Three Things That Shaped My Confidence
If I had nickle for every time someone described me using the word “confident,” I could have funded the cure for coronavirus all by myself. It’s one of those words people bat around easily, and it’s used to describe people who seems naturally or inherently self-assured. Sometimes, people equate confidence with someone who isn’t “shy.” But I am of the opinion that confidence and shyness are independent of one another.
The truth is, I am NOT naturally self-assured. In fact, I would consider myself downright insecure in many areas. I could name a thousand reasons to doubt myself RIGHT THIS MINUTE if I really wanted to. From the size of my jeans to the way I manage my business, I can ALWAYS find something about myself I wish was different or better.
When we’re little, we’re full of blind confidence. We feel good about ourselves every single day. A four-year-old can dress in galoshes, Super-Man underpants and a scuba mask and still walk around KNOWING he’s winning at life. But then, as we get older, something happens. Life happens. People happen. Expectations happen.
I can name a handful of deal breakers that started the cycle of self-doubt in my own life:
I’ve always loved to draw. I’ve always been good at it. For as long as I can remember I have known how to create art. It just happened. Well, way back in the day, the Kingsport Times News (a newspaper in my home town) held an annual Christmas art contest. I was five years old when I first submitted a contest piece. I entered that freaking contest every single year, and I NEVER won. EVER. Most years I entered in secret because I didn’t want anyone to know if my work didn’t get picked. The repeated rejection shook me. It quietly poked holes in my confidence and left me believing that perhaps I wasn’t quite as good as I thought.
I remember getting picked on when I first got glasses in the third grade, back when “four-eyes” was still insulting and being a “nerd” was not chic, or cute or cool. I remember distinctly that a boy who had liked me very much the day before suddenly didn’t like me anymore and, boom, that was the place I realized that, as far as others were concerned, much of my value would be hinged upon my appearance – and I’m just being honest when I say my “awkward phase” literally lasted like a decade, I have the photos to prove it. It’s a sad reality that our physical appearances can hold so much weight when it comes to how we feel about ourselves, but it IS a reality nonetheless.
I also remember the way it felt when one of my elementary school teachers held a meeting with my parents to discuss my performance. She revealed my advanced test scores and hoped my parents would let me be part of the gifted program at school. Naturally, they did, and I began a lifelong journey to ‘excel.’ That was the moment I began to hang part of my self worth on my academic performance.
Around that same time I was beginning to get into sports. My dad signed my sister and I up for a basketball camp his work sponsored and I noticed the attention and praise the talented kids received and I, again, realized another area of life that I needed to do well in to be considered a worthwhile person. Being good at sports or dance or cheer or something like that seemed to be the foundation on which “the good life” was built, and I wanted a piece of that good life, too.
My grandfather was a musician. He had a great ear for music and he was, well, he was amazing. Thanks to his love for music, I was singing from nigh on toddlerhood. I took guitar lessons, I sang at church, and I LOVED it. But it didn’t take long before that was yet another area in which I needed to do well in order to feel like I had value.
The list grew and grew, and being a naturally driven person, every time I would come across something that others seemed to value as an ability, I would add it to my list of “things to be good at in order to have a good life.”
It worked for a while. As a little kid, the stakes are different. But the older I got, the harder it became for me to be really good at everything. It became so difficult that no matter how hard I tried, I wound up being “just okay” at most of the things I did, and because I was trying so hard to be good at everything, I never let myself become great at anything.
It wasn’t until young adulthood, after a lot of life lived and lessons learned, that I began to find my own brand of confidence.
I’m here to share a few of my personal life-lessons with you, in the hopes of offering some hope to those of you who may be struggling with self-worth, confidence or personal value. If you’re not a person of faith, some of this won’t resonate with you. But even still, there are nuggets in here that you may find useful on your journey to a more confident you, regardless of how you feel about faith.
1) PHYSIOLOGY IS EVERYTHING.
This sounds crazy, but it’s true. As I came into my own in young adulthood, I realized that if I acted confident, I felt more confident. No kidding. I came to this realization in college as I began going on auditions, speaking in front of people who were much more accomplished and much smarter than I was, and handling “grown up” stuff that I had never really faced before. I learned that if I walked, talked, and acted like I had my crap together, people around me automatically treated me differently, and something about that understanding seeped into my brain. I automatically FELT more confident when I stood up straight, looked people in the eye, dressed a certain way, spoke clearly and so on. In this same vein, physical fitness and exercise became paramount. The physiology of exercise and the intrinsic knowledge that I was doing something positive with my physiology was an almost instant confidence boost. Naturally, these physiological choices became part of my normal day-to-day way of being, and they’re still part of who I am today. The way you care for yourself and carry yourself has a huge impact on how you feel about yourself and it’s a major factor in the way others see and treat you as well. Period.
