Over the last few weeks I’ve been making an effort to get to know people in my local business community. In the midst of handshakes, intros, and smiling faces, I noticed a new feeling. Confidence. To my surprise (and delight) I felt secure in myself and my abilities. I wasn’t looking for anyone else’s approval. I was only interested in the experience of connecting in a genuine way with those around me. It felt amazing! Confidence was an energetic boost, a silent, perpetual chorus of “I got this” running in the background of my mind.
I noticed this sensation all the more acutely because the feeling of confidence has not been my constant companion. The graph of my confidence over time looks like a medium sized peak in grade school, a sudden and precipitous drop into a valley that spanned college and my early years in the work force, and then a slow rise to a mountain sized peak in present day. In the middle section, when I lacked confidence, I was more timid and worried. I wondered if I was making a good impression. The most devastating part of feeling less confident was that I felt ill prepared to take on new challenges. I questioned and significantly underestimated my capabilities.
I’ve learned that confidence is a perishable good. Our sense of our abilities depends less on what they truly are and more on whether we’ve tested them lately.
In high school I felt confident because I faced (and met) the challenges of a rigorous academic environment and intense daily swim practices. In college and my early years in the workforce, I lacked comparable tests. I was bored. Mundane work tasks and once a week ultimate frisbee games were easy to accomplish. The choices I made didn’t push me anywhere near my limits. My sense of my ability to do hard things correspondingly crashed.
In recent years the opposite has been true. I’ve built a successful business from the ground up. (Wow- talk about hard!) Not only that, I’ve taken thousands of steps that have pushed my comfort zone, both in my professional and personal life. My days are regularly filled with healthy challenges that I’ve been able to meet again and again. (For example, on the agenda for today is writing this newsletter, a tough workout, figuring out a couple ways to serve my clients better, and managing the women’s group that I run.) Voila. Facing and meeting challenges = confidence.
Here are three things to keep in mind to get your confidence out of the toilet.
Find an attractive challenge that has some meaning to you.
The challenge you pick does not need to be perfect, but it’s best if it is somewhat related to who you are, what your dreams are, and the mark you want to have on the world. There are tons of challenges in the world. Find one that will hold your interest.
For example, years ago I decided to improve my Spanish, so I signed up for lessons. However, I didn’t have any compelling reason for taking on this challenge. I didn’t work at it, and I didn’t improve much. For someone else learning a language might be a perfect challenge. For me, it was not.
Set achievable goals and achieve them.
It’s cool to have a big picture vision, but it’s equally important to find smaller, doable goals along the way. In the business owner world I frequently hear people throwing out income goals that are 10 steps ahead of where they actually are. I set my income goals beyond what I’ve achieved, but still within reach. Hitting that mark (which I consistently do) is an incredible surge. Give yourself the same gift- a goal that you can actually achieve.
(Remember to think through the supports you’d need to have in place to actually achieve your goal. For example, I find it far easier to meet the challenge of working out because I do so in a group context.)
Don’t expect confidence to appear overnight.
There’s going to be a period right out of the gate where you don’t know what you’re doing and you feel awkward. It’s pretty uncomfortable. This means you’re on the right track. Stick it out. Just keep showing up through this period, even though it doesn’t feel so great. By doing so you are setting the stage for confidence down the road. (You’re giving yourself the chance to learn and improve by doing so.)
For example, I recently received a wonderful compliment from an event organizer who noted that I presented so well that they wanted me to teach a mini-workshop on how to give presentations. On the one hand, yes I could. On the other hand, the honest truth is that once you give over 100 of the dang things you get better at them.
The world is largely indifferent to whether you are building your confidence or not. It is content to let you rest on your laurels. The drive to do more and be more needs to come from you. If you’ve been wallowing in a confidence valley, try to find something that is outside of your comfort zone, something that scares you just a bit, and get to it. The steps you take today will support you in walking into a room with confidence down the road.
What’s your current confidence level? Do you have an example of a challenge that you took on that boosted your confidence? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!