I must have been around 7 years old when my primary school teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I reflected for a moment and torn between two options I said “I’m not sure. Either an artist or an inventor.”
I had two pictures in my head. One was me in a huge, light-filled studio; canvasses, oil paints and energy everywhere as I was swept along by the magnificent work of art I was creating. The other featured me in a lab coat, crazy-haired and surrounded by bubbling test tubes and walls of equipment with blinking lights as I used all I knew to build Something Amazing (TM).
I was confident that one of those 2 scenarios would come to pass. But then I was also confident that I could learn to climb buildings like Spider-man.
But my point isn’t about the foolishness of childish dreams (they’re essential, right?) or even how cool Spider-man is (i.e. very cool) but about the simple fact that as children, we all have confidence.
When you played with your friends you did so by giving yourself to the moment and just playing. There was no question of whether you were confident enough to play or what might happen if you fall over.
Sometimes, falling over was the whole point.
I see it with my nieces and nephews today, just as you might see it in the children in your family. Kids are confident in a way that us grown-ups tend to forget. We learn to be mature. We learn to think before we act. We learn to play it a little safer.
Somewhat tragically perhaps, you can even watch as children learn about doubt and fear, that natural, exuberant confidence slowly becoming constrained as they learn to play things safe.
But there are times when us grown-ups play freely, naturally and confidently. What about when you’re with your husband, wife or partner, reading the papers on a Sunday morning? When you’re in the zone with a pet project or favourite hobby? Or maybe when you’re out at dinner with good friends? These are the times when things feel easy and natural; you just let yourself be part of the moment and you do what comes naturally.
There’s a sense of freedom and safety in those moments that might not be there when you’re about to present to the board or when you’re on that first date. Those more uncertain moments trigger different kinds of thinking and activate different parts of your brain that can make you feel as though any confidence you had has vanished.
And so people say that you’re either confident or you’re not, because in the times when they feel they need it, they don’t feel it.
Time to put on your debunking hats; here’s the thing.
EVERY PERSON ON THE PLANET HAS CONFIDENCE. INCLUDING YOU.
IT’S SIMPLY THAT THINKING SOMETIMES GETS LAYERED ON TOP THAT MAKES IT HARDER TO EXPERIENCE DIRECTLY.
In those moments that are easy and natural, the question of whether you’re confident enough to be part of the moment never arises. You just are part of the moment, just like when you were playing as a child or dreaming about what you might be one day. That fact, that experience of confidence means that it’s real and that you have it.
The trick then, is to practice coming back to it when you need it the most. You can remember the sense of freedom you feel when you’re surrounded by good friends. You can feel the sense of ease or warmth you have when chilling with your partner. Or you can feel the sense of flow you get from losing yourself in a rewarding task or challenge.
Those things are how it feels to be confident, and the sense of ease it brings is the thing that makes it okay to take that nervous step forwards, even if you’re shaking in your shoes as you do so.
Confidence isn’t a binary element that you either possess or you don’t. It’s the ability to trust your behaviour with implicit trust in that behaviour – regardless of how scary things might appear to be – and it’s the level to which you choose to embrace that trust over the fear of uncertainty.
Everyone has it. YOU HAVE IT. It just takes practice to trust it.