03 January, 2016

What I thought when one of my heroes said confidence relies on success

Confidence is a very big word. Ask someone to define the meaning of confidence and you could hear 1000 different answers. It is, however, a universally and inherently positive term. If someone is “confident”, that’s a good thing. People strive to be so. When we’re feeling confident, that often means we’re feeling good. You come out of an interview or an exam, if you feel confident that means it went well. You get a haircut; you say it’s given you confidence – that means your image of yourself has been improved. We are taught to be confident and to have confidence in ourselves. The positive implications of “confident” are, in my mind, profound.

Confident doesn’t mean loud, chatty, extrovert, sociable or dominant. It means self-assured, and often in being self-assured our other behaviours are “better”. In my experience, self-assured people are less likely to follow the crowd, more likely to truly stand up for what they believe in, and less likely to let the haters bring them down. That’s what bona fide confidence actually means, and why wouldn’t you seek that out?

Confidence is also something that a lot of people struggle with at least at some point in their lives. Which is probably why someone asked Mindy Kaling the question “where do you find your self-confidence?” in an anecdote in her book “Why Not Me?” – which I read recently – and man was I excited for the answer. I appreciate Mindy Kaling. I find her funny, determined, intelligent, not afraid to admit her “weaknesses”. She is (according to her) scatty, she can lack common sense, she embarrasses herself in a normal human way and she is louder than she’d like to be. I relate to these things, which is one brownie point for her, but I also admire the way she just embraces her idiosyncrasies and talks openly about her experiences. So YES I was excited to know what her insight was as to where she seeks and maintains her apparent confidence and self-belief?

And her answer was blasphemously disappointing for me. In short, Kaling writes unapologetically that confidence comes from “hard work” and goes on to claim “I have never, ever met a highly successful and confident person who is not a ‘workaholic’. Confidence is like respect, you have to earn it.”

Oh. No. Where do I even begin to dissect this?

First of all – I don’t associate confidence with being “highly successful”. There Kaling suggests they are one and the same. They are absolutely not. You can be on the dole and still have the swagger of Mick Jagger. For me, confidence is not about how much money you make, how many hours you slave, how many dragons you slay. Yes, slaying dragons and counting up millions contributes to your sense of self-worth and achievement, which in turn can inform your confidence, but it’s crude to take that kind of “confidence” at face value. For me, relying on those external, perilous, changeable things for confidence isn’t actually confidence at all. It’s a mask, it’s arrogance, it’s armour – and what happens when all that comes tumbling down? Does a confident person remain?

For those reasons I say success and confidence are not mutually exclusive traits. It’s about how you see yourself as a person, and not based on what you have but based on who you are. How worthy you feel yourself to be, and how much you care how others see you. Or rather, don’t. And when you do believe in yourself and like yourself, even if you took the longest tumble from the tallest tower, nothing could take that kind of inner confidence away from you.

Second of all – Mindy, have you REALLY never met anyone confident who isn't highly “successful”? REALLY? Well you’re about to. Hi! I am Hannah. I am confident. I am not “highly” successful. Some days I work hard, but I spend more time thinking about the people that I love than about making another dollar. And that’s more than okay with me. I am happy with my values, I am at ease with myself at my core, I make good choices and do the best with myself that I can – physically, mentally, emotionally. I work hard at that. Yeah I care what others think sometimes, like most people. But am I confident? Yes. Right now I am. Because right now, I am more than happy with me. I am more than happy with who I am. I am pleased with my own values, I am pleased with my own attitude, I think I am kind, I think I am a good friend and I think I have turned out to be a decent person, with a decent amount of goodness to bring to the world. I haven’t always been confident and yes I did have to work hard to build it. But I am talking about the kind of hard work that means making your soul stand up every day and fight until it feels fitter, the kind of hard work that involves learning to accept who you are and the hand you have been dealt, and the kind of hard work that means training your mind to think better of yourself, and eventually to value yourself. That kind of hard work is so much more important to me and my confidence than anything to do with success.

So, no, Mindy Kaling, I do not agree that confidence comes from hard work. Yes it comes from working on yourself, your body, your mind, and being the best version of yourself in every way, but it absolutely is not dependent on perceived success. What kind of a world are we living in where confidence rides solely on success? IT’S NOT A THING. Confidence is about being completely at ease with who you are. And that should be achievable whether you are a “workaholic” or haven’t had the chance to work a damn day in your life.

If someone had asked me that question (I mean I can dream that one day I too will have published 3 books and had various U.S. sit-com hits and find myself in front of an audience of teens all aspiring to be LIKE ME) the answer would have been very different. I take confidence from doing things that make me feel good about myself. There isn’t a one size fits all route to confidence. Some people take confidence from exercise, some from spending time with friends, some from going all the way outside their comfort zone and building their character. For me, it’s just about generally fuelling my soul. And that can be anything from how healthy I feel, to how much time I am spending doing things that build me up compared with things that bring me down.

So I will strive to maintain my self-assurance in a world firing confidence-shattering bullets, but I will also continue to uphold the same priorities and values that I always have. Because if I get to the grave having based my sense of self on nothing but a pursuit of shallow, fruitless “success”, I don’t think I’ll have very much confidence at all. I think I’ll just feel like I wasted a life thinking about achievement, when I could have been thinking about the people I love, contributing to the world in other ways and living a life that I can look back on when I am hopefully very old and say “I absolutely squeezed every drop of living out of that, not because I worked my way to the top, but because I experienced all corners of life, I loved, I laughed, I cried, and I felt bloody good about myself along the way.” Like the unicorn, who knows she be fancy.


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