I’m not a confident person. I’m an introvert. I don’t like talking to people. Crowds overwhelm me.
This was my inner monologue for as long as I can remember. Being Shy™ was my brand. I repeated it so often it became a defining characteristic of my personality. As people get to know me I open up and have other characteristics, but I always start off shy. I remember friends from camp in middle school saying, “When I first met you, I thought you were so shy! Now you’re not shy at all!”
Recently, I heard Claire Shipman speak. She is a journalist for Good Morning America, author, and, wife to Obama’s former Spokesman, Jay Carney. She co-wrote the books “Womanomics” and “The Confidence Code” and is a very dynamic speaker. Through writing these books, she sought to describe confidence in the most concrete way possible and interview confident" women.
Through the process she spoke with WNBA players, bomb diffusing specialists in the US Army, and top business executives and found in every case that these seemingly confident women felt they’d let people down with their performance, doubted their abilities, and did not feel confident.
She described a conversation she had with a female ambassador to the UN who regularly spoke to Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, about their personal insecurities and how often they are still interrupted in meetings. The leader of a major country gets interrupted?! Hearing that all these incredible, accomplished women also overanalyze conversations and doubt their abilities was so reassuring and, at the same time, kind of sad.
Claire went on to explain that geneticists have discovered a gene that has some impact on confidence but it is not a fixed state. It’s not something you’re born with. It’s something that grows. Not with constant reassurance or faking-it-until-you-make-it. You get confident by doing. You take an action, risk something, fail fast, get up, start over. That’s how you get confident.
She also redefined confidence for me. It’s not feeling great about yourself or having high self-esteem (although those things help). It’s taking up space, not shrinking in the face of adversity or intimidation. Stake your claim on the table in front of you and be in the room. That flipped a light switch in my brain. I can’t always feel 100% happy with how I look but I can sit confidently in the meeting and raise my voice.
So I’m not Shy, I’m just not failing enough! This thought was so liberating. I am so excited to fall flat on my face and get back up. I feel like taking up space and speaking up. Maybe I’ll be wrong and fail but then I’ll know where the pitfalls are next time. And there will always be a next time.
So, get out there! Fail! Get back up. Dust off any lingering embarrassment or shyness and jump in again. Have a magnificent time!
Elizabeth Terry is the COO of Sassy Pants. Her job is to make decisions and take action. She's passionate about helping people and making sure everything goes smoothly. She's excited about Sassy Pant's mission to help women move forward toward whatever goal they have. Follow her on Twitter!