“I’m not scared of public speaking, it’s doing it in front of people that terrifies me.” (One of my students)
I teach public speaking and coach people on developing confidence. Public speaking is mostly about developing the confidence to stand in front of a group, which terrifies us because we’re biologically wired to run away when we see many eyes looking at us. In pre-history, many eyes looking at us most likely meant a pack of animals was eyeing lunch. Yikes! No wonder we’re terrified.
But developing confidence is about more than just getting used to public speaking. It’s developing full trust in ourselves, our ideas, and how we express them. Many of us were raised in well-meaning but emotionally backwards environments that suppressed rather than supported confidence. That early programming is tough to overcome.
It’s also important to discuss systemic reasons that impact confidence. It’s easy for me, with all my privilege, to encourage people to be more confident. I do this work because I see in my clients and students a lot to be confident about. But I also recognize that many of them are on a path I know little about — hampered by systemic racism, sexism, xenophobia and capitalism.
Capitalism depends very heavily on us lacking confidence. If we stay docilely unconfident, we’re more likely to buy things that will “make us lovable.” When we lack confidence we need beauty aids, brand names and the latest styles. We’ll spend a lot of money on products that might make us feel better, like food, booze, exercise, vacations, games, and fancy vehicles.
If we totally loved and supported ourselves, and thought we were sufficient as we are, we would probably buy less stuff. Capitalism requires consumers. Confidence might tank the market.
So if you’re struggling to develop confidence, or to develop more confidence, recognize that what you’re doing is heroic. You’re struggling against early programming and cultural forces. You’re literally swimming upstream against a very strong current.
I say this not to discourage you — quite the opposite, to encourage you. As we work to dismantle obstacles and social injustice, people with confidence can help lead the way. Which is why your work is so important and so vital.
But growth is lifelong, and developing confidence is not easy. Make sure you stop occasionally to recognize your progress along the path, and congratulate yourself for:
- the confidence that you already have
- the confidence to learn and grow
- what you’ve already accomplished and who you’ve already become
Like that old analogy about putting on your own oxygen mask before you can help others, developing confidence allows you to become a leader in your own community, and to create ripples that teach and inspire others. Developing confidence is a gift to yourself and the world.