Zig Ziglar says that confidence is “Going after Moby Dick in a rowboat and taking tartar sauce with you”.
If the getting of confidence was all it took to do what you want, be who you want and have what you want — there’d be no need for a self-help industry that hasn’t saved Jonah yet.
So many I work with claim the #1 thing holding them back from having the business they want, the relationship they crave for or the guts to finally take a stance against the bully at work is ‘low self-confidence’, which inevitably morphs into low self-worth if allowed to wallow in the murky world of self-doubt too long.
What is self-confidence?
There’s so much written about it that misses the mark. The mantras and body posturing only take you so far.
What do you think confidence is?
- Do you think it's a state of mind where you look at opportunities or challenges and say to yourself, ‘I can do this’?
- Is it a feeling inside that says, ‘I’m ok just as I am’ that offers a quiet confidence?
- Or is it the actions you take because failure isn’t an option?
While a simple answer would solve this by saying it's all three, basically I think the question is wrong.
In my own life, it hasn’t been because I’ve had self-confidence and stepped out of comfort zones and tried new things, left careers to start new ones, travelled independently, been an advocate for those less able or started businesses that gave me independence.
In truth, the self-confidence I did have was probably better classified as ‘over-confidence’ because I took too many risks and made too many fool-hardy mistakes.
No. The real genesis of confidence is much more home grown and more to do with the stuff of children’s fairy tales and blockbuster movies than the over-zealous attribution normally tied to ‘self-confidence’.
So let’s not pack the tartar sauce yet.
Because what builds confidence parades under a different name:
- The tin man found it with Dorothy as together they searched for the Wizard of Oz.
- Braveheart paraded it to his tribe to fight the un-winnable battle.
- Simba re-discovered it to claim his birthright.
What is this thing? It's called courage.
Because in claiming self-confidence — it’s not the inward-looking perspective that’s needed — it’s the outward breakthrough of accepting the challenge and THEN stirring up the chalk-marks of courage that lay dormant in each of us that must be roused when in our own little rowboat.
It’s often not the goal that’s important — that rarely is enough to sustain the journey. (If it was we wouldn’t need great leaders to rally the masses — we’d be doing it ourselves with our self-help manuals open to page 28.)
It’s in the desire of what that goal will offer that courage is stirred.
And so often it’s in finding a mission bigger than self that courage ultimately is found.
When it’s for ‘self’, it’s easy to pass up opportunities.
When it’s for a ‘cause’ then courage, indignation and the right to fight for ‘good against evil’ crowns in most of us.
And with it, the start of a voice that grows from a whisper to a squeak, then from a squawk to a rant and finally into a more mellowed and mature tone of quiet resolve.
It’s the internal journey finally voiced externally.
So what does it take to bring out that level of courage in ourselves to take on the good fight and stand up for ourselves, to live a life of greater meaning, to move beyond a small-minded introspection based on self-limiting beliefs?
I believe it’s in belonging to something bigger than ourselves. The vanguards of change only happen when people take a stand. And we can do that in our everyday lives.
Ghandi and Mandela achieved what they did — not for themselves — but in righteous indignation against a status quo that squashed hope. Their actions weren’t 'self-first'.
Benjamin Hardy, author and blogger, asked entrepreneurs as part of a thesis: "Have you passed the point of no return?" and "What was that defining moment" (I'm paraphrasing - I wasn't part of his study) the answers described the power of the internal moment - the one that dips into our core needs of love and loss, hope and harmony, survival and struggle. The moment when truth lays itself bare.
As Hardy says, "It’s a pivotal moment where a person changes how they see themselves and the world. For those seeking to achieve their dreams, it is a self-induced turning point that one never turns back from."
So what’s it going to take to awaken our pivotal turning point - that internal transition from self-focus to the 'why' we get up each morning with a focus on turning up in our lives with the courage to ask the tough questions and seek the truth rather than do a repeat/rewind of yesterday?
