How to Be Confident - A Different Version
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Throughout my life the search for confidence has always accompanied me. In the society I grew up in, confidence is something absolutely aspired, because somehow people seem less at ease with themselves than they pretend to be. I have stopped counting the videos and blog posts, magazine articles, lyrics and books that I went through to learn “how to be confident”. The tenor remains the same, words and sentences are repeated and the advice shared is so simple: “Be yourself and do not care about what other people think.”
After some years of trying hard not to care and failing miserably, I noticed some things. We can’t not care about other people’s opinions. I believe, from looking at myself and others, that our wish to be appreciated and loved is so big that it determines a big chunk of our lives. Maybe it determines absolutely everything in our lives, from how we dress to how we treat fellow humans. Even when we decide to say something that nobody seems to agree with: Don’t we voice our idea because we want to be heard and eventually to be acknowledged and to be “right”?
It’s not a shame to care about other people’s opinions. I know that it doesn’t do us good all the time and sometimes our fear of judgement is so big that we destroy the very things we are admired for. It’s a crux to care about something we are never sure about – because how do we know the true thoughts of others? On the other hand, people live for “relationality” – this thing that bonds us and makes us feel valued, that gives us a reason to stay alive. We want to be needed and we want relations as much as we want happiness. It’s hard to love ourselves if others don’t love us – it might even be impossible.
Not caring about other people’s thoughts is even dangerous. Chosen ignorance has put our world into quite a mess if we look at the past year. Yes, going through our lives without making an effort to listen to other opinions will add even further damage to a transnational dialogue already interrupted. And by “other opinions” I also mean that we should listen to extremists, fanatics, dictators – simply to understand where they come from, how they see the world and ultimately how cruel things can happen. We don’t have to agree, but without communication we will step back instead of forward.
A couple of weeks ago I came across a phrase that startled me at first but has profoundly changed my behavior and my view on human beings: “Humility is the key to confidence.” Humility?, I thought – didn’t that mean to make yourself small? What a contradiction!
Well… no. In my world “confidence” is so often portrayed as a loud, bold and aggressive behavior: “I am right” is spoken out while we walk with big steps, pushing through crowds and avoiding real eye contact. We don’t want to be hurt and so we wear an armor, carefully polished so that we look pretty and invincible. As a matter of fact though, we all lose sometimes. “I do what I want” may seem empowering at first but isolates us soon. Pop stars stick their middle fingers out and suddenly every teenager wants to be like them. Is this really confidence? No, or at least not the kind that I aspire. Confidence cannot mean to turn a blind eye while making sure you are bold and heard of.
But humility can help a lot to make you feel confident without hurting somebody else. Humility makes you feel good in your skin while you still care about others. Humility, that means: to be as flawed as others, to not be always in the right, to be more unknowing than you’d wish. Humility also means: a will to continuous effort, a will to learn, a will to “listen to listen, not to change”.
While this might sound as if you would succumb to others, it is in fact quite the opposite. I have never been met with more respect than when I was humble. Humility gives me greater feedback than aggression; in respecting others I respect myself and in being humble I have found a balance of self-doubt and ignorance. I don’t have to fight that angry, defensive voice within me anymore. I speak up, knowing I can and will be erring sometimes, but there is no heavy armor I have to carry with me anymore. If I am wrong it’s okay – I know it’s a normal thing and that others err just as much. Even more, others appreciate me when I admit flaws – it makes me approachable and one of them, and so I will be listened to again the next time I speak up.
So if I can give you one advice for the following year it would be this:
“Confidence comes from humility.”
Listen to listen, not to change. Help others, just because. Be brave – bravery is nothing else than the exposure of your vulnerability. Give other people your undivided attention. Apologize. Write people you haven’t written in a long time. Be curious. Smile at strangers. Open doors for others. Make somebody tea. Be kind, be flawed and keep your middle finger in your fist. Aggression is not confidence.
Oh, and the “be yourself” part? Well, do you know who you are? I don’t… and I don’t fret about that anymore. Being yourself is very much correlated with your emotions and feelings – but that is all I know for now. And that’s okay. It’s part of humility.