I once heard Michelle Obama say that she was raised to believe that she belongs in every room she walks into.
This thought stopped me in my tracks.
First, because I absolutely love it. It’s such an exceptional metaphor, and such a powerful way to visualize confidence.
And imagine if everyone consistently and humbly believed that they belong.
It also stopped me in my tracks because it made me realize that I didn’t believe it about myself.
My whole life, I had been told that I was confident. That I was bold. That my self-esteem seemed in fine form. And I believed that about myself.
And I thought that when I didn’t believe in myself it was about the situation — who was in the metaphorical room I was entering, or what specific situation I would be asked to face when I walked through the door.
And I felt ashamed of my self-doubt, I kept it hidden. I didn’t admit, even to myself, that there were certain rooms in which I felt less than valuable.
When I heard the idea that we might have the belief that we belong in any room, and then thought about it, I realized that my belief in myself was conditional.
We internalize a lot of falsehood about confidence.
We look at other people and classify them as confident or not; we think that confidence is something people have or don’t and that true confidence is permanent.
We think that confidence is earned and that until we have some imagined baseline of experience (a target that we keep moving, btw), we’re not allowed to feel confident, especially compared to others who are more experienced.
We receive these messages — maybe explicitly, definitely implicitly, and definitely often — and even if intellectually we think they’re false, on an emotional level we still experience them as true.
We still doubt our contribution in certain rooms.
And if others think of us as being a confident person, our internalized beliefs about confidence get compounded by feeling out of alignment, inauthentic. Like a version of impostor syndrome . . . they think I’m so great, but if they only knew how much I doubt/hate/question myself . . . which makes us hide our feelings and shy away from showing up as our full selves.
It’s no wonder this happens in a culture that celebrates the shit out of success without talking much about the failure it took to get it. A culture that loves curated versions of our lives. A culture that lionizes the bold, the iconoclastic, and the unapologetic without talking a lot about courage and vulnerability.
I don’t care who you are, a desire for more confidence is universal. Because experiencing a lack of it is also universal. Everybody doubts themselves. Every leader, every CEO, every person who shows up to offer something. Oprah. All of us. We’re all part of a single, sometimes doubtful club.
Because whenever we push ourselves, test our limits, grow, we come up against self-doubt. And I think growth is in our nature. So if we want to grow by nature, and growth triggers doubt, ipso facto . . . we’re going to experience doubt.
Here’s some great news: confidence is an emotion. Which means 1) it comes from our thoughts and so 2) it’s available to us whenever we want it.
Simple. Just not easy.
I have done a lot of work on this in my own self-coaching and with my coaches. And confidence is a major theme in my work with clients. Confidence is a skill, something that can be cultivated. And we can develop this skill by following a simple process.
There’s a 4-part cycle to all thought work and mind-management:
- Awareness: knowing what you actually think by investigating, by bringing your beliefs into your awareness.
- Acceptance: seeing your thoughts and accepting they exist without attaching morality to them — and accepting responsibility for them.
- Allowance: letting yourself experience the emotions that your thoughts cause, without resisting or trying to avoid feeling them.
- Choice: once you truly understand your mental and emotional experience, and see it as the direct cause of the results you’re experiencing, you can make the choice to keep what you’ve got or try something different.
Let’s start with the first two.
Here’s an exercise to figure out what you believe about yourself.
- First, think about a room you would walk into with 100% unequivocal confidence. Not even a question about belonging. Total knowledge of your value.
- Write down what you think about walking into that room. What do you think about yourself, the situation, the people behind the door?
- Next, think about a room you would feel shakier walking into. (I envisioned the 200 people I don’t know who I admire most, all looking at me as I walk into a ballroom.)
- Write down what you think about that room and about yourself walking into it.
What you now have is a snapshot of your belief in yourself. You have part one: awareness.
And before you tell me that the rooms are legitimately different, just pay attention to what believing that implies:
- Your value + worth change based on your surroundings.
- Your skills, knowledge, and contribution are conditional.
- Other people’s skills, knowledge, and experience can lessen or increase your worth.
Do you really believe any of those things? Do you want to? My guess is no.
This is why awareness is so important: we have to see what we’re thinking to question what we’re thinking.
And now step two: acceptance.
All those thoughts in your head are amoral. They’re just sentences in your brain. They don’t have value or meaning until you assign it. They are in your head, so taking responsibility for them is the only way to change anything, but in and of themselves they mean nothing.
And so the question to ask, with curiosity, is: are they serving you?
Pay attention to how each thought feels, one at a time — do this with all of them, the confidence-boosting thoughts and the confidence-crushing ones and everything in between.
Just be curious. If they’re working for you, notice that. And if they’re not, notice that, too. Just pay attention.
Confidence + having more of it is a big topic; we’re going to address it over several posts.
Until next week, consider this: you belong in and add value to literally every room. What if that were true?
There’s no time. And things keep piling up. If you could just have a week to yourself, with time stopped, you could take control of everything. Right? I know that feeling. And I can tell you from the other side that there’s a way to feel better right now. You don’t need to be able to stop time, or change your job, or choose between your family and your career. You can feel better and lighter this week. And if you’re like me, and your brain is telling you that exploring working with a coach is just one more thing you don’t have time for . . . if you could gain at least two hours by spending 40 minutes on a call, wouldn’t you do it? Book a free consultation call with me — there’s no risk, only potential gain. I can’t wait to meet you.