FINDING YOUR CONFIDENCE
You see it in some athletes. They walk out onto a field and in spite of being in front of a huge crowd, they’ll look like they belong there. They’ve put in the practice, they have the skills. They give the impression that they are formidable, that they came to win.
You see it in some writers. They start the story with an evocative sentence, something that pulls you in, that says, “Yes, you want to be here, reading this, right now.”You see it in some performers. They take the stage, grab the mic or step into the role and whoosh, you believe in them. Just like that. Snap.
You see it in some professionals. The doctor under pressure in a life-threatening situation. The attorney arguing a case. The SWAT team running into a building with a hostage situation. You know they are going to do the job they came to do.
As a kid, I didn’t have a lot of confidence... until one day, I did. And the only thing that shifted was a fundamental understanding of what confidence was. See, for a long time, I kept thinking, “One day, I’m going to feelconfident, and when I feel it, I’ll know I’m good enough to be confident.” It was as if I were waiting for a cosmic permission slip to believe in myself. Like at some point, whatever it was I had accomplished was going to ding ding ding on some giant meter and I would get my Certification of Confidence from the Universe. (The Universe, by the way? Doesn’t give a rat’s ass.)
The problem, of course, was that there really never was going to be any giant certification from the Universe. Rationally, I knew that all along, but I kept thinking that with the next accomplishment, I would feel it. With the next “A” on an exam, or the next strike-out on my softball team or the next award, I was gonna know. And because I was waiting, there was a hesitancy. I didn’t quite realize there was a hesitancy. If you’d asked me at the time, I couldn’t have explained it, but everything—particularly my writing—felt tentative.
I was thinking about the nature of confidence one day as I happened to be on a long drive, and I punched around the radio stations, craving background music. Unfortunately, I was between decent stations and I ended up on a talk-radio show I hadn’t heard of, some psychologist talking about something entirely different than what I was thinking about. I barely heard the first half of the story she told, annoyed that it wasn’t music, and then suddenly, I was in that story. It likely won’t mean the same to you, because it was a specific moment in time, me cocooned in that car on a long, hot drive in the deep south one Sunday afternoon. It was classic... and it wasn't something new to me, but it had a profound life-changing effect.
The story was about a woman who bites her nails. She’d gone to a doctor for a consultation and as they sat there, him in a chair near hers, she explained how she was desperate for help. Her hands were nearly ruined, and she held them up for him to see, and sure enough, bloody, horribly bitten nails. She told him she’d do any sort of program he’d want her to do, and she had been all over creation trying to get help, but nothing had worked thus far. As she told him the story, she started chewing on a nail and the doctor reached over, pushed her hand down and said, “Stop biting your nails.”
“But that’s what I’m here for,” she cried. “I need to stop and I don’t know how. I have tried…” and she listed off a number of programs, and as she went into detail, she started chewing on another nail.
The doctor reached over, pushed her hand down and said, “Stop biting your nails.”
“That’s what I need help with!” she said, clearly exasperated. “I don’t understand what’s causing this need. I’ve been tested for…” and she listed off a string of tests various institutions had run and as she talked, again the hand went to her mouth.
The doctor pushed her hand down again and said, “Stop biting your nails.”
“Are you crazy?” she asked. “That’s what I’m HERE FOR. I don’t understand why—“
“You don’t need to understand why to change the behavior,” he said. “Quit putting your hand to your mouth. Choose. We can always explore the why later. But make the choice. And keep making it.”
That’s when I heard the ding ding ding. (The Universe is SLOW. I’m just sayin’.)
Because I happened to be thinking about the nature of confidence, I realized that a lot of people don’t have confidence because they’re successful… they’re successful because they choose to have confidence. Now maybe that got reinforced somehow when they were kids, or maybe they were just more predispositioned toward confidence. And maybe this is a concept every single other person on the planet got by the time they were two. (I doubt that. We all have insecurities.) The thing is, confidence isn’t borne out of a surety of success. Confidence is choosing to believe that the outcome will eventually warrant the faith and then acting on it by practicing for that eventual success.
Confidence is choosing. Practicing for the outcome we’d like to have.
I looked at my writing, then. Saw the hesitancy. Sure, there was skill there, but it lacked faith. When I recognized that, my approach to writing changed. Voice rang a bell and showed up to the game.
The thing is, in sports, you can’t play someone else’s game. You might practice as many hours, with all the same coaches, but no two people are going to play exactly the same. As long as you know the rules (and how to break them), if you try to play just like someone else, that’s all you’ll be: a copy of someone else. You might even win some, but you won’t be the best you.
But true confidence… true voice… is playing your game. It’s taking all of that practice, all of those hours and weeks and years of dedication and tackling the problem with faith that you have the skills and you can have the eventual outcome that you desire.
True success is rarely without practice. It is almost never without failure. Maybe even many failures. Failure is just an opportunity to learn and improve. It is nothing else. It is not personal. It is not a value judgment on you as a person. It is a circumstance, and most successes are successful because they’ve learned and grown and had faith that the practice they put in was going to be worth it.
Also? They competed. Performers put themselves out there for jobs, doctors compete for grades, athletes compete for position, SWAT teams practice relentlessly. Sometimes life isn’t fair and they failed, but they keep going.
Play your game.
And keep choosing it.
I put that lesson squarely in the “better late than never” category. How about you? What did you finally learn to do (can be anything) that changed your life?
Toni McGee Causey lives in Baton Rouge with her husband and two sons; a Louisiana native (and Cajun), she has nearly completed a double masters at LSU. She's placed in top tier screenwriting contests, published many non-fiction articles and edited a popular regional magazine. To support her writing addiction, she and her husband Carl run their own civil construction company.
Toni is also a member of Killer Year, a group of 13 debut crime fiction authors who banded together out of support and ended up with national press and an anthology, KILLER YEAR: STORIES TO DIE FOR, edited by Lee Child. In 2006, she was a contributor to the non-fiction collection of essays, DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS.