I was told countless times as a young girl, “You need to be more confident.” I recall hearing those very words from a teacher in elementary school, as my 3-foot tall freckled-faced frame stared up at her with that deer-lost-in-the-headlights look, wondering exactly how to do that? (The time-crunched 30-something version of me would have aptly retorted—“how the hell do I do that?”) No instructions followed. Just “be more confident” in a matter-of-fact kind of way.
I was smaller than everyone else and extremely shy. When we picked teams in PE, I was the kid who was chosen last. I wasn’t good at sports and didn’t have any great hobbies either. So I wasn’t exactly set up for great confidence. What exactly did I need to do to be more confident?
Don’t get me wrong, I had some amazing friends, but I definitely didn’t identify as being one of the “cool kids” and “confident” was not a word used to describe me.
Everyone always talks about confidence—the importance of it, how successful people have it and how we should all aspire to be confident people. Nine times out of ten, I hear it used in a phrase directed to a girl or a woman. She isn’t confident, she needs to work on her confidence, why isn’t she more confident? (Now, I even catch myself talking about my daughters this way, “I want to make sure I raise confident young girls.”)
The problem is that no one actually tells you how to be confident. That’s like me telling my law students—“your writing needs to be better,” without giving them tangible action items to actually improve their legal writing skills.
We know what the “C” word means—the literal definition, and we can all identify with people who embody and exude confidence, but in terms of just being more confident or working on confidence—there’s no instruction manual and we all assume it either comes naturally or it doesn’t.
As a kid, I didn’t get it. It took a long time to overcome being shy and being picked on. As a high school and college girl, my confidence increased, but admittedly I probably sought confidence from outside validation and not through internal reflection. Somehow, I managed to develop confidence and continue to improve upon it, even to this very day. So...what was it? Where did the confidence come from?
This past year, I dug in and thought long and hard about how I have changed. I reflected on what I have done to improve my confidence and tried to hone in on actual actionable things I did to improve my confidence and that you can do, too.
Here are a few things that have helped me build confidence over the years:
What scares the %*$# out of you?
(1) Commit to doing something totally out of your comfort zone, and prove to yourself you can do it.
The key is to find something you are uncomfortable with, that scares you, that you’d never see yourself actually doing.
Identify it and write it down in a place where you will see it all the time (for example, a Post-it note on your nightstand, desk, or bathroom mirror). Then, you’ll be reminded about it every day and you’ll be held accountable when you don’t do it.
What did you do that was scary? It doesn’t have to be something huge, but it needs to be something that is difficult for you. It could be public speaking, dancing, learning a new language or software program; it might even be as simple as doing a Facebook post. You can always start small, so you get some wins under your belt, then graduate up to larger accomplishments.
Once you have proven to yourself you can commit to something and depend on yourself to do it, you’ll improve your confidence. Knowing you are someone who you can depend on is a huge confidence booster.
Step Up. And be a woman.
(2) Go after you what you want—no matter how big or unreachable. It takes the same amount of energy, worry and consternation to go after something big as it does something small.
If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never know what you’ve missed. When things do go your way and you do find success, you will become more confident to ask for it (or something bigger) the next time around.
If you feel you deserve a raise, ask for one. If you are interested in someone, ask him or her to grab coffee. If you want more help around the house, ask your significant other. You aren’t always going to get the answer you want, but when you do, you’ll build your confidence. And if you don’t ask, you’ll never know if you could have gotten what you wanted.
Remind Yourself Daily
(3) Each morning, write the following phrase in a journal: “I am confident.”
It’s an easy step, but an important one.
A good friend recently told me we spend too much time listening to ourselves (and if you are like me, you often use negative comments when you talk to yourself.) We should be talking to ourselves and focusing on the positive rather than the negative. I have spent so much of my life questioning whether or not I can do something and refraining from doing it because I am worried about what people think. We need to all just get out of our heads.
Journaling in the mornings has been a life changer (and the subject of a whole other blog). The key is to start the day with the correct frame of mind. So, choose three adjectives that you aspire to be. For now, let the first one be “confident” and select the other two later.
Write them down every morning when you wake up. It’s as simple as “I am confident, successful and optimistic.” Let this frame your day as you get started and you’ll notice how believing this about yourself gets easier as time goes on. Describing yourself with positive words will help you to be in the right mindset to make them a reality and give you the confidence to achieve them. I live this lesson every day, and it has helped with how I think about myself as it has allowed me to feel surer about my abilities.
Haters Gonna Hate
(4) Ignore the haters.
Remove people from your life who bring you down or who crush your confidence. This is a tough one, especially with family, but it is necessary.
Try it for two weeks as a start and notice if you feel more confident and empowered. Removing the “haters” can totally change your outlook, your mentality and most importantly, your opinion of your self-worth. Having the right frame of mind is key, and if you have people in your life who bring you down it can definitely lower your confidence. My husband always quotes the saying that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Be selective with your five.
Failure is an Opportunity
(5) Learn from failure, don’t run from it.
I used to avoid all of the things I didn’t think I was good at—even things I hadn’t tried but just assumed I would be bad at. But without challenges, you don’t get to grow and overcome. There’s no better way to learn than to fail at something and learn from that experience. It allows you to expand your possibilities and helps you improve, so if you fail at something don’t avoid it. Try it again and get better each time. Your confidence will grow each time you get better.
Am I confident enough? Yes and no. I’m more confident than I have ever been, but I know there is so much more room for me to grow. And as I gain confidence...no, as I gain the skills to help me embody confidence...I am seeing firsthand, the rewards. I am struggling every day to embrace failure, not take criticism as a final verdict on who I am as a woman, to get out of my own mind, and listen to my heart. I’m also setting audacious goals and making sure I identify with what scares me, so I can embrace it head on.
To all the little freckled-faced girls out there and the adult versions, too. You got this!