I have been told that confidence is sexy, possibly the sexiest trait one can have. While I can’t imagine women fawning over a very confident balding man with a weak chin and thin arms, it can’t hurt to show a little, amirite? Where does it come from and how does one project confidence? Is confidence wearing a kilt at a formal function? Is confidence wearing a suit to Lolapalooza? Is confidence having that smug look? Usually yes but I have found there is more too it. Like all typical nerds, confidence has been a bit of an albatross for me. Growing up in the 80s meant cool kids were jocks (you nerds under 25 have no idea how good you have it). Being interested in computers was odd, staying in and working on some pet project like launching rockets and playing video games (ahem figuring out how to download naked pictures of Troi and Crusher) was just not right. You had only a few avenues of cool, at least that is how I viewed my early years; be rich and stylish, be athletic and jockish or be a dickish rebel. I wasn’t rich, especially by the standards of my town, while I was physically competent through my life I wasn’t interested in sports and even though I had a few skirmishes with the law and have done some pretty questionable things as a kid, I was pretty well behaved to the eyes of the world, so socially in High School, I was screwed. Add into this mix my own demons to slay, ones I developed through my childhood as the result of some abuse (not from my family) and a different way of thinking and learning. I learned pretty quickly that in general, I wasn’t good enough. I learned that someone cannot just love or like me as I am, I have to earn the right to be looked upon with positive regard. I understand it is not the most healthy perspective in the world but I have developed a way to work around that.
We all have that inner dialogue that guides you through your life. Some have the equivalent of Pollyanna, handing out rays of sunshine, flowers and bunnies when you start to think about a situation. Others have the angel and devil, weighing out the pro’s and con’s of what you are facing. There are some, and I envy these people, who have a pack of mental cronies and sycophants that tell them how awesome they are every day justified or not, much like that new character in Glee (yes… I watch Glee, what of it?). I however have a fun brand of mental monologues (probably more common than it should be), I have essentially every antagonist from an 80’s coming of age movie rolled into a finely directed chorus of self-loathing. When I rally my self-esteem I hear off in the distance “sweep the self-esteem, Johnny, we’re gonna need a body bag!” and then the “fun” begins. For decades my self-confidence was forced to run through the halls of the Alpha-Beta house while wearing taped up glasses and a pocket protector any time I faced a challenge. I had to work with the beaten and bloody pulp that was left over. I am not complaining too much, I have done pretty well over the years with that beaten down nerd of self-confidence. I have learned a lot about myself in the process, who I am, what that means, my limits and what to do about it. Character never comes easily and I do have plenty of it now which I get to share with you lovely people.
Over the years my Lewis Skolnick effigy of self-esteem turned into a Daniel-San. The peanut gallery was still there, ready to fight and mock but my esteem started to crane kick the crap out of the opposition. Sure even today I have a few issues that are Ogres and John Kreses that still leave my confidence bruised before starting but I don’t doubt that even they will fall to my will. To me confidence isn’t about the presence of being self-assured, confidence is the absence of serious doubt, looking at a challenge ahead of you and saying factually, “there is no reason I can’t do that.” When you start to hear why you can’t in your head is when you are screwed. Overcoming this negative noise is possible and very important. Why is being confident so important asks you the man who presumably scored a wife and job? I am glad you asked, in this day gender roles are getting all wibbily wobbily. While your wife, may bring home the bacon and birth the babies, she still needs you for something: Backup. Men still have that one card to play in the relationship game, when shit gets real, family generally look to our gender to start taking action towards solving problems. Your wife can do all the things I am sure but stuff does fall through the cracks or sometimes gets too big. Superman had the Justice League, Cap had the Avengers, Yogi had Boo-Boo and your woman has you. She will look to you to tell her everything is going to be ok and you will run with it.
How do you gain confidence? Sadly it isn’t some incantation that you can say to build it up, or is it? (Confidencia-erecto! …nope) Instead I will tell you my process for going from an AmeriCan’t to an AmeriCan in one easy decade (just kidding). First thing I do, and I do this on a regular basis is assess my life. The key to this process is pure honesty. Don’t confuse honesty with being on a mission to shit upon everything good in your life, I know I am tougher than Russian judges in the Olympics in this department. I would tell you if you are pulling in 50k a year, don’t you dare look at it as a negative! You are still above the average American household income, while I am sure you want to make more just remember, Warren Buffet still wants to make more money but don’t think he is lamenting over his annual earnings. So be honest, not cruel to yourself. When you are done with that assessment, look at the negative things in life, and look at the things that make you feel negative. A long time ago I made a choice to stop associating with “friends” who make me feel like shit and don’t do anything for me. I fully accept that the nature of a good guy friend is to mock you cruelly from time to time but that friend will also help you be a better you when it matters. This process is important and you should take it seriously, follow through on the results you find. It will allow yourself to focus on the good stuff in your life and maybe see what you can do to make it even better. Victories are important in building confidence. A master must lose a lot to learn, but they must begin to win, in order to realize their mastery. For me, I had the following positives in my life that I had used to build my confidence castle; I have great hair, I am charming when I want to be, I can solve most problems put before me, I can move on the dance floor and am a great lead, I am a decent martial artist and I have style. Using that ammo I started to make mental games for myself to help myself attack the realms I wasn’t confident in.
