A couple of short moons ago, above a pub in North London, I sat on a chair, on a raised stage, facing a room half-filled with angry, elderly theatre gents and the other half filled with my kind friends.
It was squishy and hot and we’d all just endured a clumsy two-hour rehearsed reading of a play I wrote. The first few comments came in from the angry quarter of red-faced men who had been waiting impatiently to voice their discontent at the play.
I thought it was meant to be funny.
It was too long
Your representation of men was outrageous, a disgrace, they would never treat a woman like that.
I batted off the criticisms confidently, calmly and without the shaky-voiced tremble that often haunts me when I’m speaking in front of groups greater than three.
To this day, four years later, after many public speaking falters and face-plants, I have never been able to muster up the same kind of confidence that did me proud that day.
It wasn’t self-belief.
I knew It was a seriously flawed play, and I had no idea if I could fix the piece or not. I still haven’t.
It was something else, confidence that came from accepting I was at the beginning of a journey and not letting emotion or ego cloud the event and turn it into a failure, despite the rapid octogenarians.
Sometimes you need to plough on with energy other than self-belief, or you’ll never volunteer to try anything new. And change is not always optional, especially in uncertain times, and you need to make your way through without the luxury of self-belief.
All of the ‘invite them, and they will come’, ‘believe, and you will be’, ‘ask and you shall have’ advice is just a pile of BS.
Fear and uncertainty can be paralysing, but we need to find a way through it.
Here are a few alternative channels you can turn to for confidence when you’re experiencing a dip in self-belief.
And a few stories to accompany them too.
Confidence In Your Art
Maybe your art is also your livelihood, perhaps not. Who’s to say which is a better work-life balance?
Your art here is whatever makes you happy because when we’re happy in our doing we’re comfortable and it’s easier to cast doubt aside and give something a go.
Have you ever seen Kristin Hersh of the Throwing Muses sing? It’s not exactly a picture of relaxation; it’s intense. She looks like she’s channelling energy from another world to sing to you. Her body trembles and out comes a roar of musical life.
In her memoir Rat Girl, she chronicles her early gigs where she’d take out her contact lenses so she couldn’t see the audience in front of her. It was the only way she could overcome the crippling shyness that she needed to conquer to play her music.
She talked recently with the Big Issue about hiding in the noise in those early days on the front stage singing autobiographical songs.
Confidence In Giving Something Your Best
What your best means will change from project to project and quest to quest. We build up a pressure inside to try and deliver perfectly the first time around; regardless of how much we’ve trained or studied for it.
This kind of confidence can transcend self-belief. It’s knowing you will try your hardest to take it all the way.
How often can you say that you’ve tried your very best to finish your novel, run five miles, learn a language, finish a job or any of the things that you want to achieve?
When you’re on shaky ground, knowing that you’ll give something your best shot, no matter what the outcome will be can take you over the finish line. It has for me recently.
I wrote a blog about insights on success from MotoX Champion Ricky Carmichael, who talks about racing scared being one of his mindsets.
Crossing Genres, Insights On Success From A Motocross Champion
Lessons in success from Motocross superstar Ricky Carmichael
He thought that the fallout from believing blindly in yourself could have devastating consequences when you did get beaten.
He preferred racing scared and working hard.
Confidence That Comes From Being At The Beginning Of A Journey
Like my experience in the theatre I knew I’d put a lot of effort into the reading, probably too much but if I hadn’t bothered it would have been an utter waste.
There’s a confidence that comes from not attempting to appear perfect and putting yourself in the firing line as an amateur.
The first story you publish, the first time you teach a yoga class, the first time you tweet about something personal, the first time you stand and talk in front of a room full of people etc.
Don’t focus on being perfect; no one expects it, but you can take courage in being at the beginning of a journey because if you know you’re giving it your best, then self-belief will follow the learning curve, which follows the pain!
Confidence in A Leader
Ani Pachen — Nun Big Courage
I know that sounds like a faraway idea in realms such as politics at the moment, but in other spaces, you can choose your leader, and it doesn’t have to be a geographical thing, thankfully.
Ani Pachen, the Tibetan warrior nun, was imprisoned by the Chinese government for twenty-one years; during this time she was tortured, starved and isolated and it was the belief in Buddhism and desire to meet the Dalai Lama that kept her going.
She survived spells of solitary confinement by reaching into her faith and completing 100 000 ritual prostrations each. You can read more about her in her autobiography Sorrow Mountain or this article from the New York Times.
I think of Ani a lot when my chips are down, and I know that my comfort is a wasteful use of Ani’s suffering, but maybe you can do better with it and, as Ani says at the end of Sorrow Mountain.
‘As for me, my story will go like this: She led her people to fight…she worked to save the ancient spiritual teachings. When I die, just my story will be left.’
Is there a leader you admire? Maybe they are alive or dead? Perhaps they are a sports leader or an actor or a thought leader. Forget labels and go for what they stand for.
How can you apply this to your situation to pick you up again?
Confidence in a friend, colleague or lover
Fiction alert and this is a beautiful trope in storytelling, and it may be that this absolute confidence only lives in the realm of fiction because it is a lot to ask of any human.
Have you seen the show The Americans about the Russian Spy sleeper family during the cold war? The husband and wife play the perfect American husband and wife as cover but get up to all sorts of spy mischief under the guise; they kill, they ruin, they woo, they have other lovers as part of their missions and part of their human needs.
But throughout it, Elizabeth, the wife can count on her husband Philip coming through for her. No matter what, she has absolute confidence in him.
When you’re lacking in self-belief turning to a trustworthy friend can help — friend, partner, colleague, Twitter buddy; whatever the relationship they can get you back up on your feet again.
Confidence in an idea or a story
This idea of looking outside for sources of confidence can extend to a story or idea too. The power of dreaming, staring out the window, or giving yourself up entirely to an idea can help.
What’s your thing?
I love stories of resistance; little ones in everyday lives to big, earth-changing acts of resistance. When your project isn’t going so well, what’s an idea you can get back into?
When I was writing my first play, I loved the story so much that any kind of discipline, boring meetings, fatigue etc. was insignificant.
When I’m out of the story zone, the world feels a bit harsher. What’s your form of escape? Visualising coming down a mountain or visualising quitting your job. The imagination is such a powerful tool; it has allowed me to survive many a boring situation and even a few tricky squeezes.
I don’t know about you, but these alternative sources of confidence always hit the spot with me.
You can’t grow and learn without putting yourself outside of your comfort zone, where your self-belief may be hard to reach, but there are other sources of confidence you can reach for to bridge the gap.
Thanks for reading.