In the eye of the beholder

karenbirchbw-245x300My Dad has lots of sayings, picked up from books, plays and TV down the years that have passed into family lore. One of these, recited in an iffy west country accent, is “if ‘e be a natural thing, where do ‘e come from, where do ‘e go?” As with most of my Dads sayings, I didn’t know where this came from but I was listening to a radio play, The Ghost Train by Arnold Ridley, who found further fame as Corporal Godfrey in the TV series Dads Army, when I heard the station master say “if ‘e be a natural thing, where do ‘e come from, where do ‘e go?”.

I was delighted to hear this refrain from my childhood. It brought a huge smile to my face. The real significance was the timing. I’d been sitting with a blank piece of paper considering the theme of this months issue of the3rdi magazine, ‘confidence‘, and writing, or failing to write this editorial and then this phrase “if ‘e be a natural thing, where do ‘e come from, where do ‘e go?”

Confidence then. Where does it come from?
We all have it at birth, I think. When my son was about 3 years old we were on a family holiday in Portugal. We were having a meal in a beautiful courtyard and, as with most children, he got fidgety when he’d finished his meal and wanted to head off to play. We were still finishing our coffee so he had to stay close. What he did was to stand in pathway and smile at people. He didn’t stand in their way, he wasn’t pushy, he just smiled. If they didn’t smile back he smiled more. Everyone smiled. Imagine having the confidence to do that now. Street entertainers do this everyday but most of us feel nervous meeting new people and don’t feel we have the confidence to make an impression.

So we all start out with confidence, where does it go?
There are many possibilities. The media driven imperative for women to attain the perfect figure is one. The celebrity culture that has led young girls to aspire to be a WAG or a reality TV star, and berate themselves if this does not happen for them, is another. If we don’t have the perfect house or the perfect partner there are many TV shows who will show us how to get one, the implication being that we are somehow failing if we don’t reach this idea of perfection. The point is that the list is endless and infinitely variable.

And things that have happened in my life to shake my confidence may have left another unaffected. Business setbacks that might have fatally undermined the ability to prosper for someone else have not dampened my desire to succeed. Some people are very comfortable being overweight, with a body shape we are encouraged by the media to think of as unattractive, while others will go to extraordinary lengths and are desperate to have a catwalk model figure. We are not all the same and the reasons for our confidence to grow or wane varies. What I’m sure of is that, for most of us, confidence is built on shaky foundations.

So how can we build firmer foundations.
As ever, I’ll explain by way of a story. There are several times in my life that I have felt utterly indestructible, times when nothing was a problem, when nothing could shake my confidence. I can remember each time very clearly and the funny thing is that none of these times is closely linked to a moment of particular success. They seem to have arisen independently of the circumstances in my life at that time.

For example one time, very early in my career I was a salesman and I remember driving north up the M1 listening to Black Man Ray by China Crisis as I drove. I felt indestructible. The feeling didn’t follow a particularly successful call, I hadn’t just earned a huge bonus and I wasn’t driving a brand new car – all causes for euphoria if your in sales! The feeling just was. If the feeling can arise without obvious cause then we are free to create it within ourselves.

How do we create confidence in ourselves?
We don’t. Confidence, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. That’s the strange thing about confidence is that we all assume that other people have it! The amazing thing you act like a confident person then people will think that you are a confident person. And if people think you are a confident person then you become a confident person.

Let me explain, when we walk into a crowded room at a networking event everyone who is already there looks relaxed and confident. Think about this. Two minutes ago they were exactly the same as you are now; feeling a little nervous about entering a room full of strangers. It is not confidence that separates you, just two minutes. Once you are in the room and settled you will be the confident one, so take that ‘two minutes later‘ feeling with you into the room.

So, we all start out with confidence and the reasons for it waning are not the same for everyone. Confidence is an illusion. We can create it in the perception of others. We create it ourselves. My tip for holding on to it is to think of a time when you were indestructible and take that feeling of how it feels with you wherever you go.

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