Can Confidence be Trained?

Let me start this with a trivia: I’m introverted. Anyone who has known me for the past few years will beg to disagree, and I expect no less of them. The truth is, the confidence I’m grateful to have now is a never-ending journey – all by design.

Fear is a powerful emotion.

I had a hard time making friends in my first year at secondary school. I was overweight with Playstation calluses on my thumbs, built like a bowling ball, and couldn’t see twenty feet in front of me without glasses. P.E. became Painful Embarrassment classes. As an only child in a single-parent home, life quickly became quite lonely. I was scared to talk to classmates, and there was literally no one to talk to at home until evening.

I desperately wanted to have friends. I desperately wanted to be able to talk to people. Looking back, I desperately wanted to be more confident.

Against all judgment (as ‘wisdom’ goes for a thirteen year-old), I joined the school’s poetry club and applied for the debate team. I was fearful, but had nothing to lose.

Sometimes, all you need is a stage.

My first poetry recital competition was a group affair; two dozen of us on stage, reciting lines from famous poems. I remember ours was ‘Snow White’. As “Mirror”, I did a little silly turn before answering The Queen. My cheeks were red after but the team loved it. We ended up adding it in our piece. It was my first public speaking experience, and my first reward for speaking in public (we placed third).

I was ecstatic.

At fourteen, I quit poetry and the debate team became my obsession. This was a time before YouTube tutorials. I remember going to my mother’s university (she was a professor) to use the computer lab, downloading speeches and saving them on floppy disks. I would practice these great speeches at home, pretending a crowd of thousands were listening.

Fourteen years later, I still do this. But with YouTube, not diskettes.

The stage was scary – it still is for me, believe it or not – but after a while, I’ve learned to use the microphone and the platform as ‘armour’. I feel safe there, and the practiced confidence to deliver an 8-minute argument has carried on to virtually everything else in my life.

Some are lucky to be naturally confident. For many others like me and maybe you, it’s practice that makes (nearly) perfect. Yes: confidence can be trained.

Hack Sheet:

  • I accept fear, but as a buddy and not as a bully. This was an important first step: acknowledging that fear helps us ask the hard questions, for us to find the best answers.
  • I know that risk is necessary. I have always maintained that what doesn’t kill me still really, really sucks to do – but it does make me stronger. Like burpees.
  • I believe in practice, not perfection. Confidence, I think, is more than a trait. It’s also a discipline, arguably a craft. Just like any craft, you and I will get better at it with practice.

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