Confidence, and What it Takes to Get There

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In the almost four years that I have taught dance for a living, and even in the freelance writing that came before, I’ve learned lessons too numerous to count (or even try and think of) for one blog post. But I was struck by the excerpt I read the other day from Mindy Kaling’s new book, “Why Not Me?” about confidence, because she expertly synthesized how true confidence is born, which I think is left out of a lot of discussions about this subject. And it’s not by the “fake it til you make it” way that has become the advice de jour for everything from healing painful wounds to leading your own business and everything in between.

She summed up how you become a confident person in the world by quoting Kevin Hart’s Twitter bio:

My name is Kevin Hart and I WORK HARD!!! That pretty much sums me up!!! Everybody Wants To Be Famous But Nobody Wants To Do The Work!

On the daily, I witness a whole range of what people put into whatever it is that’s in front of them, whether that be learning a new dance, figuring out where they want their lives to go, issues they have in relationships, or changing the amount of money/wealth in their lives (by the way, I have, and will continue to, contend with these areas). What I often see is a strong desire for something to be different, complaints about the way things are, blame of others for the way things are, but little movement to do the internal and external work that is needed to honestly create change.

We are a culture of overwork without actually working on the things we want to truly be different.

There are many reasons for this, from biologically-destined inertia to deep-seeded psychological anxieties to fear to laziness, and often a combination of all of these aspects. Again, I know it well because I’ve experienced it time and time again myself. I fought depression and crazy anxiety (as I believe a majority of our culture does) on and off for most of my life, and desperately wanted the confidence that would make it all better. Or at least, easier. I’ve manically thrown myself into a million things at once to deal with all the fear I’ve faced around career, love, the self (I know others who are seized by fear and can’t make a move to save their life – it’s opposite sides of the same coin). But the only way that I’ve obtained the confidence and ease I saw in others, that I so desperately wanted, was to do the work.

By doing the work, that means I put myself out there to teach dance classes when I had only subbed a few classes in the past, and had no real idea what I was doing; it meant pushing past my natural introversion to talk to people and ask for things I was incredibly uncomfortable talking to and asking for; it meant booking shows when I had never organized an event in my life; it meant working through the seeming triumphs when things were “successful” and even harder, working through the pain when things were seemingly “unsuccessful”. It meant working SO HARD on not taking things personally and to not hold a grudge (something I must continue to work on every day, but it gets a little bit easier), but also how to speak my truth when something didn’t feel right or when there were things that needed to be said. It meant doing my best to navigate and oversee large groups of women to guide them to perform, many of whom had never done so before (and have many strong, differing personalities that can lead to conflicts).

All of that is work I have done in my business for the last four years, and that doesn’t even dive deep into the emotional spectrum I have experienced during that time. But all of these things that I have been forced to do/face/contend with in business has without a doubt made me a different person overall. All those lessons I’ve learned (and continue to learn) naturally impact the way I am in all parts of my life. And I’m so grateful for all of it.

As Mindy states:

People talk about confidence without ever bringing up hard work. That’s a mistake. I know I sound like some dour older spinster chambermaid on Downton Abbey who has never felt a man’s touch and whose heart has turned to stone, but I don’t understand how you could have self-confidence if you don’t do the work.

In my mind, if you don’t do the work, whether that’s in starting your own business, or finding a new job, developing romantic relationships, deepening friend and family relationships, shifting your body, or deepening your spirituality, how can you ever expect to feel confident? You can’t pick up a 50 pound weight if you haven’t exercised in years. Your energy will not be stable (without assistance) if you live off sugar and caffeine. You won’t be able to sit in meditation for an hour if you don’t build your “mind muscle” by starting with five minutes (and yes, EVERYONE can meditate. I hear this more often than anything else when talking to people about meditation, but it is exactly the same as building any muscle in your body. You have to practice).

I’m not a person that believes you have to do something every single day to get better at it. I think discipline can easily go overboard, and can be the antithesis of balance. I think we need to be kinder to ourselves in almost every facet of our lives. But we also need to take responsibility at the same time. Kindness doesn’t mean fucking off or chucking something when it gets hard (and it will ALL get hard at some point).

Commitment is the number one necessary ingredient to making change. And confidence doesn’t come without commitment to work. Knowing yourself, your business, your mind, your abilities doesn’t come without digging in and doing the work.

Mindy sums up her article way better than I could:

Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled.

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