I recently had a life coaching client come to me and ask for help in building her self-confidence (we’ll call her Sarah). Sarah has been a lawyer for 25 years and is very successful. Sarah shared with me the fact that throughout her successful career, she has harbored serious self-doubts and a sometimes excruciating lack of confidence. How, I asked her, could she be strong willed and courageous enough to reach the top of her profession without self-confidence. All of this time, she told me, she pretended to believe in herself. Sarah told me that in the beginning when she was scared or unsure of her ability to meet a challenge, she would (quite literally) recall The Little Engine that Could or Anna singing Whenever I feel Afraid, I Whistle a Happy Tune from the musical The King and I. To me she explained that in both cases, the protagonists, sadly, lived without a well of self-confidence. Lacking that, they had to find a way around their shortcomings by doing something very different but, in the end, equally effective. Faced with a scary or apparently insurmountable task by acting as though they could succeed and projecting an air of self-belief they both achieved remarkable success.
This technique had worked with Sarah at work. But now she is entering a new stage of life and facing a whole slew of issues that are new and daunting. Her children have moved on, her husband is home having retired, her parents are aging, and she is their primary caregiver. Sarah wants to grow some more and wants to face her new tasks with real, not feigned, confidence. Sarah’s bottom line is that despite her professional success, she remains a person with many self-doubts and she wants to enter this new phase of her life without the stress that insecurity brings.
I found Sarah’s yearning and willingness to work for change at this point in her life inspirational, particularly since I believe that we should always seek to better ourselves and find a way to be more secure, calmer, more comfortable in our skin, and surer of ourselves. So, together we are embarking on a journey for confidence.
Let’s talk for a moment about what I mean by self-confidence – or better yet – what I don’t mean. I don’t mean cockiness; heaven knows we don’t want to walk around like Donald Trump or Madonna! What I do mean, is having the commitment to our points of view, the belief that we are correct in our paths and the internal fortitude to project an air that will cause people to believe in us and our positions. A confident person is a leader, willing to try and shoot for the stars. Living with confidence is far less stressful and far more satisfying than padding our comments with words like ‘maybe.’
Much has been written about confidence and its importance to success but the most recent meaningful book on the topic is The Confidence Code. In this book the authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, while having as their central premise that that women in the business world are less successful than men (as a general rule) simply because of their lack of confidence, go on to say, the same principles that will help a woman at work, will help after retirement and in the home at any stage of life. They quote Sharon Salzberg, a Buddhist expert, who describes confidence as “a kind of essential life force – a sort of energy necessary for moving toward challenges wholeheartedly.” Confidence is an essential quality at all stages and places in life. All of this just to validate the point and support you on your journey to being more confident.
Here are some ideas to get you started on the road to building and projecting to others a self-confident aura:
• Don’t overthink. Sometimes you have to go with your gut. Take a moment right now to think about some life-changing decisions that you may have made in a manner that, in retrospect, looks impulsive and unthoughtful. I have a friend who got engaged after knowing her husband, to whom she now has been married for 25 years, after 48 hours. Were you offered a puppy and scooped it up without a thought only to find that it became your fondest companion? Or, like me, did you take a leap of faith and move to the United States just because you wanted to try out something new? See, you don’t need to ruminate over every decision and detail. Sometimes confidence means diving in and opening your eyes under the water to see something beautiful and new.
• Don’t view a failure as an absolute. Only 5% of new ideas are actually valid ideas. Turn your failures into learning experiences and figure out what to do better the next time. And, be proud of yourself for trying. It means that you had the confidence to take a risk or the confidence to stand up for your convictions. Both you, and others, should take note of your efforts.
• If you are criticized, take a note and move on, don’t dwell on it. I know this example might seem lame but I was watching a TV show called Faceoff, in which artists build amazing creatures with makeup and prosthetics. One contestant was in the bottom, harshly criticized for his messy and uninspiring makeup job. The very next time, he won because he took that criticism and reached deep inside of himself to do the very best job he could. The judges were thrilled that he “took their notes.”
• Don’t stay in your comfort zone all of the time. Scared to go zip lining? Too anxious to climb a rock wall? Afraid to travel to a place where you can’t speak the language or because you have no traveling companion? All I can say is “Get over yourself.” Give whatever it is a try. I feel 100% certain that if you leave your comfort zone you will feel great about yourself and have a marvelous time. The next time you will be a more confident human being.
• Say what’s on your mind in a strong positive way. Don’t mince words. Be effective.
I know that building confidence is a process that takes place over time and that requires us to get outside of ourselves. But, I also know that with proper coaching and a can-do attitude, you will become a more confident, and therefore, happier person.