I saw a couple of women on TV one day, talking about their new book, “The Confidence Code,” (by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman) and decided it might be worth getting, based on the things they were saying. As a woman who has struggled with not having enough confidence all of my life, I could relate to them so well.
I remember that when I was in junior high, I fully believed that I was a fraud. I was getting A’s and B’s in all my classes (except home ec, my only bad grade in my whole life), but I did not think I deserved those high grades, I thought I was fooling the teachers. I remember lying in bed at night, stewing about that, and wondering when someone was going to catch me being a fraud, and then maybe my life as I knew it would be over.
I also remember the first ten years of teaching, when I would go home from school (eventually, although I always stayed late), and go over the whole day in my head, wondering where and how I could have made better decisions, or done something differently. It made for really, really long days of teaching, and my head had room for little else.
And then there were the times when I was getting good feedback from 99% of the parents, but all I could think about was that 1% who was kicking up a fuss about something, or putting me down or criticizing me. I could not let go of the negative, I could not let go of the fact that I hadn’t pleased everybody, that I was still far from perfect.
And how many times did I not speak up or show my thoughts or creativity because I thought I wasn’t good enough, only to hear and see others’ same thoughts or work right out in the open, and know that mine were at least as good if not better in many cases? Then to curse myself for not sharing or being a little braver.
There were definitely moments when I showed confidence, but they took an incredible amount of preparation (as told in the blog where I confronted the supervising teacher who didn’t like me). To become unshakeable meant major preparation for me, and it helped to have lots of experience in whatever I was dealing with as well. That wasn’t a common happening in my life.
And I never never wanted to do sports, or compete in anything. I did a little bit of raquetball playing once, but did not have many athletic skills, was convinced I never would. I did not want to be a laughing stock, so I would never participate even in friendly sports games.
Being decisive was almost painful at times, even about things like which present I wanted that Dad had brought home from a field trip. This caused a lot of issues with my sister, because, as my Dad says, I’d wait for her to decide which thing she wanted, then I’d want the same thing.
It turns out that all of these things are often seen in many women who struggle with confidence issues. Perfectionism, hesitation, the impulse to please others, fear of failure, overthinking, not wanting to be seen as a braggart, taking things too personally, inability to let go of defeat and move on, fear of taking risks, and fear that everyone else has more experience (or knowledge) than me (particularly men, depending on the subject) — these are all confidence issues that women seem to have more than men, and I particularly have in great abundance! Yikes!
This week I was quite interested in hearing about Barbara Walters and her retirement. She was treated so terribly by Harry Reasoner, who didn’t think she deserved the anchor position next to him, and yet she kept going. She persisted with a smile on her face, regardless of the negative stuff that came at her, until she found her niche. She also said how important she thought it was to promote herself, regardless. She said, what’s the use of doing a lot of work on something, and then not having anyone notice, even if all you do is open the window and shout it out? Her confidence and the real belief in herself being able to accomplish what she wanted, and her advertising what she did, worked for her in a big way.
It actually turns out that confidence is even more important than competence when going out there in the world, especially if one is trying to “get ahead.” Many men automatically assume they will learn whatever they don’t know about the endeavor they are jumping into, women don’t even want to jump until they’re 100% ready and knowledgeable.
I can say that I have learned a lot about confidence over the years however, some by experience, some by example. Sarita shows confidence with technology because she is never afraid to mess around with it and learn, always says that if a man can figure it out, she most certainly can as well. And she always does. So I’m trying to be braver about technology. I tackle harder and harder knitting patterns, confident that I’ve learned enough to be able to understand them. Sometimes I have issues about my appearance, but I’ve noticed that there are other people who are also overweight or have disabilities or who are especially tall or short or whatever, who look absolutely stunning all the time because of the confidence they have deep within themselves about who they are and the fact that they are valuable human beings. That’s who I want to be. And I still have time!
This is when I wish I was young again, just starting out raising my girls, so that I could set a better example. The 70’s feminist movement helped, but still wasn’t enough to dissipate my fearfulness. I may have passed along some of my own confidence issues to my children. Well now, maybe I will also pass along this book…
I am only on Chapter 2, but can see ways already that I can change in my personal life, and I love the idea that I can feel better about my confidence, in whatever days of living I have left. The basis of the book is that after understanding more about what confidence is, how complex it is, how it has been demonstrated differently by men and women, that we can actually change some of our neurological paths, we can learn ways to become more confident, so that our lives can be better. That’s good enough for me.
Here’s a poem I wrote many years ago that seems to go along with this confidence theme:
as soon as I saw her hands trembling
that I couldn’t leave.
Never mind that I couldn’t hear her soft voice
or understand her heavy accent.
Even when I knew that no revelations
would come to me
it was clinched
when two other people walked out first.
She looked questioningly at the door
then back at the empty seats.
Her voice faltered
in the middle
she was reading about
an hour of time in our lives
that wouldn’t be there
after the workshop.
But I can’t leave
though I clutch my bag and sweater
for easy running.
I have a relationship with her now–
my body, my eyes–
she’s seen them.
I know she’s counting on us,
the ones who remain seated
stiffly and politely.
I am counting too–
the lines on my paper
the squares on the rug
my neighbor has an interesting shoe.
Just when I start noticing hairstyles
someone tells a story.
There’s a laugh, a question
our voices fill with emotion
and we fight for the time to talk.
She puts her papers down
and looks relieved.
I put my sweater over
the back of my chair.