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This is a letter about confidence

Updated: Sep 11, 2022

I did well at school, especially in my earlier years, up to GSCE, but my school reports always said that I should have more confidence. This carried on into appraisals at work. Always with the ‘should have more confidence’. Ironically this feedback eroded the very confidence I did have as I started to label myself as ‘lacking confidence’.

No one ever told me where confidence was to be found. No one told me it was a skill that could be learned alongside my studies. I came to understand that you were either confident or not. I thought it was just a quality I lacked, and it was my fault that I lacked it.

When I asked on a recent Instagram post ‘who would you be in the absence of your concerns?’ a common answer was ‘more confident’. So, I am here to tell you that confidence is a skill that can be learned. No-one is born confident. Confidence is something that grows as you learn a new skill and become more competent at it as you learn. Confidence is something that increases as you show the courage to start something new and keep at it until you feel like you’re mastering it. It isn’t a belief that you won’t meet obstacles, it is the courage to work out how to get over those obstacles and it is what grows as you start to surmount them. It is the recognition that difficulties are a part of most worthwhile contributions. And it is what comes when you do overcome them.

I also want to address that word ‘should’. Someone once said to me “don’t should on yourself and don’t should on other people”.

How many times have you berated yourself for not being able to do something when you think you should?

I know I used to say it all the time, until I brought awareness to it. And with that awareness I started to explore why I thought I should be able to do something.

To ask myself:

Why should I know that already?

Should I really or is it something I have only just started to learn?

Do I just need to practice it more?

Is it something I could ask for help with or seek out a teacher for?

Is it something that I really want to do

Or is someone else passing this on to me as an expectation?

Am I willing to commit the time to learning how?

What I learned was, confidence comes from having the courage to start and then keep putting one foot forward, one step at a time.

I used to be a fan of the phrase, ‘Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt’ and I used to use this as an excuse to hide. But that is not the way to build the courage to speak up and therefore start to become confident in public speaking. Even if that public speaking is simply piping up in a meeting or even around the family dinner table! These are the sorts of behaviours that keep us stuck in a fixed mindset and the thoughts that sound like ‘oh I could never do that!’ or ‘I am just not that type of person’. If you want to grow, better to think to yourself, ‘I don’t know how to do that yet, but I can learn’. Then keep taking small steps towards learning that new skill. Sometimes what holds us back is the assumption that someone who is good at something that we would like to be good at is just naturally good at it. But what if we were to turn that around and think to ourselves, “that person is good at that, they have really put the effort in to learn that thing they are doing, and they have done that consistently for such a long time that they are now an expert in it. I could do that too.” We don’t see the effort that others put into things, and what is ‘under the hood’ like we do with ourselves, whereas we know exactly what is going on inside our own minds. We know all our imperfections and struggles. But we only see the polished and presented outsides of others. Does that change things for you? Looking at it in that way? And remember once you’ve perfected something we add things on to those skills or start to learn something new, so we never ‘get there’. We’re not immortal. So there really is no arrival point. Don’t focus on an end point. It’s all about progress not perfection, because perfection is an illusion. It sounds like a cliché, but our only choice really is to enjoy the journey, and if we’re experiencing joy on that journey, then we will look like the most confident person in the room.

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