No one who starts a business, enters a new relationship, goes for a pay rise or applies for a new job does so with ultimate self-confidence.
Doubt is the shadow-self that’s always ready to wake from slumber.
Doubt - that part of our subconscious holding fearlessly to false-beliefs about ourselves and others.
On the surface, each one of us dances with hope, builds a belief around what’s possible and feels deeply the DESIRE for engagement in a new venture — and its then we dig deep to find the courage to do it. And in the process often have to fight fist-to-fist with our shadowy underbelly and challenge the false-beliefs holding us back.
Building Bridges As Launch Points
In my late twenties — after the end of my first marriage — I wondered ‘what next’.
Walking down the street one afternoon I saw my ‘what next’ on a chalkboard — in the form of a ski trip to Austria. I booked it right then. Originally, I planned to return after the month. But by the time I arrived back at my flat — excitement and possibility firing — I couldn’t think of one good reason to return after the trip, so I didn’t.
Without having that first step — in the form of a ski trip that acted as a ‘bridge’ between leaving home and travelling I don’t know whether I would have been brave enough — or had the courage — to face the journey alone. I was ‘not planning’ a journey without agenda — merely a dream of moving with the moment.
Once in Austria — neck deep in failed downhill thrills — the indignity eased with plenty of gluhwein — I had to find the courage to continue on this journey alone. I had hoped to meet up with someone willing to travel with me. But no. So putting one foot on a train carriage while taking the other off the platform got me to each new destination.
I don’t think much has changed in making decisions.
A small bridge can ease fear just enough to create the mindset for courage to kick in.
And as courage leads to taking action, I found it also led to the building of character.
When I found myself in Berlin without a passport or money.
When I worked in a pub in central London and couldn’t understand the local strine: ‘ay-wan-ha-a-pind-a-bittas-loov’ was. (I want a half a pint of bitters, luv.)
When I was so homesick and alone in Barcelona that I stayed in a boarding house called ‘Hotel Australis’ to feel closer to those I’d left behind.
When I walked the length and breadth of Paris ten hours a day as a tourist on a breakfast bowl of coffee and a jam-filled baguette because money was at eeeeek-level.
Character doesn’t magically appear from having ‘self-confidence’.
Self-confidence results from the building of character.
When I returned from overseas, a common statement I heard was: “If Barbara can do it, so can I”.
And it was true.
I was no one special. I had no previous experience. I didn’t have a road map all planned out — I took one step. I used ‘bridges’ wherever possible.
And I did it for one reason. Because I was at a cross-road.
I could continue working and pretend a marriage hadn’t ended. Or I could travel and finally answer the ‘who am I’ question.
And it’s in the taking of ‘one step’, that another can follow.
Recently I was sharing with a group of people a job interview I’d had in my early 30s. The man interviewing me stopped asking questions after a while. I can still see him as he pushed back on his chair, rolled his eyes over me and said,
“You’re like a row boat without a rudder. And everyone near you is getting sea sick.”
He continued on with a few more comments about me looking for a sugar daddy before the ‘interview’ finally ended.
Jaw on chest, eyes in shock — I should have got angry. Maybe that was what he wanted — some hint of ‘fight’ in me. But I didn’t.
It took all my courage (small amount I had left) to hold the drenched tiller in my hand (now dripping with tartar sauce) until he opened the door and exited me.
At that point I did what any self-respecting woman does. I found a very large newspaper and a very large coffee in a very dark corner of a coffee shop and sobbed. For hours.
I look back on that day in two ways.
One: what a jerk. Two: what a wake-up call.
And to this day I thank that person for showing me how ‘indecision’ and ‘wafting’ looked.
It’s usually impossible to see who we are or how we are until someone else holds up a mirror — or in this case swung a rusted anchor headlong at me from his rowboat.
It’s rare to have someone reflect back what’s so bleeding obvious to others.
I’ve had it happen a few times — heck, I’ve even paid people to tell me what I needed to hear.
