Personal development: Part 4 – Building confidence

I was lucky that I was not bullied at school, but I had a best friend however who was.  She had a thick Scottish accent, massive reentry shield spectacles that were as thick as her accent and was she was very, very clever. I have no idea what made us friends in the beginning because we had absolutely nothing in common on the face of it, but best friends we became.  

I remember vividly an incident on the school bus where I faced up to her bully to protect her because I’d had enough of it. The tiny girl who was bullying my best friend was one of the popular girls, she wore makeup and tights and had a following of sheep-like friends, as popular girls tend to do. I was twice the size of her and scared to death of her but I couldn’t bear seeing someone who had never hurt a fly be constantly picked on any longer. If I got a smack then so be it.   
No fists flew, I’ve always been a chicken, I relied on my size to come between the two of them and worked on talking down the situation (that latter skill became honed in a role as a Customer Services Manager years later, where my colleagues gave me the informal title of UN Peacekeeper and Sh*t Deflector”!).  Minutes later we pulled up outside the school gates and needless to say the bus driver reported us, so an hour later the three of us were sat outside the Headmistress’s office. 

She made us talk about what happened and just wouldn’t accept my explanation that my best friend had been relentlessly bullied and all I’d done was step in to calm things. I remember thinking how unjust that was. We were all made to begrudgingly shake hands and after that the bully thankfullt left my best friend alone.

The lesson I took away from that on reflection is that I would do the same again, standing up for what is right is important to me. Standing up for people (or creatures) that can’t stand up for themselves is the right thing to do, despite the fact that I may get in trouble, get punched in the face or be openly criticised by others. The confidence to do so comes from within because I’m standing by the courage of my convictions. My beliefs give me that courage.

Believing in ourselves is what gives us courage and that courage translates into confidence. It’s true that confidence comes from within, it’s also true that the experiences we go through in life and our reactions to those life events shape our being and either build or knock our confidence. 

As we get older I think we naturally become more confidence and some of that comes from being more comfortable in our own skin. We are less bothered about getting a six pack in the gym and more bothered about cracking open a six pack at home round the BBQ with the family. The confidence comes from realising what’s important in life and we generally only get that realisation as we age.

Being bullied can leave long lasting mental (and sometimes physical) scars. I’m lucky I wasn’t bullied but like most kids I did endure my fair share of teasing which can still have an effect on ones self confidence and self perception. A curly wild haired tom-boy with a huge gap in her front teeth and a train track brace who was taller than almost everyone at school took her fair share of abuse. Some things that people say stick, sometimes you can never shake how the opinion of others made or makes you feel. What I realised over time though is that though everyone has an opinion, to which they are entitled, it doesn’t mean their opinion is the truth. Confidence comes from that realisation.

I you want to build professional confidence then feedback is important. Ask for it. Peers, colleagues, friends, family – you know everyone finds it easy to be a critic, but if you can seek out constructive criticism (and learn the art of accepting and taking it on board rather than being upset or offended by it) you can embrace it to strengthen your skills and grow even more in confidence. 

Comparing yourself to others is not a way to build self confidence. You have no idea what battles every person you walk past on a day to day basis is fighting. You may look at someone outwardly and think they have a better life than you, figure than you, job than you, but maybe they were bullied at school and don’t have an ounce of confidence in themselves, they have money worries or they are in a loveless marriage. You are unique, we are all perfectly imperfect. Do not compare yourself to others.

As cliché as it is, positive thinking is a powerful tool. Thinking about yourself and your abilities in positive terms will do you the power of good. Thinking about yourself negatively will have a negative effect. The more positively you perceive yourself the more confident you will be.   

Surrounding yourself with positive influences will support a positive outlook. That includes positive people. Remove negative influences and people from your life and include successful confident people from whom you can learn. This will increase your own confidence. A few years ago I took positive action on this front and stopped spending time with friends who were emotionally draining. The result is a small social circle full of sincere, genuine friends who have a positive effect on me and allow me to be myself. Content, confident, relaxed and happy in their company.

The last tool in my armoury for confidence building is My 365. My 365 is a notebook I started keeping about 2 years ago. I was new to my current role and facing a vertical learning curve to wrap my head around a complicated business and a role with technically challenging deliverables. For a while it felt like I was achieving very little so at the end of every day I’d make a note in My 365 of just one thing that had gone well that day. As the months passed and I faced into some incredibly challenging times I would take a look back through My 365 and be quite taken aback by how much I’d actually achieved and how much my hard work was paying off. That habit was a real lift when I’d “had a bad day at the office”. Nothing will boost your own confidence more than the evidence of how brilliant you are in your own handwriting for a whole 365 days of the year.

Confidence is like a muscle, the more we use it the stronger it gets. You may not feel particularly confident at times, especially if you have to do something you’ve never done before either personally or professionally. Two things I find have always got me through that challenge (1) fake it til you make it, pretend you’re confident and eventually you will be and (2) whatever it is, practice the pants off it, the more you practice the better you’ll get and the better you get, the more confident you’ll be. 

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