This week has been a strange week, and it’s got me thinking about what it means to be confident. As a rule I’m fairly sure I don’t have a great deal of self-confidence: I’m shy, I find it difficult to talk to people I don’t know well in case I sound like an idiot, I don’t tend to put myself forward for things such as promotions and extra responsibility because I always think someone else can do it better than me, and I’m fairly (completely) hopeless when I like a guy.
As for understanding what other people see in me, I essentially don’t. My daughter is gorgeous, she really is, I know I’ve created a beautiful human. And others say she’s my double, my mini-me. I cannot make the connection there at all. I have roughly zero confidence in my looks. Long story. Though this matters less as I get older. As for intelligence, well ok I can see that, the PhD is a bit of a clue. But I don’t for one second feel like I’m ever the best person for a job. Which has made some comments this week all the more confusing.
I got the standard ‘don’t be daft look’ when I mentioned I had felt unready for a particular new challenge. I feel ready now, I think, but when the idea was first floated I really didn’t. As a more objective observer, now, I can see logically that I’m a good choice for my new challenge, and yes I can see that I’m quite capable and ready.
I also know that I am nervous as hell. But is that necessarily a bad thing?
Confidence has become implicitly associated with those who are rather louder than average, it’s associated with arrogance, with overt behaviours from those who appear unafraid – that person who just walks up to people and talks to them with no fear, the one who talks to the boss without being nervous. I’ll let you in on a secret, what you see is not what they feel. Everyone gets nervous, the difference with those who seem confident is that they’re ignoring the nerves. Confidence is not loud and dramatic, it is not the loud confidence of smart arses down the pub, it’s not the smooth talking chat up lines from the creep by the bar – that is arrogance. Confidence is…quieter.
So, what is confidence/self-confidence?
According to the Oxford Dictionary confidence is “The feeling or belief that one can have faith in or rely on someone or something” and self-confidence is “A feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgement”.
During a teaching session this past year I completed a self-confidence questionnaire along with my student prior to a discussion, a standard psychological test (The General Self Efficacy Scale: Schwarzer & Jerusalem, 1995). Out of a maximum of 5 I scored 4.3, I was rather taken aback at this. I’ve always been convinced that I’ve no confidence, and this test was telling me a completely different story. This test showed me that confidence was something different to what I thought it was. When I looked at the questions, and they were all about whether you thought you could cope in situations where things were unfamiliar and where you were unsure what you were doing. In other words, could you cope with new challenges and the unexpected? Well, yes I can, I have survived a lot of things so yes, I am very sure that I can cope with whatever comes next in my life.
Does that mean I don’t get nervous? No, of course it doesn’t. Does it mean I don’t have doubts? Again, not at all. I’ve plenty of doubts, as have most people. But I don’t let them rule me. I acknowledge I have doubts, ignore them and just get on with things anyway. That’s life, right?
Self-confidence is not the absence of doubts or fear, it’s looking doubt and fear right in the eye and telling it to f*** off because you’re going to do this thing anyway.
Confidence is the ability to focus and keep going, regardless of the circumstances. It’s a knowledge that you have an inherent strength which means you can survive whatever the world throws at you. You know you can keep going.
Is it easy to keep going? Not remotely, but what’s the alternative? Sit at home avoiding all the situations that might scare you or anything that might be remotely scary? Never trying anything new? How dull. Life is full of things to do and places to go, and you are always capable of much, much more than you think.
For most things I think self-confidence comes with experience; which means if you want actual self-confidence you need to get out there and do the things you’re not sure about, the things that make you nervous, whatever they may be. Self-confidence is not being scared to make a mistake. Which is a great place to be, because sometimes the best things in life start off as total mistakes.
Life is scary, we none of us are completely sure of what we’re doing. Being confident is not about knowing what you’re doing, it’s about feeling able to go ahead and do things anyway – self-confidence is that stage before knowing. It’s just trusting that your best guess will be ok.
This new challenge is a good move for my career and one that I’m quite happy to make. I have no idea what will happen in a year when my daughter goes to school and I’ve got to adjust to a completely new, and very different, schedule, it could be fine or could be total chaos. I’ve no idea. But I’m just trusting I’ll figure out how to make it work. This is the right move for me right now so what the hell, let’s dive off the cliff and hope I can fly.
So apparently I have some self-confidence after all, maybe I need to believe in myself a bit more. You probably do to.