Does confidence come and go? Do we switch it on and off? Is it triggered so decisively as to buoy everything we do when the going is good, or drop us into a downward spiral when nothing goes right?
My personal feeling is this: Self-assurance ebbs and flows. Belief in our competence (and value) surges with each success, diminishes when we encounter disappointment or failure, and renews itself again as we push ahead — at times through the simple act of never giving up.
Moreover, insecurity in one area doesn’t mean we aren’t confident in other ways. For example, I have always been at home in my ability to learn, though for years I lacked confidence in my appearance.
Happily, confidence can spread like a contagion, flowing from one area of our lives to another, and to very positive effect.
Get Back on the Horse Syndrome
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to suck it up, face defeat, then resolve to put on my “big girl” pants and try again. I might also refer to this as Get Back on the Horse Syndrome, for which all attempts to advance after a fall require… you guessed it… cranking up the confidence.
I wonder why we don’t speak more honestly about these treacherous currents and moments of crisis. Wouldn’t we be doing ourselves (and our friends) a service if we did, admitting how often we fall, take hits, lick our wounds, then force ourselves right back up and out until we’re on track? Don’t we all need a recurring case of Get Back on the Horse Syndrome — to get through life’s tough times?
Considering my professional history – a traditional corporate career for two decades, followed by a need to reinvent, reinvent some more, and then tinker the latest reinvention – I certainly see my own battlefields littered with preconceived notions about myself. I note the skirmishes in which I lost territory financially. I marvel at the seemingly impossible to treat emotional wounds, that nonetheless healed with time. I focus on the advances made and the pride I took in making them, even if a few years later new challenges necessitated altering course once again.
What I also recognize: Each and every experience has served as teacher. More importantly, each and every experience resulted in the acquisition of additional skills that I was able to put to excellent use. Most important of all, each and every experience led to a greater degree of mental toughness.
And that, along with other areas of competence, reinforced my belief in myself.
Imposters and Impossibilities
To say that women struggle with success is an understatement. We know that The Imposter Syndrome is real; we know that we are often convinced that we are “not enough,” and we may feel inclined toward guilt more easily than our male counterparts who have their own challenges with juggling work and family responsibilities.
In my personal life, I also see how I compromised who I was when I was younger. I may not have realized it then (and we all know that hindsight is 20-20), but I was operating within well-established patterns both from childhood and the transitional times in which I came into my own, predominantly in the 1980s and to some degree, the 1990s. I also clearly understand the role that a lack of self-confidence played in the romantic realm; I never felt “good enough” — also a common theme for women — and thus, as much as some part of me wouldn’t settle for someone I knew wasn’t right for me, I nonetheless avoided (healthy) conflict. And consequently, I allowed my own dreams to fall to the bottom of the list when I was in a relationship.
Over the years, I learned to reshape my inner dialog as well as my actions, and I’m convinced that being a parent — a good parent — is a factor. As I paid more attention to the words I used around my children, I became acutely aware that parents plant the early seeds of inner dialog, and thus my own inner dialog became a more significant teacher.
The message is clear: Language can elucidate our ambivalence, it can reframe our options, it can constrain us without our conscious agreement.
And so I have tried to eradicate “just” and “maybe” and other verbal habits from my speech patterns (though occasionally I slip back), and with “I can” and “I will” I am stronger, more focused, and more confident in doing whatever I must to meet goals.
Circumstances Beyond Our Control Will Erode Confidence
We know the external reasons that cause confidence to take a tumble. These include:
- unemployment, leaving us feeling powerless or “less”
- illness or accident, leaving us feeling temporarily dependent or “less”
- break-up, especially when it comes unexpectedly, leaving us “less”
In fact, anything that cuts to the heart of our self-definition, not to mention our belief systems, impacts the perception of our own value. As for those who say layoff or extended periods of professional downturn are harder on men than women, I say think again! An increasing number of women are primary or sole breadwinners, their families dependent on their earnings, and the pride and identity in being a provider is fundamental.
If work is removed from the equation, and not by choice — talk about a hit to one’s sense of self!
In any of the circumstances above, we may feel like a “lesser” individual, at least for a time. Cue the consternation at unwittingly rekindling those old feelings of “not good enough.”
Knowing Who We Are
For many women, self-assurance has everything to do with looks and far too little to do with quality of life, much less accomplishments. Instead, we feel embarrassed, ashamed even, and somehow “unsuitable” as the signs of aging insinuate themselves on our faces, our hands, or around the middle. We are nostalgic for a former self or worse, we grow bitter as appearance loses luster and attentions we once enjoyed drop away. If these are the only standards by which we judge our worth, we will most certainly suffer.
On the other hand, there are freedoms that come with growing into a greater sense of self. My identity has always been more closely aligned with learning and accomplishments, and yes, earning a living. For that, I am grateful. While I am not unaffected by looksism as it plays out — an absence of “approval” or growing invisibility — I allow it less importance than who I am, what I can do, and how I continue to move forward.
In the relational arena, divorce has a way of waking us up, and much as it is a dreadful experience (for many), as are the years that follow, here’s what we have to gain: If we’re fortunate and do the necessary work, we learn about our capabilities, we come to understand that we can change our behaviors, we expand beyond previous boundaries, we are energized by growing confidence, we venture out in unexpected ways, and we do not repeat our mistakes.
We put on our “big girl pants” and move forward — like the confident, adult women we are.
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