In a conversation with one of my favorite transformational writer/speakers, who is a pioneer in the field of psycho-spirituality, we were musing about finding some of our individual writing unexpectedly that we had penned years earlier and marveling over it, as if to say, “Damn, that’s good stuff.” I don’t see it as ego-driven, just acknowledging a willingness to be the channel for valuable information, well written. We got a good laugh out of it.
There was a time when I would never have been so audacious as to acknowledge my talents, especially in alignment with someone who has the reputation that this man does, wondering whether people would ask, “Who does she think she is?” You may ask yourself the same question but reframe it in a positive and not finger wagging, disapproving manner. Who are you?
- A person who has survived challenges and celebrated triumphs
- Someone who has mastered the skills that enable you to get through the day
- A valuable human who has much to offer the world
- A relational being who requires interaction and connection with others
- Someone who has gifts and talents waiting to be acknowledged as well
Spend enough time in therapy and especially 12-step recovery rooms and you’re likely to hear the pejorative term “edging God out” — or “EGO.” The word “ego,” which comes from Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical theories identifying the interactive components of the personality, has taken on a different meaning from its original definition.
Freud saw the ego as the part of the personality responsible for moderating the pleasure-seeking id; it connects a person to reality and delays gratification, as well as identifying that person as a distinct individual. But in everyday usage, “ego” often carries the connotation of being full of yourself, arrogant, self-absorbed, dismissive of other people and selfish.
When speaking with a college student, the topic of confidence arose. He admitted that he is not confident about much, despite being adept at many things. I asked him to list what he is good at and he was reluctantly able to acknowledge a few accomplishments that got him to this point in his life. What stunned me was his statement that he didn’t think he had the right to pursue a vision of doing what he loved because he might not be good enough at it to glean approval or affirmation. I reassured him that not only did he have the right to do it, but the obligation to himself to go after any dream he damn well pleased. No one had the right to take it away from him. He shrugged and said although I might be right, he had become accustomed to this belief system and wondered how his identity would be threatened by the shift it would take. His take on it was that people would view him as ego-driven and would shun him.
The paradigm of Impostor Syndrome is not new to me since I too am hornswoggled by it at times. It is the idea that despite appearances and measures of success, one feels inadequate and will be found to be less than they are presenting themselves.
He also felt it was a sign of arrogance if he acted as if he had skills that he didn’t and if found to be an imposter, it would be even more embarrassing. We then spoke about the ways in which competence and comfort can lead to confidence and vice versa. Anytime we embark on a new adventure with our skills not quite as honed as we want them to be, we face the fear. Each time we practice those skills, we strengthen them. I admitted that there are times when I have felt as he does. When I send my writing out into the world, I wonder who it will touch. I sometimes write for myself and hope that others reap the benefit. When I email query letters, there are times when I am greeted with a thumbs up, thumbs down or radio silence. Neither of the last two is any reflection of my talent, but rather a mismatch between that venue and me. I have learned to shrug it off and move on.
I reminded him that acting as if he was as wanted to be perceived would be a step forward in reaching his ultimate destination. Could he see himself being successful in his field and at ease in his relationships? Not at the moment, perhaps, but he was in seed planting mode. I suggested that he become more comfortable with his discomfort and stretching a bit beyond them. He expressed a willingness to do that.
There is a tremendous difference between confidence and cockiness.
The first comes from a genuine sense of self worth and the second from feeling like chump change so one needs to cover it with gold paint instead of the real deal. Someone who is authentically confident listens and has no (or little) need to speak just to hear their own voice. They have valuable information to share. They know they are perfectly imperfect like everyone else in the world. Cocky people attempt to elevate themselves by de-valuing others. Confident people own their mistakes and successes. Cocky people shuttle blame off on others and expect excessive praise.
Some ideas to increase confidence:
Walk in like you own the joint with head held high, making eye contact and smiling.
I added ‘knockers up’. While I was working in a psychiatric hospital as a Social Worker, I offered that advice to a female patient as we were talking about ways that she could increase her sense of confidence and self-esteem. When I shared the final piece of what I refer to as ‘Mom-isms’, she looked down at her chest and replied with dismay “Not much there.” I told her that we need to “work with what we’ve got.” In a women’s group at an outpatient addictions treatment program, I would ask the participants to do the walk of fame, instead of the walk of shame they had been accustomed to doing. They loved the idea of ‘strutting’.
They put their pants (or pantyhose) on one leg at a time just like you do.
That came from my father Moish (I call his words of wisdom ‘Moishisms’.) He grew up in the multi-cultural blue -collar hood of South Philly where ‘Rocky Balboa’ hung out, so he learned to get along with folks who hailed from all over the world. Although his hands were cracked and raw at times from his work as a milkman and bus driver, he was easily able to extend them in friendship to those who had more education and larger bank accounts than he did.
Act as if.
There is a story that I heard about David Bowie. Before he became famous, he wanted to be a rock star more than anything, but his music wasn’t being recognized, so he decided to act as if he was already as famous as he desired to be. He dressed the part and was seen with others who had achieved a level of success that he thought he was capable of. In short order, he was ‘discovered’ and the rest is history.
The Marilyn Monroe Effect
Another legendary figure was walking down the street one day, decidedly dressed down, in jeans, sans makeup and hair tumbled. No one took notice of this icon until she stood up straight, smiled and walked assuredly and suddenly, people were oohing and aching when they recognized the movie star.
Although I am not a fan of boxing (even though my dad was a Golden Gloves boxer in the Navy and used to put boxing gloves, mouthpieces and protective head gear on my sister and me and let us go at it when we were kids), I admire the tough stuff attitude of Muhammad Ali. Remember his signature line? No, not “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” He pranced and danced around, declaring “I am the Greatest!” What if, instead, he had said, “Someday, maybe I could kinda sorta be a halfway decent boxer”? He would have been on his butt far more than on his feet. I remember thinking he was arrogant when I first heard it and then I realized he had the moves to back it up. What are you the greatest at?
Yaysayers vs. Naysayers
Who are your cheerleaders? Are there people in your corner who remind you of how wonderful you are and what you can do? I have been blessed to have all in the first category and none in the second. While it is important to have people, who offer constructive suggestions and don’t placate you, it is equally valuable to be surrounded by those who bring out the best in you. Can you be your own yaysayer?
Spiritual teacher and author Marianne Williamson speaks to this struggle in her iconic poem “Our Deepest Fear.” It begins with these words:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.”
Williamson goes on to explain that we often diminish ourselves, dimming our light so we don’t appear ego-driven. She says this tendency limits our potential. When we accept our brilliance, we set an example for others to do the same.
Allow yourself to have bragging rights.