence. “Don’t look at me,” he said with a shrug. “I don’t know where she gets it!”

Confidence is something that ebbs and flows throughout the many seasons of our lives. Sometimes that river runs high and carries us comfortably along. At other times, it’s as dry as old bones and our passage becomes slow and painful. Nagging self-doubt can sap the joy from our lives leaving us feeling permanently under siege. I would argue that the real issue is not so much about confidence, as it is about identity. Knowing who you really are is the key.

Who Are You

Truly confident people have already worked out who they are and what they stand for, and more importantly – what they will not stand for. Their personal constitution has already been written and ratified so there is no need for pretense in any given situation. There is very little “gap” between the public and private self. They trust in themselves. Confident people don’t always need to be right, because deep down, they already live by their own moral code. Similarly, confident people have no need to draw attention to themselves because they aren’t particularly interested in what others think. They are too busy getting on with their own stuff. Accept Yourself

At the root of all confidence issues is self-acceptance. That means accepting all the warts, the bulging thighs, emotional scars, petty jealousies and poor decisions of the past. Certainly, we can work on these if we want, but beating ourselves up because we don’t like some bits is pointless. You are human after all; destined to make mistakes, so cut yourself some slack. You are not now, nor will you ever be, perfect. Some days you will feel like a million bucks, others days you will feel like small change. All your efforts will not be rewarded or met with unconditional love and acceptance. This is okay. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and begin again. Own It

In my practice, I often counsel people who are entering or re-entering the workforce. Some of them have been laid off; others have taken time out from work. Confidence is often an issue. It saddens me when I hear people devalue their own life experience as though none of it mattered. One woman I know had worked as an executive assistant for years, and was now seeking a higher paying job. When I asked what were her skills, “none” was the answer. This was a woman who had traveled the world and spoke four languages fluently! Remember, you are the sum total of your experiences, good, bad and indifferent, and this is what makes you interesting. We used to have a saying in recruitment: “people hire people.” You are not just a name on a resume or a slot on an organizational chart, but a valuable individual with your own unique set of skills. Stretch

You build confidence the same way you build muscle, with practice and repetition. And yes, sometimes it’s uncomfortable. I often hear people bemoan the lack of opportunity in their place of work. To which I reply, “Did you put your hand up? Did you ask for more responsibility?” No one is going to give you anything, you have to take it. And this means stretching yourself. But the great thing about stretching yourself is that the confidence batteries get charged each time you step outside your comfort zone. As the fear melts away, you will feel freer. Take that chance; learn that new skill that you thought you never could. Your world and concept of yourself will be larger as a result. Move

Beyond the obvious salutary effect, physical exercise has a huge positive impact on confidence. If you’re out of touch with your body, you’ll feel sluggish and less energetic. Having the discipline to maintain any exercise ritual not only makes you feel better, it creates positive momentum that you can build on the rest of the day. Healthy self-esteem starts with caring for yourself. This also includes cutting yourself a break if you’ve had a bad day or fallen off the wagon. You were not born fearful and self-doubting. Many of us, over time, learned to give away our power to parents, lovers, bad bosses, religious dogma, the list is different for everyone. Maybe you were made to feel stupid, lazy or incompetent, and maybe you began to believe it? But even a fleeting thought, once accepted, executes itself automatically. So be very careful what you tell yourself. Ultimately, confidence, like happiness, is an inside job. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Deep inside all of us is a wellspring of confidence – the part of us that knows exactly who we are and what we’re worth. It’s not about where you work, how much money you make or what car you drive – rather confidence is about honoring your own inherent value and developing a quiet and unshakable trust in yourself. It’s amazing how others will hold you in greater esteem when you lead the way.