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Confidence Trick

I’m not much of a one for televisual talent competitions, but I watch them now and again (so shoot me!). There always seems to be a lot of talk about confidence from the competitors, and here as in day to day life, it is always viewed as a positive thing. However, I think something vital is being missed.

It is not always those who start off, “feeling confident”, who progress the furthest, and never unless they have something to back it up. Success comes to those who display a true commitment, and a steely glint behind the eyes which lets you know that they are not afraid of hard work, their focus is complete, and that it is almost a matter of life and death to them. 

I’m not talking the spurious, “Wanting it SO MUCH!” I’m talking about an observable, palpable willingness to push one’s own capabilities to an uncomfortable limit, with a nagging self-doubt that one’s best may not be enough, or that one could have tried harder, even though it didn’t feel like it at the time.

When I’m working with children and young people, it’s not unusual to have them reply, almost parrot fashion, that a felt benefit from any given project is that they “feel more confident.” I am sometimes left pondering how deeply they understand the meaning of that particular C word, and how much of it is simply fulfilling the desire to please by giving what they perceive is the answer the adults want.

I was always talked about as a confident child, when perhaps closer to the truth was that I understood how to get the adult reaction I was after, and had learned that in a strange way, showing off meant you were left alone to get on with it: no need to interfere there, she’s fine.

As an adolescent, I remember being asked how a person could attain confidence, and I replied, “Get good at something.” I had clearly decided that for me, a sense of self-worth went hand in hand with tangible achievement.

Of course the ideal is for every young person (or every person regardless of age!) to have an innate sense of self and to feel securely confident that their true nature is of value, regardless of their place in the world. We may be doing more harm than good to encourage the thinking that confidence in and of itself is a supremely desirable goal. When unsubstantiated, that sense of confidence may be riding for a fall.

As in many things, it may be of more help to treasure the process rather than the end goal. If our children’s route to their own version of confidence is acknowledged as realistic inner reflection and truthful endeavour; if the inevitable stumbles along the way are noted as part of life’s rich tapestry, and one more step to a perhaps as yet unknown goal; if what we are feeling confident about is something with a solid experiential foundation, perhaps it will be a real benefit, and not just a trick.