The crazy thing is, it wasn’t until I became aware of it that realized I’d been doing this, to a degree, my whole life, without even thinking about it. “Fake it till you make it,” as they say. When I became intentionally aware that I felt more confident as long as I acted more confident, I could easily look back over my life and see all the times when the same practice had served me well; speaking in front of a class, talking to a teacher or coach, going to a job interview (at sixteen), conversing with adults, and so on. At the time, I thought it was just being “responsible,” but it turns out that being responsible and acting confident work in tandem.
2) A POSITIVE MINDSET is the catalyst for most good things in life.
When I was my mid-twenties, I went through a bought with depression and anxiety. I don’t talk about it much because it came on the heels of a pretty intense health scare and it was directly connected to post-traumatic stress associated with a malfunctioning internal defibrillator (ICD) [a story for another time]. I don’t mind saying it now, but to date it is literally the worst thing I’ve ever personally suffered in my entire life, and I’ve had surgeries, been in accidents, embarrassed myself, experienced natural childbirth with a face-presented baby, I even DIED when I was 14 [again, a story for another time] – so I can accurately say that legitimate medical depression feels worse than death. I can say that because I’ve lived it. It’s worse because you walk around all day every day thinking you’d be better off if you’d never even been born. It feels demonic. Your mind turns on you. It’s like living in a fog and it’s impossible to explain to people who have never dealt with it. When you add anxiety to it, well, it’s life altering.
I only share my story now because SO MANY PEOPLE comment on how positive, bubbly and upbeat I am. As such, I think it’s irresponsible of me not to also share that my level of positivity is a choice. My sunny outlook and disposition is a decision. BUT here’s where things get dramatic. I made that decision because I experienced a dramatic and sudden “healing” from the depression and anxiety after a night on my face in prayer. A night where I cried out to God and shouted, for lack of a better term, “heal me or kill me, but don’t leave me like this.” And literally, the next morning when I opened my eyes, the fog was gone. That very moment, I vowed never, NEVER to take another day for granted. I was so grateful to feel joy that I purposed in my heart I would CHOOSE to feel that joy every single day, no matter what.
Since then, the dark demon of depression has tried several times to push back into my life, but I FIGHT BACK. I DECIDE to reject it. I CHOOSE to seek joy. I haven’t been back to that place, I don’t believe I will ever go back there.
(Sidebar. If you or someone you love is struggling with depression, PLEASE seek help. Don’t suffer in silence. My depression had an electrical root cause, yours may not. But knowing the cause doesn’t make fighting the fight any less horrible. So hear this: it IS beatable. Not everyone will have the dramatic experience I had, but I believe the path to joy exists for everyone. Your path may look differently from mine, but it’s still a path worth walking. Life is still full of good things and you DO matter.)
Anyway, when I learned that I had the power to control my mind and my emotions, and I learned HOW to take my thoughts captive, it was like a light switch turned on in my life. knowing that you have the power to choose how you see the world and respond to things around you is the ultimate confidence booster. Choosing positivity every single day has been my goal ever since. Does it mean nothing bad ever happens? Of course not. Does it mean I don’t feel stress or experience pain like everyone else? Um. Definitely not. But it does mean that come what may, I’m looking for the silver lining, I’m focused on the blessings of the day instead of the curse. It’s not always easy, it takes practice and it takes intention — but it’s SO, SO WORTH IT.
When you choose to live a positive life, there’s no room for negative self-talk.
And when you stop your negative self-talk habit, confidence is a natural byproduct.
3) FAITH and GROWTH are trump cards for all things relating to personal value.
I have been a Christian since childhood. But it wasn’t until I was in my mid twenties, after the aforementioned miracle experience, that I began to really dig into my personal relationship with God. I wanted to learn, I wanted to study, I wanted to know exactly WHY I believed what I believe, NOT on an intellectual level like I had sought out in college, but on a heart level. Once I did that, I learned to define myself the way God defines me and, with that definition, a GROWTH mindset began to organically grown in my head. I suddenly WANTED to become more. I wanted to be a better me every single day. I wanted to reach new heights in life. Once I knew that God had big plans for my life, bigger than any I could muster on my own, and that if I would only pursue those plans, He would take me where I needed to be, I had an epiphany:
Self-confidence is easy when you’re not always focused on YOURSELF.
As my life became more about pursuing His path, serving others, and spreading love — and less about pursuing MY own agenda — I realized that my confidence isn’t even in myself to begin with!
Talk about liberating.
Suddenly, I was off the hook, it wasn’t all up to me to be confident at all, and it didn’t really matter what PEOPLE expected as long as I was all-in trying to be who GOD wanted me to be. When I realized that, I became more confident without even trying.
So there you have it. My three big confidence-building realizations. I know these are heavy on the faith side, and that may not be your thing. But, it IS the truth for my life and the only experiences I can share are those I embrace myself.
Sure, I could regurgitate what a million other “experts” have said about becoming more confident in the past, but that would be disingenuous. Instead, I have chosen to share some snippets from my own personal journey, in the hopes it may help you too.