“What you think of yourself is much more important than what people think of you.” ~Seneca
I used to labor under the gross illusion that confidence was elusive, like a Sasquatch.
Or fleeting, like a shooting star.
It’s there for a moment, then poof! Gone.
Did I dream it?
To deepen this illusion, I believed that only a select few were anointed with confidence by an unseen hand upon their birth (this same mysterious hand also granted natural athletic ability), leaving the rest of us to muddle through, solely reliant on glancing blows of confidence that would hopefully show up when desperately necessary.
Time to do an oral report on The Louisiana Purchase? Let’s hope confidence decides to make a rare appearance—or I’m doomed behind that faux-wood podium!
To further confuse matters, I believed that any acquired confidence was the result of validation and admiration from others.
Perhaps this seed was planted when I heard the phrase: “Insert appropriate term here gave me/her/him confidence.”
The idea that confidence is “given” I apparently took somewhat literally, because I spent years looking for it outside of myself.
I know now that this is a fairly ridiculous passel of assumptions and just about as opposite of legitimate confidence as one can get.
I also used to think that it took arrogance to be confident and that confidence and arrogance were just about one and the same.
I didn’t have the first clue about how to be confident, and then as an added complication, I had a hang up around not even wanting to take confidence for a spin for fear of seeming arrogant.
Who does she think she is?!
My first big wake-up call to true confidence occurred twenty years ago in a small downtown bar in New York City.
My friends invited me out to see a new band, yet I felt like a “tag along.”
This, of course, was in my head due to the silly soap-opera story of outsider unworthiness I told myself. (Please refer to my previous post You Are Enough for more backstory.)
In said band, one member also happened to be a well-known movie actor.
It was a cold winter’s night and the bar was not crowded, so when the band’s set was over, the actor came over to say “hello.”
He was very friendly and a stranger to most of us, except to the friend of my friends who initially extended the invitation. They worked together and were making introductions.
He pleasantly greeted each of us one by one.
I was last in line to shake his hand and by the time he got to me, I said in the lamest most dismissive downtrodden way imaginable, “I’m Alix.”
But I might as well have said, “I’m an afterthought.”
He pounced on me in the best possible way.
“Now don’t say it like that!” he reproached.
He then mimicked me, “’I’m Alix.”
As he did so, he was looking me straight in the eyes, perfectly impersonating my shruggy sad-sack introduction.
His manner was so charmingly disarming that I cracked up laughing.
I couldn’t believe how I had come across!
His impromptu coaching continued, “You have to say it more like, “I’M ALIX!” I mean, come on, YOU’RE Alix! I should be excited to meet YOU!”
No one had ever spoken to me like this before and it woke me up to the cultivated patheticism that had hitherto dwelled in a broad blind spot in my unconscious.
Then, Mr. Actor made me practice introducing myself again, this time with vigorous hand shaking and committed eye contact.
As I engaged in the exercise, I could hardly keep a straight face.
This guy was giving such an unexpected gift by showing me back to myself.
With his light and humorous method, I immediately snapped out of my “no one wants to meet me” mindset.
I was liberated.
He taught me not only how to act confidently, but without realizing it, he revealed to me a clear way in which one can be confident without being arrogant.
He was confident, but he also didn’t take himself seriously. He made me feel I mattered and took the time to let me know.
This was a five-minute conversation that altered the course of my life.
Ever since that snowy night, I have been consciously aware of the energy that I present to others.
Eye contact? Check.
Firm handshake? Check.
After my no-confidence rehabilitation, I can tell you that I may not have always felt 100% confident in every single instance, but I decided to appear as though I did.
This is the definition of “fake it ’til you make it.”
I soon discovered that more I “acted” confident, the more authentically confident I felt.
I finally felt worthy, and worthiness is the prime ingredient of true confidence.
True confidence begins with, or I should say, within us.
It isn’t about stuff like success, rewards, accolades, or (and this may be the most salient point) the perception of others. It’s about the perception we have about ourselves.
Only we can “give” confidence to ourselves.
And here is the big secret:
If we embrace our own worthiness…
Well, then we are worthy.
It really is that simple.
Now I didn’t (and don’t) go around bellowing, “I’M ALIX!!” to strangers, but I certainly no longer feel I have to apologize for showing up.
I also recognize that since I come from a place of love and kindness, I probably will not be mistaken for being arrogant.
And if I am, then I’m all right with that, since that is really about “them,” not me.
I cannot, nor would I ever try, to control how others perceive me.
How others see us is really up to them.
Here is my mini-handbook to determine the differences between arrogance and confidence so you can feel confident that you’re not arrogant.
Arrogance is a mask for insecurities.
1. When people are covering their fears, they must work extra-hard to convince not only themselves, but everyone around them that they’re confident, instead of posturing.
2. This kind of bravado is a guise created by the well-meaning, albeit a misguided ego to protect what it considers to be the fragile eco-system of the mind.
3. Arrogance also always louder and more competitive than actual confidence, because it constantly fears for its survival.
True confidence is quiet (think Ninja).
1. This quiet is a result of honest self-evaluation, tough questions, and feeling worthy to be on the planet.
2. Confidence, once developed, then means we can be cozy—I’m talking couch-like—comfortable in our own skin, where the once pesky ego is now on a constant vacation.
3. True confidence is not competitive. In fact, it prefers to make space for others to speak their minds without feeling the need to jump in and course correct the conversation, the plan, or the route.
4. True confidence also breeds contentment, because we no longer exhaust ourselves trying to prove things to others or ourselves. Phew!
5. True confidence means that we continually enjoy our own company, because at the end of the metaphoric day, we’re the ones with whom we spend the most time.
6. True confidence also means being willing to dork out, be uncool, and be yourself whenever and wherever necessary.
I will be forever grateful to that friendly actor, who was so wonderfully confident in himself that he had no qualms about sparking true confidence within me.
Shy man image via Shutterstock