The skill of confidence
At school, college and university you are taught lessons - maths, English, science, the humanities, maybe a foreign language, maybe an artistic subject, maybe sports, maybe a vocational subject - and skills to support the lessons - writing, reading, arithmetic, how to compare and contrast, how to reference properly, how to hold a paintbrush, how to interpret music. What you are often not taught is how to be confident.
Interpersonal skills are learnt through interactions - the interpretation and implementation of manners, interactions with other children in the playground, family dinner time discussions, having to debate and speak up in class. Often though, you are not taught about discovering who you are as an individual. It is kind of assumed that is what parents will do, but if they don’t know this about themselves, or, if they have children that are very different to them, have we (read society), ever given them the skills to deepen their children’s self awareness? You may be given a label - shy, nerdy, swot, jock, princess, popular, fun, diva, joker, loud, academic, sporty, social, awkward - but are these really descriptions of who you are? Are you actually shy, or are you an introvert who prefers to get their energy from solo pursuits? Are you actually loud or have you associated getting some sort of praise or recognition when you are loud so this is the behaviour you have decided to make prominent? If you don’t have an understanding of who you are it is difficult to have the right strategies to ensure you are always at your optimum.
Confidence could be argued to be the thing that is needed to make any of the skills and learnings from school, college, university and/or work effective in the real world. Thinking about Clance and Imes original research on imposter syndrome, they found that highly qualified women doubted their ability, feeling like frauds because they didn’t believe in themselves or their accomplishments. Learning and acquiring skills, even when backed up with qualifications, experience and accolades, were not enough. These amazingly accomplished women hadn’t internalised the feelings of success and when these accomplishments remained external, they could discount that they are not actually real. Without confidence, you don’t use the skills you have acquired fully. You don’t explore, you don’t continue to learn by making mistakes, by making masterpieces, by accepting that both and everything in between is part of the messiness of becoming a master of your skill set. You don’t believe enough in yourself to fully meet and accept where you are and where you want to go.
I believe confidence is a skill, and like any skill it needs to be worked on to remain strong. If we don’t put any emphasis on building up this skill, like with any skill, whether it is playing a musical instrument or learning a language, how do we expect to get good at having confidence or being confident? If we think of confidence as something you have or not and it is just down to good luck if you have confidence then you can easily resign yourself to never being confident. But if you can think of it as a skill, like any skill it can be learnt and practiced and developed and honed. Yes, it may appear that some individuals are more ‘naturally’ confident and there is much research that both proves and disproves the theory that there is a genetic link with confidence. It may be impacted by your upbringing and whether you were told you were amazing, or that you were not good, at something, or a more unconscious message that your parents were not confident and confidence is associated with someone who is arrogant and bolshy so being non-confident is a good thing. Or you may have been bullied at school and your confidence waned, or you had a teacher that totally believed in you and built your confidence. However, for any of these, it is about how you feel that determines your level of confidence. Which I think is a good thing as it means you also have the ability to improve your inner confidence.
You can learn and appreciate what makes you tick and then use this to your advantage. Not a people person? That’s okay! You will need to interact with people, that is life, but if you know it isn’t your favourite thing, you can ensure you reward yourself with something you like doing, some downtime, or playing the guitar, or whatever it is that lights you up, as your ‘reward’. You can choose careers that are more about you as an individual, rather than having to work collaboratively. Or maybe you love interacting with small groups, but you know that it will drain you, so you need to ensure a good nights sleep beforehand and to then plan your evening to have a relaxing soak in the bath, a good book and an early night.
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” — Dale Carnegie
So how do you start improving your confidence? Take an action towards your goal, no matter how small. Then take another. Then another. This is how we school ourselves in the art and science of confidence. Sometimes we will be ‘successful’ in as much as we will achieve what we set out to do. However, I believe all action leads to success as you will learn something if you let yourself - maybe you need to course correct, maybe you will need to develop a new skill, maybe you realise you have an unrealistic expectation and something will take you longer than you first thought. It doesn’t matter - just celebrate that you took some action, you survived, and you will take further action. You are building your inner resourcefulness, you are showing yourself that you can do this, you are overcoming any hesitancy from that voice that puts the doubt in, and you are moving forward - moving towards where you want to be, even if the path ends up a little more zig-zaggedy than you first thought! Every action is a triumph. Every action is taking you somewhere new. Every action is building your confidence.
“Action is a great restorer and builder of confidence. Inaction is not only the result, but the cause, of fear. Perhaps the action you take will be successful; perhaps different action or adjustments will have to follow. But any action is better than no action at all.” — Norman Vincent Peale