Like many young people, when I was a teenager, I struggled with my self-esteem. As I said in a previous post, I spent much of my time in high school avoiding being vulnerable and staying out of the spotlight. My confidence had taken a sudden nosedive from the self-assured person I had been in middle school, and I felt the need to be a callous jerk in order to make up for that. As my mom watched my confidence level drop, she gave me one piece of advice:
“Fake it ‘til you make it.”
She said that few people have confidence in high school, so you just fake it until you have real confidence. For several years, I attempted faking confidence by creating distance between myself and others. I built a tough exterior and assumed that this lack of sensitivity meant that I was confident. This, along with various other influences that defined how to be popular and aloof, caused me to turn into someone that I didn’t like or recognize. Trying to fake being a confident person only made me aloof and unhappy. I decided to adopt a new motto in protest: “Be true, be you.” I think I even posted about it on Facebook back in 2011…along with every other update from my life every 2 hours.
Through college, I fully disavowed this notion of “faking it.” I was trying to be a more honest and genuine person, and in order to fake anything, I was undoing the hard work that I put in to become myself. I wore my insecurities on my sleeve, and I tried connecting with people on a human level. I didn’t want to hide my insecurities and snap at anyone who saw them anymore. I wanted to allow myself to build relationships based on respect and caring. Building relationships had always been the most important thing in my life, but now I was building them on honesty instead of fake confidence. That meant that my relationships could be deeper and more meaningful.
It wasn’t until very recently that I realized that my mom’s words didn’t at all mean what I thought they did. “Fake it until you make it” never meant to pretend to be confident even when you have no confidence whatsoever in the hope that you’ll magically gain some. What it means is to let your true confidence shine through even when you’re anxious. After fighting through the anxiety long enough, being confident will be second nature. I had thought that I needed to be dishonest when it came to being confident, but it doesn’t. Being confident is all about knowing your strengths and understanding how to use them. Faking it until you make it is forcing yourself to exhibit that confidence that you have deep down, even when you’d rather run away and hide.
Ever since I wrote my post about Relearning to Believe In Myself back in 2019, I’ve been working on my confidence. I used to struggle with confidence particularly at my job. I found myself feeling incapable and getting defensive because of it. Now that I’ve accepted that I can be confident in what I’m doing, I’m relating to people much better, and I’m much more capable. I was always able to do my job well, but I let my own insecurities stand in my way. Instead of assuming that I don’t know something and lashing out because of this lack of knowledge, I’m approaching problems with the thought that I probably do know the answer, and if I don’t, then that’s okay.
While I may be able to improve my confidence rather easily in some areas of my life, it can still be hard to be confident in myself when trying new things. When my ex (and editor of this blog) Josh and I started our podcast last year, I was excited to start, but I was also nervous about how it would turn out. Most podcasts don’t have long distance cohosts like ours does. Would listeners feel that distance? Would we be able to come up with the time and energy to record every week? Would we run out of topics? Would listeners even find us interesting?!
When we started recording, I went from being unsure of myself to essentially being completely insecure. I adapted Mark Twain’s saying “it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” Although I talk very comfortably to Josh every day on the phone, I clammed up once we started recording. I felt like Rico from Hannah Montana when he tried to record a promotion for the surf shop, all happy and open, but then suddenly like a deer in headlights once the camera starts rolling. And if I tried to do anything scripted, it only got worse!
We were discussing topics that we had decided beforehand and that we liked. Why was I struggling so much? It wasn’t until I started forcing myself to be confident that I really started enjoying recording. I had well-thought-out arguments. Why shouldn’t I be loud and proud? It was then that I realized that I didn’t have to fake confidence in order to be confident. I knew what I was talking about, I just had to own my confidence and make sure to speak up. The thought of being that vulnerable and making my opinions known was daunting. I would also have to put in much more effort to speak up and make my confidence known, but it was work that I knew I had to do in order to make our podcast better. Plus, learning how to be more confident in myself would help me be more capable in other areas of my life and be more honest with myself and others. There’s no downside!
I would never give anyone the advice that they should be fake. I believe that self-awareness and self-acceptance are some of the most important qualities anyone can have. But owning your confidence doesn’t make you fake. In fact, it can only make you more genuine. Recognizing what you know and what you’re capable of is just another way to get to know yourself better and be your genuine self. Plus, confidence feels much better than insecurity. Who wouldn’t want to be more confident? So, unapologetically own your confidence. Dig down deep, find your strength, and force it out if you need to. As long as you’re being true to who you are, it’ll get easier.
Okay, so I don’t know that for sure, but I’m hoping that it will. For the both of us.
Photography by my talented fiancé. You can find him on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/hope_grows_here/