I’ve been thinking about confidence recently. Where does it come from? Why do some people have it and some don’t? Is it easy to destroy? Where do you draw the line between confidence and hubris?
I just finished watching the movie The Blind Side, and wow. Talk about a Cinderella story. Michael doesn’t believe he can succeed at sports or in school because nobody has told him he can, nor has he ever been given the opportunity. He’s bright. He’s athletic. He learns well. But nobody has told him those things. And, beyond that, nobody has told him he’s a valuable human being, so he has a low opinion of himself. As the movie progresses and people begin to invest and believe in Michael, his life begins to turn around, he begins to believe in himself, and soon, he goes on to play college football and then become a player in the NFL.
This story makes me wonder what would’ve happened to Michael if nobody had ever believed in him.
I know someone who is really talented. But he doesn’t believe it. He has written (and published) several books and has a sharp mind. He also has a wife and three kids. By all counts, anyone looking in from the outside would say he’s been successful and would certainly call him intelligent.
And yet, for some reason, the guy has no confidence in himself. I’ve known this guy for about a year now, mostly in a professional capacity, and I learned early on how low his self-esteem is. It surprised me in the beginning and has continued to surprise me for several months now. It had gotten to the point where I wanted to sit him down, take his hand, and say, “What’s the deal, man? Why are you always so hard on yourself?”
However, I recognize that, as a colleague who is 20-odd years his junior, it’s not my place to instill confidence in him. And the other day, a bunch of us were sitting around talking, and he said something that gave me loads of insight into the part of his personality I’ve been pondering for the last several months. A group of us were collaborating on a project, and we were debating the effectiveness of one of our initiatives, a certain article we had published. The question on the table was, Is this article doing what we want? Are people reading it? Was it a good production investment?
This particular individual offered up this tidbit: “Hey, my mom read it and liked it. Not that she’s our target audience; she usually doesn’t enjoy stuff like this, but there it is.” There was a pause, and then, almost as if it was an afterthought, or something he meant only to think and not say out loud he said, “Of course, she hasn’t read any of my books, but this she picked up.”
Everyone else present seemed to perceive this as a joke and laughed. I, however, stared at my colleague for a moment longer, everything becoming clear to me. Of course! I thought. He’s never received his mother’s approval or vote of confidence. No wonder his self-esteem is so low. She doesn’t validate him as an adult, so it’s probably safe to infer that she didn’t do it while he was growing up either.
This guy, who has accomplished more in 40-some years than most will accomplish in their entire lives; who is intelligent and funny and enjoyable to be around and work with; who appears to have a loving wife and three adoring children; does not have the approval of his mother and therefore has no confidence in himself.
What does this have to with me? Well, I tend to have the opposite problem. My parents seem to think I’m superhuman or something for the amount of things they believe I can do. They’ve never held me to impossible standards (meaning, if I didn’t get an A, it was still okay to come home). And on the contrary, I wasn’t treated like the contestants for American Idol either – the ones who have no musical talent but claim that their parents have always told them they were fantastic singers. My parents neither expected me to attain unreachable goals nor lied to me about my abilities. But they have always supported whatever I have wanted to do or try. They have let me discover for myself that I’m not good at certain things, and when I’ve discovered things I am good at, they’ve encouraged me to chase those pursuits with passion.
So my point is, thanks in part to my parents, it’s not natural for me not to be confident. I try to be realistic in my pursuits and know what is within reach and what is not, but I tend to believe pretty well in my abilities to do the things I think I’m good at. So my problem has been not that I’ve never had anyone believe in me. My problem has been confusion over what to do when someone comes along who doesn’t believe in me.
Usually this confusion has resulted from romantic relationships I’ve had over the years. It didn’t occur to me to consider whether I was funny until a boy told me once that I wasn’t. It didn’t occur to me to worry whether it mattered that I’m not a jack of all trades, so to speak, until a guy said I wasn’t smart enough for him in a certain discipline. It didn’t occur to me to question whether I’m worth spending time with until I dated someone who said I wasn’t.
Most (if not all) of my confidence-shaking moments have been a result of soured romance, not of parents who didn’t love me enough. I’ve never questioned my parents’ affection for me or really even that of my friends. It has only been guys I’ve dated who have caused me to question various aspects of my personality that I never thought previously worth questioning.
The good news is, they didn’t win. I have learned, over time, that my self-worth is not dependent on one person’s opinion of me (especially when that person is an ex-boyfriend). I have learned that there will be people who don’t believe in me. And I have learned that that is okay. What is more important is to believe in myself by focusing my attention on those who do have confidence in me and by pursuing my passion(s).
And that is what I have done, and that is how I have gotten, mostly unscathed and only lightly scarred, to where I am today.
What about you? Where does your confidence come from?