Confidence, to paraphrase George Orwell writing in 1984,"...is one of those interesting words that have two contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it is abuse; applied to someone you agree with, it is praise." Confidence, in many ways, is a uniquely American obsession; mired in the murk of our DNA is this national hunger to be viewed as confident, and thus reap the perceived rewards. This is America, we remind ourselves, we should all be exceptional, and have our own talk shows and line of designer clothing...right? Right. Or at least, yes we all need to be confident to do the things within us, not just rappers, politicians and other made-for-TV entertainers who leak confidence.
Being confident isn't just mandatory for North West's daddy and the people who clog up the Interwebs with cat memes: everyone needs to be confident. Confidence is what makes, or breaks, your career. Let's just cut to the chase: without confidence, we're all doomed. Doomed to remain stuck in the here and now of what passes for our personal existence, blaming the haters and/or Congress for standing in our way. Let's be honest: the only person standing in our way is ourselves. Who else could prove such an inventive, imaginative enemy? Haters? Please. They're too busy endlessly prowling the chamber of horrors that stands in for their childhoods, to be able to bother with anyone else.
Why does confidence matter? Confidence matters because without it you won't get the education you deserve. Without that education, you won't be able to go after the career you want; you'll waste your own time assuming, before you even write one cover letter, that there's no way you'd ever be hired for the job you want. Or, even worse, without confidence in your skills, you won't even attempt to figure out what it is you really want to do, since you'll assume you'd never get the chance to do it. Without confidence, when you're offered a big promotion, that could change the course of your life, you'll be too busy detailing all the reasons you can't do the job, to allow yourself to just try.
Without confidence in yourself, your abilities and your unique contributions, you won't start a business, or learn a foreign language, or create the art inside of you. Without confidence, you're doomed to be your own worst critic, throwing every good idea into the incinerator before it can ever be incubated. Without confidence, you'll miss out on the love, family, maybe even the children you might have had, because you'll assume that the cute girl at the bookstore would be outraged, outraged if you spoke to her. Actually, it'd probably make her day. That book you've been talking about for years, while you waste hours on Facebook? If you had confidence in yourself, you'd realize that the stories inside of you are valuable and you'd commit to telling them.
A handful of years ago, I went to a celebration of Kurt Vonnegut's life in Bloomington, Indiana. One part of the exhibit was devoted to the 800 (give or take a few hundred) rejection letters Vonnegut had received before finding a publisher for his first book. What a liberating experience to witness Vonnegut's disdain for the people who had tried to dismiss him! He believed in his talent, in his story, and that was all that mattered. To be able to get 800 rejection letters and keep writing and submitting? That's the life-changing value of confidence. Without it, you and I would never have had the pleasure of reading Breakfast of Champions.
Your lack of confidence therefore doesn't just implicate you; it carries over to how you live your life, the choices you make and the choices you decline. It affects the relationships you cultivate, the primary one being with yourself. Your lack of confidence affects what you put out into the world, and thus what you get back.
Confidence is not arrogance, it's a realization of all you can do, and an understanding of all that you could do if you commit to yourself. Picasso said, "I'm always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it." I don't know; some people kind of consider him a genius, so hey, clearly he must have some useful hints, right? I'm being deliberately factitious because I know some people are rolling their eyes and saying, "Sure but he's Picasso; easy for him!" Right. Then again, at one point he was just Pablo, or Pablito. Just a kid in the neighborhood who liked to draw. Not an expert, not a genius... just some kid playing around with art and seeing what he could get away with.
That was my rant. If you agree, here's three ways to start raising your own confidence:
1.Believe you have something important to contribute, and give your work the attention and respect it deserves. If you don't respect your work -- i.e. YOURSELF -- why should anyone else?
2.Absolutely stop comparing yourself to others. I have clients who want to write, for example, but from the get-go they're comparing their rough drafts to For Whom The Bell Tolls, or something. That's a wee bit discouraging. I promise you: Hemingway wasn't born Hemingway. It was a long process of writing, and drinking, making sexist comments and killing a lot of animals. And more writing. Looking to compare yourself to someone? How about comparing yourself to the person you were yesterday?
3.The former Czech political playwright/prisoner, Vaclav Havel, who went on to become that country's president once said," The more we did, the more we were able to do." One day, I'll get that tattooed on my forearm, so when clients mewl, "But... but how do I get started?," I can just get them in a headlock and bam! Clarity. We get started by (wait for it) getting started. That's how everyone else does it. Don't worry about where the process is going to take you. Just sit down and start changing the current of your life. Today. Right now.
I wrote this because I'm confident you need to know it. I'm also confident that you'll let me know what you think in the comments, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!