Confidence game

I had lunch yesterday with a distressed friend, M.. A high-profile two-day meeting she chaired recently had not gone well. During the event, she was criticized by her manager. She said, “I lost my confidence, then I made even more mistakes.”

Though she believed the criticism resulted from her manager’s stress about the politics of the event, M. admitted there were segments she wished she'd handled more skillfully. After a few days' cooling-off, she had a productive conversation with her manager, who apologized for undermining her. But she is left with her confidence shaken.

Built in increments, confidence can be eroded by a single bad day, when we undermine ourselves or absorb others' remarks as absolute reality, rather than their perception. If our confidence is dependent on others' judgments (whether proffered as praise or criticism) we put, as my friend Diane says, our keys in somebody else's pocket.

Do you use style as a confidence-booster?

For a job interview, we buy an outfit; for a party, striking earrings; for a visit home, a great hair style or fresh colour. We choose a talisman to remind us, baby, it's you. But you can't buy confidence, only its proxies.

When my boys were toddlers, we'd sometimes dress them with a little extra polish. Le Duc would kiss each one and say, "Tu es beau comme un coeur." I imagined their tiny hearts would lift a touch. Confidence flourishes with love.

Real confidence, like beauty, emanates from within, deepening with time. It's neither inflated to the point of arrogance, nor vulnerable to a harsh remark. To find confidence, dip into your well of contribution, achievement and celebration.

(That's why counselors in the outplacement firms ask the newly-terminated to make a list of their accomplishments; the well is pretty dried up by a pink slip.)

M. is still raw; her crisis of confidence causes her to question her job security, her skills, her self. A woman of heart and strength, she has overcome much worse, and will rise. She asked me "Has this ever happened to you?" and I had the pain and pleasure of recounting some major gaffes. Humility is the other side of the hard earned gold coin of confidence.


materfamilias said…
What a lovely little vignette of Le Duc and your boys -- whenever I get irritated by/with my MIL, I think of the love and confidence she gave Pater from his earliest days. He is rarely shaken by externals despite working in a field and position that invites much criticism, and I credit his mom for much of that inner certainty.
M. is lucky to have you as a friend, helping her re-connect with her own inner confidence.
Anonymous said…
I second all that materfamilias says. I admire the confidence and self-belief of my husband and I know this has come from his parents. He is now passing it to our children and I see them growing into young adults knowing themselves and forming their values in a world where it is all too easy to follow the herd.
Duchesse said…
materfamilias and GP: Thank you for making this link to parenting, and, GP to nonconformity. Being 'your own person' requires confidence.
Anonymous said…
After a particularly rough feedback session during my training to be a therapist, in which the group had (I felt) hammered me with negative comments I was feeling pretty devastated. A wise faculty member commented that the feedback wasn't about who I am in my essence but about how I present myself to that group. Your story resonated with me and I remembered how I had then set out to change the outside of me, knowing that the inside was just fine.

Julianne said…
I think growing up as girls, many of us were taught to please. When we receive criticism from others, it has not been ingrained in us to shake it off. We most often take it personally. I am continuing to work on this. It is getting better!
Anonymous said…
My confidence is high in some areas and low in others, if someone says something about me in an area in which my confidence is high, I can brush it off. If they hit a low spot however, it takes me forever to recover.
Duchesse said…
sjcyogi: Feedback also reveals the giver values or needs. Many times it tells us more about them than ourselves.

Julianne: You've made important connection between the wish to please and our vulnerability to criticism. re the ability some men have to shake off any negative comment: there is such a thing as false confidence ;)

Cybill: Yes! Confidence is rarely global (at least for me). You've led me to think of using the idea of a "confidence map": in what areas am I confident, and how much?
Duchesse said…
Sjcyogi: Oops, that was "WHAT the giver vaues or needs".
WendyB said…
I've definitely had the experience of being so shaken that I keep making it worse!

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