When considering three people, the vast range in confidence and self-esteem is dramatic. The first is confident, he directs conversation, is dominant in making sure his voice is heard, a clear extrovert, the source of energy for the group. The second is comfortable in sitting back and listening to others, he engages with ease, but is generally quiet, reserved and subtle in his approach. The third is reserved, he prefers to be away from the crowd, he is uncomfortable in large loud groups, while not quite awkward, he is out of his comfort zone.
Who are these three people? – They are all me. Loosely speaking, it is me at work, me with friends and then me in a large social setting. Is this a contradiction? Am I being inauthentic?
The Contradiction – Being Authentic
I get confused when people say you need to be your authentic self. Perhaps a fairer goal is to be an authentic version of yourself, we are complex beings. My personal goal, is to be the best authentic version of myself, given the situation. I can and will be better.
In examining this contradiction, I find three related and integrated terms, self-esteem, confidence and comfort.
To find the distinction (not that it is necessary), perhaps self-esteem is the source, then confidence is the projection of this self-esteem. Comfort is then the ease of the projection or perhaps the lack of resistance when projecting confidence. The zone where resistance is least, is naturally where we are most confident and consequently in our comfort zone. All can be faked, all are fragile. Very fragile.
Safety Nets – Protecting the Fragile
With this fragility, we build safety nets to protect our self-esteem. The strength of these safety nets determine our confidence and comfort, which then enables our behaviour. The strength of the nets are often highly dependent on our relationship with our parents and family, as this is our earliest dominant influence, it is also dependent on our social experiences, particularly in our childhood and of course our natural innate ability.
Advice to build self-esteem is as varied as externally seeking positive words and encouragement to the much used adage of “fake it, till you make it.” All to often we are looking to cultivate some intangible belief in ourselves which requires a high degree of faith, which is very fragile and easily shattered when we find contradictory evidence. Whether this evidence is real or just perspective becomes irrelevant.
Seeking Evidence – Feed, Practice, Portray, Recognise and Experiment
If evidence can shatter our self-esteem, then by this logic, surely a better method for growing self-esteem and reinforcing our safety nets is to seek or even generate evidence that this belief is valid, rather than weakly attempt to cultivate this belief through faith. Like testing a bridge that looks unstable by touch and then reinforcing as needed, would generate far more confidence than evaluating its resilience by sight alone. I can have faith I can do something or I can practice until I know I can.
A more practical and internally controlled method is then to develop the evidence that the confidence is warranted. This can be done by:
- Feeding the self-esteem – Wear the clothes, be around positive people, read extensively.
- Practising feeling uncomfortable when in inconsequential situations – pretty soon we begin to realise people are dealing with their own difficulties.
- Portray the actor – Our tastes and perspectives change more over time than we often realise. Srikumar Rao recommends recognising that you are portraying the role of an actor. That way you can objectively reflect on your actions as a neutral observer. With casual interest. It then becomes easier to fake confidence. The chicken, in time, becomes the egg.
- Recognise we are all faking it – That beautiful person realises their beauty will fade, they question if people even care who they are or about their opinions. Impostor syndrome is so prevalent, that I’m not even sure calling it a syndrome is accurate. When we realise that other people are faking it, it takes the pressure off.
- See life as a series of experiments – If you see life as a series of experiments, you can try new things and never fail, as no experiment is a failure. Provided you learn from the experience, then you grow. The reality is that most failures that are in our control are inconsequential or at the least reversible.
I have taught myself to laugh at mistakes I make, pretty soon the embarrassment dissipates, the world does not end. I learn, I am better. My self-esteem grows.