In most settings I was mild-mannered and shy while growing up (I say most settings because some people will laugh to read that sentence). I remember as a teenager hearing other people boldly talk about politics, current events, music, health, whatever the subject, and being very impressed. I thought to myself (no joke), “Boy, I wish I had opinions.”
|Original illustrations. :)|
I was a studious girl, and the opinions eventually came --- as they tend to do with education. But I think what I had really been wishing for was the confidence to express an opinion in the presence of someone who disagreed. Even in those settings where I was not so shy, I was never confrontational. This can be a virtue, and I’m satisfied to think that sometimes it was. But when it is one’s character rather than one’s choice to avoid conflict, it is a weakness.
These days I find myself very ready, in most settings, to say kindly but confidently, “Well, I just don’t see it that way.” What accounts for the change? Certainly, a graduate degree and a few more years of experience under my belt leave me with talking points. But after contemplating my own transformation, I have come to the conclusion that confidence is a choice.
Following are some examples of my progress, and how I got there.
Cooking. Once I was terrified even of using a recipe. Then I was terrified of deviating from a recipe. Then I was terrified of the hard recipes with words like whey and meuniere. Now I feel like I can handle cooking… even feel that I’m a good cook!
- How I gained confidence in cooking: I tried one recipe at a time, looked up one term, bought one new ingredient. Experience and practice led to confidence.
Raising my hand. In grad school I was in a class of 20 really smart guys, and then one other smart girl (who never spoke) and smart myself. There were some really outspoken guys in that class, and I really probably only raised my hand once. I regret that! I had things to say. Now I am a professor, and I challenge students and sometimes colleagues on a regular basis when I disagree with their thought process.
- How I gained confidence in public argument: I had to talk myself into this. I had to tell myself that my ideas were just as valid as the next person’s. I had to walk through my idea in my mind, and agree with myself, and know why. And then I had to take a leap and put myself out there. I had to be willing to be vulnerable. (Love this TED talk.)
Motherhood. In the beginning, when Peter would cry, I would pick him up and flutter all over him and say in a high pitched voice, “It’s okay baby! Oh baby what’s wrong? Are you hungry? Hurting? Oh I don’t know what you need.” Within a couple months this had changed to a calm, low voice, “Peter, it’s okay. Mama’s here. We’re safe and warm and sleep is such a nice place to be. Rest your head.”
- How I gained confidence in answering my child’s needs: One day I realized that all this time I had been assuming that my baby knew what he needed, and was just waiting for me to figure it out while I tried all the wrong things. I realized that in fact, he had no idea what he needed (consciously), and what he needed most was to feel my gentle, sure confidence. Once I realized this, I decided that for him, I would be confident. I just decided! And you know what? Suddenly his other needs were much more clear to me. Confidence led me to smarter, quicker decisions. It changed me fundamentally as a mother. And all I did was decide.
By the way,
I also love this TED talk. The speaker talks about a controlled experiment she and some colleagues did that proved how our body language chemically affects our level of confidence (and not just the other way around). Stand in a “power pose” (see above three illustrations) for two minutes before a job interview, or performance, or crucial conversation, and even in that amount of time your testosterone levels will jump and your cortisol levels plummet.