filling the confidence gap

This morning I said good-bye to Aaron, as we walked through the playground on the way to school:

Me: Bye, be awesome today.
Aaron: I AM awesome, Mom.

I ask my eldest musician son if he ever gets nervous before he goes up on stage before a performance. He looks at me as if I have three heads: “I’m not nervous, Mom – I’m excited.”

The Atlantic published an interesting article by Katty Klay and Claire Shipman called The Confidence Gap. In it, they concluded that there’s a “vast confidence gap between the sexes.”

My husband demonstrates this: as he preps for an important interview with a new client, he is imagining himself in the position.  He’s picked up that confidence from his days as a competitive swimmer when he was a teenager. The coach told him, “Imagine touching the wall first.” And that’s a philosophy he’s carried into his adult life. He never imagines himself touching the wall last. Ever.

Here’s quote from the Atlantic which could have been written about him:

“…because the men go into everything just assuming that they’re awesome and thinking, Who wouldn’t want me?” –Victoria Brescoll

Me, laying awake at 4 am, fretting over every detail of the upcoming day, knotted in anxiety about a presentation three months from now, worrying about what dress I’m going to wear to my daughter’s graduation on Friday. This is not confidence. Do you think my husband frets over what he’s wearing on Friday? (Um, that question is too ridiculous even to answer).

I watched my daughter getting ready to play softball last night. She’s never played softball in her life, and is somehow now the catcher on a co-ed team. She, too, fretted about what she was going to wear, and I could tell by the way she was vibrating that she was nervous.

While I could bemoan the fact that she’s inherited her mother’s confidence, I’d rather focus on this one thing: Despite the fact that she may have been lacking in confidence, she still showed up.

My rickety theory is:  Maybe the more we show up, the more experience we gather under our belts – despite quaking in our boots – the more confidence we will have?

If I think rationally about speaking engagements I’ve given, well, I’ve been presenting for my whole career, starting at our Department of Health when I was 22 years old (that’s 24 years ago). I’ve presented as far away as Melbourne and Dublin, and once I step on stage, I think I know what I’m doing. (Wow that I think was a confidence killer, wasn’t it?).

But I still get anxious, and interpret that as a lack of confidence. But what if showing up is 90% of it? And what if, as my eldest son says, I’m excited, not nervous? How about if we stop beating ourselves up about not feeling confident, and reframe it like this:

“Anxiety is just a sign of your own daring.” -Maria Shriver

Show up and do it, even if you are scared. You are about to do something awesome. THAT to me demonstrates bravery.

My daughter returned last night from her first softball game. How did it go? I ask. I hit the ball every time, she said. But I never got on base. But I did tag two people out at home plate, she added.

Next week, when she’s getting ready for the game, I’ll remind her of this: you hit the ball. You tagged two people out. And you are showing up for your second game. That’s what counts to me.

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