Bridging the Confidence Gap
Words by Sarah Bird
Like all those things that originate inside us but which we can’t hold, it’s a difficult one to control.
Ah, confidence. I’ll be honest, it’s a word with which I’ve always had a bit of a love-hate relationship. Self-confidence. Over-confidence. Lack of confidence. Projecting confidence. From the age when you can stand up you’re being told you need more – or less – of it. Whatever ‘it’ is. The dictionary says “belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities; self-confidence; self-reliance; assurance.” As definitions go, that’s a big one. Confidence is a big deal it seems. Except from where I’m standing, it’s more like a shape-shifter, a slippery fish that can escape you without warning, like clouds burned off by the sunshine. Like all those things that originate inside us but which we can’t hold, it’s a difficult one to control. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty confident about some things. Most of us are I think. I know that when I get on my bike, I can get up any hill you can throw at me (albeit slowly), I’ll just take it at my pace and spin to the top. I’m confident at managing complex data, designing systems, remembering legal precedents. I’m even confident that I can write song lyrics to order, because I’ve done it plenty of times. But does that mean I’m confident? Hmmm. For all of us, this is where it tends to get more interesting. From being small we make comparisons. Is she taller than me? Can she run faster than me? Is she cleverer than me? Then there’s the whole load of other stuff we dwell upon, analyse and agonise over. Do I look good? Do people like me? Do I fit in? If you’re like me, these comparisons did nothing for your confidence levels! OK, but sometimes that’s just how it is.
We find ourselves trying to create an impression of confidence using the shifting sands of our skills and self-esteem.
As we start to grow up and new layer of complexity enters the frame: how confident we appear to be. Are we convincing and assured? Do we project ourselves in a way the enables others to trust our skills? Will other people have confidence in us? Somewhere amongst all this, we find ourselves trying to create an impression of confidence using the shifting sands of our skills and self-esteem. Some of it is easy – like I said, I’m pretty confident about some stuff. Other times it’s harder: like the parts where I’m not satisfied with myself. Even then I realise that changing how I think about myself can help me seem more confident. But what about the bits that ‘thinking differently’ just can’t change? What if there’s a genuine gap between what you can do and the level of confidence you need to project? This is the question that I’ve found myself addressing recently and I suspect I’m far from unusual in this one. Allow me to back-track for a moment, to give you a bit of history: I’ve always been really bad at remembering faces and names though it took me a long time to work that out. I have so many embarrassing memories, of meeting people and promptly forgetting who they are … then being unable to introduce them to others. In my last job that involved managing a large number of staff it took me 6 months to tell them all apart. I eventually managed to differentiate between the last two when I worked out that only one had sideburns (they were male by the way!). Only recently my son had to walk up to me and speak to me before I knew it was him. I know many people have issues in this area, it just seems that I’m unusually bad at it. Meetings used to be a minefield, trying to work out who was in the room, desperately trying to remember key facts about their appearance: what shape glasses do they wear? How tall are they? What’s their hair like? You see I remember things, elements, I see features but not the whole. For the psychologically-minded reader, that’s the principle of Algorithm vs Gestalt. I think in algorithms, whereas some people can identify gestalts, where the mind perceives a global whole without having to look for specific identifying features (or so I am told by a psychologist who read my draft!). When I finally escaped that world and began to work on my own more often, dealing with matters and people online, it was the most wonderful, liberating sensation. The things that confidence couldn’t change, suddenly didn’t matter any more. In effect, my confidence soared.
It’s not about belief in my abilities, it’s about being confident that I can work with the skills I have.
Fast forward to last year. Just when I thought I could safely work in my bubble for the rest of my days, I realised that there was a new challenge on the horizon. Somewhere out there, close to me, were a whole load of potential business contacts and clients who could be interested in my products … and I was going to have to go out and meet them. In fairness to me, I did see the funny side of all this. Me out networking, rooms full of people I’ve never met … or maybe I have, who knows? One thing was certain: no amount of confidence was going to make any difference to this one! So what could I do? I needed to project confidence and assurance in my business, I needed to present in a way that people could trust. The question was how. At the first networking event I attended, I was fighting the urge to go and lock myself in the ladies toilet. The only thing that stopped me was the fact that I’d paid good money to be there. It’s fair to say my learning curve was pretty steep. I had to use all my skills of remembering features and repeating names in my head to get me through. I wrote notes on the business cards I received and logged them all back in my office. Knowing my business was easy: I could talk with confidence and assurance about that, I just wasn’t sure who I’d been talking to. At the second networking event I did something different. The first thing I did was to tell people that I was rubbish with faces and names so please, not to be insulted if I can’t remember who you are. The best bit is that no-one was bothered about that. They were interested in what I said, not in my facial recognition skills (or the lack of them!). That was a revelation and in it’s own way, boosted my confidence. I’m now out meeting businesses and networking 4 days every week. LinkedIn is my friend because it has photos of all my connections. I use a CRM system to log all my contacts and where I met them. I’m practising the skills I need to function in this world. I still don’t always know who I'm talking to. I went to meet my close colleague in a coffee shop recently, she’d changed her hair colour. There are only 8 tables in the coffee shop and she had to wave at me before I realised it was her (fortunately she just laughs at me). Despite this, I’ve found a way to bridge the gap between what I can do and the level of confidence I need to project in the business world. It’s not about belief in my abilities, it’s about being confident that I can work with the skills I have (or haven’t). It’s a work in progress for sure … by the way, what did you say your name was…?
About … Sarah Bird. She’s someone’s daughter, sister, wife and mother. She says she’s old enough to be someone’s grandma too … but she’s not. Sarah was born female and have spent her entire life trying to work out what that means. Perhaps because of that, she is acutely aware of the diversity amongst women and how we view ourselves. It frustrates her so much when others try to put us in a box that really doesn’t fit. We can – and should – be exactly who we are, without labels or limitation. Somewhere along the way she has balanced careers as a built environment professional and as a musician, composer and vocalist. Sarah is now Director of Stuff at Oook Audio Ltd, they provide brilliant music for video people. Sarah’s idea of ‘time out’ involves cycling, rock and ice climbing, trekking and diving. Though not all at once. Her head is always full of music.
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