The other day I was asked “Have you always been this self-confident? Do you ever doubt yourself?” I was somewhat taken aback by these questions as I don't typically think of myself as confident. My current life activities consists of family, life coaching, counseling, writing, teaching at a university and college, hosting a podcast, giving lectures, and speaking at conferences. I keep myself active, but I enjoy all that I do. Is my enjoyment the self-confidence people see in me?
Self-confidence is defined as a feeling of trust in one's abilities and talents, yet this definition presupposes that I have an awareness of my abilities and talents. I feel this is the reason why many people lack self-confidence; they don't recognize their own abilities and therefore wrongly assume that they are unable, or incapable, of performing a task. Actually, I just described myself.
While growing up I was extremely shy and unaware if my abilities and talents. This lack of self-awareness, coupled with my avoidance of others, reinforced in me a belief that I wasn't capable of much in the way of outward achievement. As a child, and even through my early adulthood, I enjoyed the solitary pursuits of reading, studying and writing. Sure, I had friends with whom I enjoyed doing things, but my friends were few and not among what was known as the ”in crowd”. For me and my insecurities and shyness, they were “safe”.
A lack of self-confidence is typically coupled with a person's self-esteem, or sense of self-worth. In my experience, though, that assumption wasn’t true. Although I lacked insight into my gifts and talents, I did feel positive about myself. I enjoyed my hobbies and the people I chose to be close to; life was good. My sense of self-worth was high, while at the same time my self-confidence was low.
How can this be? In my early life it meant that I did well in school, but if I were given a task of importance to complete, or asked to give a speech, my mind would immediately jump to the thought “Me?! I don't have the skill to do this? There have to be people better at this than me!” At the time I failed to realize that I was asked because someone else saw the talent and ability in me. I failed to take into account the perspective of the asker because I failed to recognize my own giftedness. If I couldn't see it in myself, I was never going to accept that someone else saw what I myself could not.
So, what changed in me, given my history of lack of self-confidence and shyness, that now I am able to speak to large crowds, teach university classes, and train groups of peers? There’s no one event or “aha moment” which made all the difference. For me, it was a progressive shift, through meditation, where I became more self-aware of my giftedness as well as my weaknesses. It is in accepting both aspects of myself that I feel have been the most transformative.
Here are some reflections I have learned in my adult years which have impacted my ability to be self-confident:
- I’m not responsible for other's happiness. I am responsible for my feelings and my actions toward others. This helps my self-confidence in that I don’t seek nor need the approval of others to know that I am good at what I do. The constructive opinions of family and close friends I respect, but needing to be liked by everyone is no longer a goal of mine.
- Not knowing is ok. Early in my career I stifled myself in that I felt that if I didn’t know everything there was to know in my field, than I was a fraud. I now recognize how wrong I was, but it was in me eventually realizing that even the “experts” in my field didn’t know everything for me to gain confidence in my own knowledge and experience of my field. What I don’t know, I will learn from others and so continue to grow.
- I became empowered in my self-confidence every time I stepped out of my comfort zone only to realize that I did well. The more times I gave something a try and ended with positive results, the more I became confident in my abilities. Yes, those times when it didn’t go well seemed to set me back more than the positive times moved me forward; but regardless, I kept on keeping on. I’m not perfect when it comes to public speaking or teaching, etc, but I do my best, and more times than not there is positive feedback from the audience. Had I not moved out of my comfort zone, my self-confidence would still be quite low.
- As I mentioned above, self-confidence is not to be equated with always being right or knowing everything. Self-confidence grows from an understanding of who you are, the positives and negatives. We all have growth opportunities, so don't let the fact that you are not “perfect” stop you from feeling self-confident. Feel self-confident knowing that you are both talented and flawed; perfect in some aspects yet need to grow in others.
- Take time for yourself. Self-care is vitally important to physical and mental health. Spending time nurturing yourself and meditating provides you the opportunity to know yourself better. In this self-knowledge you will find your confidence and your growth opportunities. Work on both!
In my continuing journey of self-confidence, I realize that I don’t need to be perfect in all knowledge or skill, but I do need to be self-reflective with a willingness to grow. Take the time to learn about yourself, then step out of your comfort zone and give it try! If it works well, wonderful, do it again! If it doesn’t work well, wonderful, learn from it then do it again!
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