For too long, the only thing I was confident about was that I would never be able to be confident being myself.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could stop feeling perpetually less than? Confident in who we are. Rooted in ourselves and unfettered by the words, norms and expectations of others.
Well, in short, it IS possible. AND, it takes a LOT of f*cking work!
I have been on a quest for confidence for over 20 years and feel like I am just starting to figure out the steps to actually feeling it versus pretending I do to get through a moment or point in time.
Does anyone remember the Demi Lovato song, “Confident”, released in 2015?
“I used to hold my freak back
Now I'm letting go
I make my own choice
Bitch, I run this show.”
Uh, those words just speak to me! I used to dream about being every ounce of myself and people celebrating it, all while living in a reality marked by hiding, pretending and performing. I worried that if people really knew me, they would never accept me. And, part of that is true. I was not like other kids and sometimes that meant they didn’t like me or want to be around me. But my brain couldn’t decipher that those kids were assholes. Instead, it created an “if this, then that” rule in my head that if I wanted to fit in and be liked, I sure as shit better learn how to be a better chameleon.
And from there, the rouse ensued. But over time, I started to learn more and more that this life was not only isolating, destructive and hopeless, it was not the only choice I had. The idea I could be me, truly me, and others would love me sounded amazing! But…come one. That’s not a real thing…is it? And if it is, what makes me think I can do it?
A later part of the song (and on repeat throughout) Demi sings, “What’s wrong with being confident?”. Obviously, she means it rhetorically and with more of a “Fuck You” tone, but the actual question, what is it that makes being confident feel ‘wrong” has really stuck with me. See, cultivating confidence is not that hard. It is feeling like we are safe, deserving and allowed to have it that is tough.
So, what is confidence?
I define confidence as the ability to embrace and live a life in line with your authentic self. It is about knowing your values, honoring what makes you, you, and finding ways to let that shine through in all you take on.
It’s about redefining success and creating standards that are motivated by those intrinsic anchor points — or your values — rather than cultural ideals and pressure.
Unfortunately, too many of us are attuned to seeing success and worthiness through the lens of external validation - how many likes you get on Instagram, how many people came out to your event, or some numbered value that shows you beat out other people and are, now, seemingly more worthy of praise.
It’s everywhere. It’s even a question asked on some speaker proposals I have seen lately! “Number of Instagram Followers” was literally a question on a speaker proposal. Seriously? And it wasn’t just Instagram. They asked about Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube subscribers, and more. Talk about reinforcement of external validation. What the fuck difference does it make if there are 700 or 7K followers on my page? Does that make what I say any more valid? Donald Trump has 60.6 MILLION Twitter followers and I know for damn sure that I have WAY better things to say than he does, even if just 89 people follow me.
In reality, I wish I could say that those questions don’t get to me. AND I am not perfect! I get in my head about it just the same as you do. What I appreciated, though, is that I had the application up and when Jordan came in the room and saw it, he immediately scoffed at the application and said he would not even consider applying just on principle and that their standards are obviously superficial and bullshit. (Thanks, Jordan, I needed that!)
Truth? Gaining more followers might make me feel better for a minute. Our brains see likes, comments and follows and release chemicals that make us feel excited. AND, that excitement is short-lived. In reality, I am never more confident with Kinda Kreative and the work I am doing than when I allow myself to tune out the noise and focus on what drives me and fills my cup. And this is even truer in the therapy room. The most confident version of me is the one who trusts in what I know and who I am rather than worries about what I “should” say or what the client thinks of me. Because, ultimately, I can’t control that. But I know I am a really fucking good therapist and if I don’t share that part of myself with them, they won’t get the help they deserve and I will feel unfulfilled and burn out.
So, if we could, instead, turn inward and ask ourselves what success looks like independent from others, we can begin to uncover, celebrate and nurture our own strengths, values and ideals so that we may move in a direction that aligns with who we are at our core and get both confident and excited about that person showing up, every day to our lives!
What gets in the way of being confident?
Shame. Negative self talk. Fucked up core beliefs about the world and our place and value in it.
From the time we are born, the odds are forever NOT in our favor when it comes to confidence, self esteem or self love.
Standards imposed on us about beauty, performance, life status and goals and all of the “supposed tos” and “shoulds” that are placed on us can lead to root rot before we even begin to grow into ourselves (and yes, this is a real thing and it is messing with my garden this year…along with peacocks and deer and I have had enough!)
It can make the possibility seem hopeless and for many of us, we fall into what you have all heard me refer to the “predictable shittyness”, wearing a mask, chasing the day when we will feel like we have “made it”, never to realize we are running in circles, chasing arbitrary perfection in a world full of ever changing ideals and a no-win game. Haha, it’s kinda like Vegas, the house always wins and if you play the game of pretending and performing to “fit in”, you will lose.
How do you know?
When my confidence begins to waiver, the biggest thing I notice is that I start to ruminate on unhelpful or negative thoughts. I begin to worry more about the ways other people are responding to me and often read into every situation from a lens of being “less than”, “at fault” or “unworthy”. I stop doing what makes me happy and lose my voice in the fury of anxiety, no longer able to share myself with the world for fear of being “othered” or judged.
The most difficult part of pushing past these feelings is that underneath is a fear that I will not be “a part of” whatever it is I am looking for — the friend group, a team, an organization — if I am truly me and do not conform to the norms set before me. By now, many of you can recognize this notion as shame which is absolutely what it is - the presence and pervasive overshadowing of shame.
