Last week, I was asked to speak at an event for disadvantaged youth. I was there to talk about how to build your network and create connections. Honestly, this is one of my favorite topics.
But as I entered the convention hall, I saw the group of over 700 young people (ages 9 to 14) being led through an exercise about perseverance. They were asked a series of questions, and told to stand up if their answers were yes.
The questions were things like:
- Do you come from a broken home?
- Has anyone in your family been to jail?
- Does anyone close to you suffer from alcohol or drug addiction?
- Have you lost a family member or close friend due to premature death?
- Have you experienced violence in your life?
The point of the exercise was to help them see they are not alone in the challenges they face in life. As the leaders read off the questions, one-by-one, you could see the kids stand-up, or remain standing through multiple questions.
By the end of the list, all 700 young people were on their feet. These were clearly children and teenagers who had experienced some tough breaks , and tough breaks early in life.
Why You Lack Confidence
But as challenging as that was to watch, what was more tragic was watching the kids' faces and their looks of shame and embarrassment of what they had experienced, lived through, and where they came from. It was clear they felt some sort of responsibility and felt "less than" because of the challenges they had faced.
The truth is, people can lack confidence for a variety of reasons. It could be due to a lack of self-esteem, a fear of failure, or a feeling of inadequacy. And, while many people who suffer from a lack of confidence experienced trauma, abuse, or were raised in an environment that did not foster self-confidence, people’s confidence levels can also be affected by external factors such as societal norms, media messages, and financial status. Past experiences of criticism or rejection, difficulty dealing with unfamiliar situations, and negative thought patterns can also lead to a lack of confidence.
As a watched these children respond to each tough question, I realized at that moment, it was not the tough circumstances that were going to hold these kids back in life, but the lack of confidence they had in their abilities and their opportunities because of it.
Somehow along the way, they had bought into the idea that where they came from was the major predictor of what they could achieve. I recognized it, because I could relate.
As the leaders read those questions one-by-one, I felt myself answering yes over and over again, and I too, for most of my life, had a look of shame and embarrassment because of where I came from and what I had experienced. I too somehow thought it was my fault.
The Power of Understanding Confidence
My aha moment didn’t arrive until the age of 37, when some pretty incredible mentors entered my life and showed me that the challenges I had lived through did not define me, and helped me use my experiences to build my confidence rather than erode it.
As I reflected on my past, looking at these young people I made the decision to change my keynote. Instead of my planned presentation on networking and connections, I decided to address the elephant in the room. I wanted these kids to learn now, and not wait until they were 37, to learn the power of confidence.
While the exercise and the strategy of asking questions was effective at helping these kids see they were not alone, it had only shed more light on how challenged their lives were. And in my opinion, that was eroding the one area they needed to strengthen if they were ever going to overcome these obstacles – their confidence.
I saw in that moment that the true value I could bring to the kids in that room was not in helping them build a network, but in helping them understand that focusing on building their confidence would be the best tool they could have to successfully change their lives and career.
The Negative Impact of Low Self Confidence
A lack of confidence can have a profound and detrimental impact on one's life. It can lead to feelings of self-doubt, insecurity, and low self-esteem that can hold you back from achieving your full potential. It can limit opportunities for personal growth and development, as well as limit the ability to take risks and try new things.
Additionally, it can create a cycle of negative thinking and behaviors, making it difficult to build relationships, become successful in academics or career, and to feel contentment in life.
People who lack confidence may feel socially isolated, unable to engage in meaningful conversations, and struggle to make decisions or take initiative in daily tasks. This can then lead to greater levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.
A lack of confidence can also cause people to doubt their abilities and become less assertive, leading them to be taken advantage of by others or to miss out on great opportunities. Ultimately, a lack of confidence can prevent people from leading fulfilling, productive lives.
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How to Build Confidence and Self-Esteem
Shift Your Paradigm
If you want to build your confidence you need to begin by doing the work to understand that your confidence, self-worth, and who you are is not defined by your circumstances, good or bad. Confidence is an inside job.
There will be times in your life when others will disapprove of your choices, society will look down on your situation, and others will judge you for things that are outside of your control. It is at that time that you need to do the work to build trust in your skills, choices and values. Recognize your strengths and abilities and work on developing them. It is important to focus on yourself and what you can do rather than comparing yourself to others.
Self-reflection and self-evaluation are also important in recognizing areas of improvement and building your confidence. Developing a positive mindset and being mindful of your thoughts can help you stay motivated and focused on the task at hand.
Now that is easy to say, but there is work to be done here. But gaining clarity on what you can control, what you cannot change, and focusing your energy will position you to make progress – and progress builds your confidence.
Build Your Community
The words of Jim Rohn have never been more valuable than when it comes to building self-confidence. “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
When life has dealt you tough blows like divorce, addiction, violence, society will judge you for it. The messages you get throughout life will try to convince you that just because you have a family member with their own challenges that somehow you carry that shame.
Fighting back against those messages is not easy, and it takes a village. To build your confidence, you need to surround yourself with positive and supportive people who believe in you, see the talents that you possess, and understand that it is only the strongest among us who can overcome obstacles to achieve success. Having a network of friends and family that believe in you and celebrate your successes can be a great boost to building your confidence.
Own Your Future
Realize that the past does not determine your future. No matter what you have done or what has happened to you, the past does not dictate what the future holds for you.
Get clear on what you want, the vision of where you see your life and career one, two or five years from now, and then work with your community and mentors to build a strategy to help you get there.
When working to build your confidence set realistic goals and work towards them. Setting clear objectives and achievable targets will provide you with a sense of accomplishment and progress. Additionally, take risks and try new things; this will help you grow, learn and gain more experience.
Remember, the mind finds what it focuses on, so ensure you are fed yours daily with positive messages of your future.
To this day, I think that is one of the most powerful keynotes I have ever given. And each year, I return to that organization and volunteer to give that same message over and over again.
Knowing and trusting that you hold the keys to build your confidence will shift your life and career.