What is confidence and how does it affect the way you feel and behave? This is something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. What I’ve discovered about it is that it tends to ebb and flow, that it isn’t a constant thing, and is affected by the situation and environment. When I attended the Disability Rights UK Leadership Conference on Thursday last week, I was worried about whether I would be confident enough to network and talk about my journey and experiences with other people. I’ve always tried to be an open book and I love learning about other people’s journeys. However, being chatty and relaxed only comes to me when I know people a bit better. The conundrum of course being that to get to know other people, you have to have a first meeting! Once I get past that whole small talk stage, I feel as though I can relax and just take it as it comes.
When I applied for the mentoring scheme at Disability Rights UK, I wrote that: ‘I find it difficult to network as successfully as my hearing peers, and would like to learn how to do so. It is chiefly an issue with confidence and communicating verbally and having faith in myself. I would like to develop these skills.’ Yet I surprised myself by having the courage to communicate with other people during the conference, and found myself feeling more relaxed as the day progressed.
When I had the first mentoring session, I found myself questioning why I felt I lacked confidence, and trying to understand why I thought I lacked communication skills. As a deaf person, perhaps the issue is that I’m conscious of not being understood or being clear. There were a number of D/deaf people there on the day and we all had different ways of communicating. More often, I’m discovering that one of my skills is to listen – that I enjoy learning more about people.
I’ve also found that my verbal communication is fine – that on the whole people can understand me, especially when I relax. Perhaps this hang-up comes from when I was at Secondary school, feeling petrified of answering the teacher’s questions and feeling like a small fish in a big sea. Recently my confidence has taken a huge knock because of attending the Jobcentre, and feeling as though I have lost a little bit of myself. Slowly, this confidence is coming back as I engage with other writers, write as much as I can and have spoken to people who have my best interests at heart.
The networking question is a salient one. To be an effective networker in this day and age mostly needs a good grasp of how to use social networking sites. As you build up your blog, you find that you gain followers by commenting on other people’s posts, being respectful and discussing things with people. Becoming part of a community takes time and when it does happen, you gain a bit more confidence in yourself. I don’t think confidence is about being loud and brash. Introverts are confident too, perhaps more quietly confident. Everyone is different. Maybe the distinction comes with how assertive you are – how much you put yourself forward for things. It is my experience that it can be hard to be assertive, but it is all a learning curve and I’m much more assertive than I used to be. The trick is to stop worrying too much about the outcome, and just relax.
Confidence is feeling secure and able to focus on the positive. It means that you have faith in yourself and your abilities. It starts with self-esteem and self-care. Lots of things can knock it and you have to judge whether you’re in need of a boost. I’ve found that every once in a while, taking a measure of how I’m feeling and what I’m thinking can help me understand a lack of confidence or reluctance to engage with something. In the instance of the Leadership Day, perhaps I was feeling overwhelmed. It isn’t an easy thing to step outside your comfort zone, and I found that once I did, I had fun and met some new people. Anxiety might be difficult to move past, but it can be done.
In short – I need to learn to relax. Being laid back is not a bad thing if it means your tongue is less likely to trip over itself…
I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship. ~ Louisa May Alcott