Because that’s where courage comes from. Courage to face the part of you that’s invisible to self. The self-awareness that all leaders MUST master to not fall foul of personal blind spots.
Self-confidence is not part of this equation — it’s the by-product of courage to face the ‘shadow’ — the part of ourselves still unknown and give it the light needed to grow. It’s the part inside each of us that remains hidden until we’re ready to deal with it.
It’s definitely not looking inward for the mystical ‘self-confidence muse’ to appear in draped gowns.
She’s long gone to bed as the fairy tale godmother who turns pumpkins into carriages and mice into horsemen naps in the aftermath of ‘forever after’.
When I worked in the construction industry running leadership programs I found the soft and vulnerable yet shadowy underbelly of many engineers and contractors difficult to expose because over-confidence usually held it at bay.
Yet it was the one thing that kept hierarchical power plays alive as men and women jostled against well-worn egos power-edging their way to supremacy.
I used to say to people that it’s in taking the first step that the answer to whatever you’re seeking will be found.
In my own life, I know the first step didn’t always have ‘the one answer’ I was looking for — but it led me to the next ‘door’, which then led to the next — so much so that I now trust in the first step explicitly.
If that one isn’t taken — nothing changes.
The work I do now is in helping people start a new journey in their life — one that helps them build the skills to work with others.
What holds so many back from making the commitment to either working with someone, or becoming the change-agent and stepping into their own power is more often than not: fear.
And fear is usually described through other lenses: ‘no time’, ‘no money’, ‘no self-confidence’.
What they’re really saying is they have ‘no courage’ to take a chance in doing something different, to challenge themselves further or to finally be the person they most hope to be.
While DESIRE is there, courage unfortunately seems to be languishing under mounds of dust until stirred into action.
Occasionally I hear from time to time of people who’ve lived their life with this type of ‘one-day’ thinking — with the belief that ‘one-day’ will eventually arrive like a boat on a foreign shore and they’ll do all the things they’ve hoped and planned for — and unfortunately often what they find after all the one-days have gone is a rusted anchor as the boat sailed long ago. (Probably the same one that hit me full-on all those years ago.)
It’s the stuff holding any of us in looping patterns as decades drift by.
Until, one day, it’s easier to claim: ‘I’m too old for change’ and settle for the nightly news that’ll deepen any fears still harboured about stepping out of comfort zones.
And I’m reminded so much of my mother as I write this.
When she was in her forties I encouraged her to get her drivers’ licence — eventually she did.
In the mornings she’d drive down the hill to Austinmer beach and swim in the rock pool after dropping my father at the train station for his morning’s commute to Sydney, then picking him up again in the evening.
Her desire to swim overcame her fear of driving by herself.
Some days she met my brother and I after school and took us swimming before driving up Hill Street (well named) for home.
I was so proud of her.
Looking back, I don’t know where that courage disappeared to as one day she gave my father back the car keys, tore up her licence and never drove again, instead relying on others to ferry her around as she gazed at the waves in the distance or from behind the glass windows at the back of the house. Independence gone.
That was the last memory I had of her ‘trying something different’.
From that point forward she claimed long and loud that she was ‘too old to change’.
A woman in her forties.
And so she didn’t.
Life drove by as her world view became smaller and the paling fence surrounding her grew more grey, tattered and aged.
In looking back I’m sure that’s why I chose such a different path.
In her 50’s and 60’s, she’d look at me and tell me my life was so much harder than hers ever was.
She was right. And she was wrong.
Life takes courage to live it.
Change takes courage to do it.
Fear takes courage to conquer it.
And it’s all for the gaining of character — one step at a time.
For in the gaining of character, one ultimately finds one’s voice — and in time allows it to mellow — with or without the tartar sauce.
Please leave a comment, click like or share - and let me know what (if anything) stirred for you. Or even perhaps a time where courage took you further than 'confidence' ever could.