We know that shame gets its power based on the fact that we are driven by the need and desire to be connected to others and in that, it makes us question that connection whenever we divert from the “norm” or expected, whether that is real or self-imposed. The outcome? Trusting that even in being your authentic and unique self you will find connection is one of the hardest quests to go on.
Okay, but why is it important to cultivate confidence?
We tend to live a life guided by confirmation bias. Meaning, when we believe something to be true or feel the outcome is already determined (“I am never going to get into medical school”; “I won’t be eligible for a promotion in the first few years”; “There is no way they will ever go for [X]”), we tend to live in a manner that fulfills these self-proclaimed truths.
When our confidence is higher, we see ourselves as more capable of surpassing the barriers before us and see success as inevitable rather than a long shot. We take chances and are motivated by our fears to reach for the things we desire.
However, as our confidence dips or is shaken up by something outside of our control, we tend to contract, pull back and stand behind those same barriers so that they may protect us from perceived threats, failure and the fear of being ostracized.
But, the root of the issue is more than just fortune telling or bias. As I already alluded to above, much of the problem lies within our views of success. The correlation between success and outward appearance, job title, “busyness”, and the number of bullets on their resume is bullshit and perpetuates the notion that I cannot claim to be successful unless I do or am something/someone that can be confirmed by others. This notion then spills over into how we define fear and failure — as it relates to the response and judgment of others.
And therefore, the problem isn’t necessarily that confidence is tied to success; the problem is that we don’t feel we deserve to feel confident unless motivated by or influenced by others. Claiming confidence without external support or approval is often seen as worse than a lack of confidence and is quickly negated by those around us. So the answer is in thinking about how to internalize this entirely subjective experience so that confidence is related to one’s own view and therefore is directly tied to the individual’s notion of success. It means moving from the question of “can I be confident?” or “do I deserve to be confident” to “I have the right to be confident in who I am.”
Okay, great. But I am still at step 1. What can I do next to start getting to that point?
Determine your core values. Do a values assessment and find out what motivates and drives you at your core. Then check in with what you are doing and the direction you are headed and ask yourself how these things align. Oh & bonus, this month’s webinar is on Values Exploration. See below for more info on how to snag this webinar & all of the amazing resources with it!
Accept the fact that you can never please everyone. We are not meant to be liked by everyone and no matter how hard we try, there will always be people who don’t like us or have a different opinion. That is OKAY. There are people we don’t like or care for either and that doesn’t mean they are unworthy, invaluable, or subhuman. They are just different. So instead of doing everything you can to please those you will never be able to please, ask yourself what you can do to please the one person you will be in a relationship with your ENTIRE life — YOU. Nurture your own values, needs and desires and remind yourself that you are already inherently worthy.
Know that you are already enough. We are a culture built upon “busyness” as our primary form of social capital and ingrained in us is the notion we need to always be achieving more. Well, not only do I call bullshit on this ideal, living this way is a damn good way to wear yourself out! See, we are all, already, inherently worthy, valuable and beautiful. Seriously. If you did nothing today but watch Netflix, you are still valuable. If you didn’t chase that next promotion or never “moved up the corporate ladder”, you are still a person worthy of celebration. You, and everyone around you, is already perfectly wonderful.
Celebrate more than just accomplishments. Celebrate people for being who they are. Celebrate them for having a different outlook or opinion. And get curious about what is beyond someone’s list of “accomplishments” or detailed on there CV/resume. The more we perpetuate the notion that we are more than the bullet point list of accomplishments and physical attributes touted as ideals, the easier it will be to disentangle your brain from thinking “enough” equates with “being the best”.
Stop using the word “Fine”. “Fine”, in my opinion, is one of the worst words in the human language. It is right up there with, “Busy”. From the time we are born, we receive messages that we are supposed to have everything “together” and I am still not quite sure what that means but I learned that the biggest piece in making that happen is by making sure no one can see the cracks below your surface. “How are you?” someone asks, checking in on how things have been with your newborn having trouble sleeping. “Fine,” you say. “We are doing fine.” What you want to say is, “I feel like I am losing my FUCKING mind. I can’t keep everything straight and it feels like my brain is sitting in a bucket of hardening cement, unable to function like it once did.” Most of us know that “fine” never actually means “fine”; however, it perpetuates this idea that we have it all together and can stay afloat no matter the conditions of the water.
But to what end? By keeping people in the dark about what is going on with you, you perpetuate the norm that vulnerability is a weakness and that we are supposed to present ourselves as competent and unwavering in our abilities, energy and enthusiasm. Every time you use the word “fine”, you hold someone at an arm’s length from getting to know you. And in doing so, you have sent the message to someone else that they should do the same. And that is a lonely place to stand, an arm’s length away from the world. So the next time someone asks you how you are doing or you find yourself the recipient of this response, ask yourself or the person you are with, “How are you really?” and take down your arm and allow the possibility for someone to be with you sans mask.
This shit is not easy. I get up every day and have to remind myself not to put on the mask I wore for so long. I don’t have it all figured out. And trust me, confidence is not a destination. Confidence will and is meant to waiver. It is not static. But the difference we are trying to make by taking a more active role in cultivating it is that, in the future, when you have a day your confidence is low, you won’t find yourself so shackled to your shame that you lose yourself in a seas of hopelessness, resorting to a life in the zone of predictable shittyness. Instead, you will be able to find compassion for yourself and know it is okay to feel low or not be in the right headspace to do “X” or be “Y” right now, and then see self-care and time as the corrective lenses they can be to get you back to the clear vision you deserve to have of your life — driving from the compass embedded within you.