When I am in a business situation and I am intimidated, I think about dancing or fighting with that situation. Either I lead it around where I want moving with them or I take them head on and don’t stop until they are down. It might sound violent but sitting in a room and sizing up each of the people in a fight gives you a little better perspective, if fighting is your bally-wick. I remember running into someone from my past that was intimidating to me then. I could feel that intimidation from high school coming back until I stopped and looked at him. He was, to me now, short, balding and was wearing a pink sweater vest (Sweater vests: BAD, Pink: GOOD). The guy had no chance and I relaxed. Once I improved upon my positives I then moved on to attack some of my negatives or doubts. Some of those were; am I a good worker, am I a good lover, should women talk to me, why are you overweight? Notice my negatives are placed as questions and not statements of fact. A long time ago, they were facts in my head. I was terrible in bed, I just knew it.. no one in their right mind would employ me, etc. It is the Fox news approach of slandering myself except in this case I still investigate the question asked and come back with a hard, positive answer as fact. As I mentioned before I use those victories to push through my alleged failures. Should women talk to me if I am overweight? Well I am charming, with great hair and I have some style, why wouldn’t they, as the late, great Heavy D would say, “the overweight lover is in the house.” Be tactical about it and be giving of yourself in your quest for confidence, you might get more than you expected back. Telling a woman she is a great kisser usually leads to an honest and enthusiastic critique of your own skills and her desire to be sure she is giving you an accurate judgment. Engaging people by giving them what you need will often give you more in return. Who would have thought that the pay it forward kid was on to something.
The last piece of building confidence is the ability to say, “fuck all” and just do it. I have hit a plateau with that myself and you will hit that from time to time. When you have gained much in your life with confidence you are more reluctant to dash it all away with doing something ego-smashingly stupid. The perfectionist in me doesn’t allow me to do Karaoke because I can’t quite get that key Cee-lo sings in. Nuts to that get up and do it. Fight yourself and your fears. Whenever I discover a fear I like to face it head on. When I felt I had a fear of drowning, I got SCUBA certified. Public speaking making me shake a bit, I am joining the theater group. Being fearless which is ludicrous speed on the confidence spectrum might be the ultimate goal for me. Let’s keep in mind, being fearless isn’t about base jumping the Sears (not Willis) Tower or seeing what happens when you slap a tiger on his balls. Fearlessness is about making the dangers irrelevant to an important goal. I think of Steve Irwin, George McFly or Alan Sheppard when it comes to being fearless. Steve knew that the leopard was kind of pissed off that day anyway but he goes in there with them and helps us learn about them up close. Alan Sheppard strapped himself to a stick of dynamite and rode that controlled explosion outside of our atmosphere. He did that, not just to give the middle finger to the Russians but to also help us learn. I am in a constant battle with my own confidence levels it is never a steady growth. Good ole George changed the universe by opening a car door and saying, “hey you, get your damned hands off her!” Sometimes when one thing trips me, a few other items stumble behind, but that doesn’t stop me. I stumble, I rarely fall but when I do I keep climbing and crawling forward until I am back up and running. I think of it like the Muppets, because who wouldn’t, I have my fair share of Waldorfs and Statlers crapping on what I do but the show goes on and they even become part of the show. I think it is healthy to think that the more people you have hating on what you are doing right, provided you aren’t being an asshole, maybe the better you are at doing it. One owes it to thy own self to ensure that they do this. They owe it to themselves, their friends and their family. Blessed are the ones who are never with doubt, I am not one of them, it is part of my nature and part of why I am good at what I do at work, but it is still a burden to adjust for. Take some time to build yourself up. The higher you are, the higher you can uplift those around you. That is, in my mind, what a good husband should always do, build up their friends and family.
About the Author: Tom is a director of IT for a financial start-up. He spends his days designing infrastructure and supporting high net worth advisers and their clients. Traveling much for work affords him a great perspective on life and what is important. The high travel has ensured that he goes on a lot of first and second dates. Mel Brooks honed his humor. Johnny Carson, Cee-lo, and Groucho Marx are some of his inspirations.