A couple of days ago, I had the most amazing opportunity (understatement of the century) to see Indian politician and bestselling author Shashi Tharoor speak at the University of Edinburgh at the magnificent McEwan hall. As he entered after a lengthy introduction, I noted that he walked in as if he were another student seeing the hall for the first time; his eyes drifted around as if no one were there, in awe of the high ceilings and paintings that decorated the walls. However, what struck me most came next; as Dr Tharoor sat down at the front, a couple of feet behind the podium where another speaker was still reeling on about the achievements of the politician, he fished out his phone and began to take photos; he took no notice of the audience in front of him, nor did he look like he was about to speak about the British Raj in India. It was then the question struck; what did it take to be that confident?
Many of you will probably answer money and fame – both of which Dr Tharoor does have. However, before Shashi Tharoor became viral in 2015 with his speech at the Oxford Union, where he argued that Britain did owe reparations to the countries she colonised (we’ll leave this debate for another article), he was only really known in India as an MP. Coming to Oxford and giving that speech must have taken some guts – that too in the heart of Britain!
People often answer “Yes” or “No” to the question of confidence and self-esteem, yet I feel that actually we’re not answering the question properly and furthermore, we’re not asking the right question. Confident in what? Cooking, singing, acting, driving, playing an instrument – surely, the question is too broad?
I believe that confidence is relative – even self-confidence. We all have confidence in ourselves, just not for everything. Very few people are confident in everything. I myself am very relative when it comes to confidence, and it’s an issue I struggle with even today. I can talk the ears off my own parents and close friends about an issue, or in our small tutorial groups make points about a piece of literature at University – yet, I would never dare to put my hand up in a lecture or go beyond 30 mph in a car (my driving instructor actually told me I was dangerously slow. Dangerously slow!) Yet, for years I had convinced myself I just wasn’t confident in anything and thus, was absolutely useless. I did have self-confidence – in playing the piano or having a debate with my friends; I just hadn’t recognised it in the areas it existed in. Therefore, my whole self-esteem suffered as a result.
Well, how does this help anyone improve their self-confidence? I believe that perspective can change a great deal about how you look at yourself and life, thus I think a shift of perspective is key here. By realising that you do actually have confidence in some areas of your life, you are already changing your answer from “No I’m not confident” to “I am confident in these areas,” depending on how you answer the question. This recognition already makes you someone with more self-esteem than before, and can enable you to make those changes to other aspects where you lack this esteem.
Once you make this change, you can start channelling the confidence you have into the areas you lack it; of course, it’s not as simple as that (pushing the pedal down on the piano is not the same as clutch control.) But you can begin to dissect further; what is it I do when learning the piano that I don’t do when I learn to drive? Do I enter with a more closed mind-set before I even begin? Do I hesitate to ask my instructor questions that I don’t hesitate to ask in my piano lessons? By asking these questions, you can find answers as how to improve your outlook – and thus build your esteem – in those areas. Keep your eyes open for an article on ways you could do this (I’m still figuring it all out myself, don’t worry!)
In summary, don’t tell yourself you have a lack of confidence because it implies you lack it in everything, which is simply not true in most cases. Work out what you do have confidence in and go from there. I realise this is vague, but I believe it’s better than nothing. So many self-help guides and articles give you countless ways to be more confident in an x amount of time, without even acknowledging that everyone has different levels of self-esteem in different areas and different ways to tackle it. A list of ways can be overwhelming to apply all at once; this way, you just get a foundation to build on. Don’t expect immediate results – confidence will take time to build, and it deserves all the time and attention it gets if it means you live a happier, more positive life.