Last week I was asked to think of a time I felt truly confident. Go ahead, try it. I did and I was horrified to find that I had to go right back to my school years, performing on stage as part of my local dance school. Really?! A 40 year old Cambridge graduate who has worked at a Magic Circle City law firm amongst others, raised 3 children, is co-chair of the PTA, sings in a choir, lives a comfortable and blessed life in Yorkshire’s Golden Triangle….and this is where I need to go to recall a time I felt truly confident? I have to confess, I shed more than one self-pitying tear and I have been pondering the issue of confidence ever since.
It’s fair to say that there are lots of people who assume that I am really confident; in fact, I have been told that I can be quite intimidating (which I cannot even begin to imagine). It is also true that perhaps my behaviour is not what you would expect from someone who feels they lack in confidence. The fact that I share my thoughts and feelings on this blog, for example. The fact that I put myself forward as joint chair of our PTA, in a school full of high achieving, successful parents. The fact that today I went to see a web-designer since I have decided to launch a business as a freelance writer without any training or experience. And yet I cannot tell you how many thoughts I waste thinking people don’t like me and worrying that I don’t have any real friends. I find it hard to be in large groups and am that awkward person who interrupts or talks over someone at the wrong time, waffling on with nervous energy. I often wake in the early hours and spend 3 or 4 hours with my heart racing, feeling slightly breathless and catastrophising a work or social situation, berating my decisions and unsuccessfully trying to wake Dan to help me calm down. I lie awake wondering if I ought to be on medication and whether or not there is anyone else amongst our friends like me.
Confidence is defined as “a feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities”.
Yet it is fascinating that, my initial reaction aside, when I take a longer and more considered view of what confidence might mean to me and what I think it looks like, it is not a person’s state of mind that I turn to, it is their actions. I see them walking into a room, head held high (I can do that bit). I see them sharing thoughts and ideas (I can do that bit too). I see them leading a team of people (turns out I can do that bit too). When I think about a confident person, I don’t imagine how they sleep or wonder how they feel, I wonder what they do.
Because, let’s be honest, is there really anyone out there, hand on heart, who can say that they do not have their own moments of self-doubt? Who doesn’t worry that they are not witty enough, clever enough, attractive enough, successful enough?
So, I wonder, does it matter that I have not felt that pure joy and assurance I felt on stage kicking my way through the can-can aged 16? If we define confidence as a way of living rather than as a state of mind, then does this allow more of us to celebrate ourselves as achieving the hallowed status of a confident person? Need confidence and self-doubt be mutually exclusive?
Not if we define confidence by our actions and by our ability to always take that next step forward; by our ability to keep moving and keep daring.
Clearly panic attacks at 2am are not healthy and are bordering on bonkers, but I think some of the loss of “pure confidence” is sadly an accruement of age and experience. However, these days, I really am trying to live my life bravely. OK, I am not changing the world or taking enormous risks, but for me, I am consciously choosing to push myself out of my comfort zone and trying to find a new future as I face 40 and transition into life with all of my babies at school. I am reading the personal development books I dismissed derisively and am going all new age as I try and find my light and my core desires, plus I am telling people about it; hoping to help someone else with the same fears and the same questions I have. I have passed my half way mark on this beautiful gift of life and I want to make the rest of it count – but on purpose and not by accident.
As a mum who has spent a lot of time at home in the same place and largely in the same routine for 5 years before venturing back into the work place, I felt I had lost my confidence. But if I am kind to myself, I need not look back to my 16 year old self, since I have started moving again. I am not treading the same path, I am on my way, even if I do not really know the destination. But that’s not the important thing; the important thing is I have begun and I am taking steps every day. So next time, I am worrying and being unkind to myself, I will take a deep breath in and think about the things I have done, which I could not possibly have imagined I would do, like this blog. I will remind myself that I am living with new purpose and courage and that is confidence enough for me, for the time being. I hope you can do the same.
ps thanks to Pinterest for the image