When I’m coaching lawyers I often hear them say ‘I just wish I had more confidence’. They describe not feeling able to speak up in meetings and then feeling frustrated that their voice does not get heard. They describe working hard to ‘fit in’ which means towing the party line when they don’t really agree with it. They describe worrying about whether they are doing a great job for their clients – even when all the evidence says that they are. They talk about working all hours to try to compensate for their perceived lack of being up to the job. They worry about being found out as a fraud. The more perceptive recognise that their fear makes them over defensive whenever they are challenged.
The problem with this lack of confidence is that they then never stand out, they are not seen as innovators, they are not considered as leadership material. This means that they get overlooked for partnership – the opposite to what they wanted.
I often talk about my favourite metaphor for how we present ourselves to the world – that we are diamonds, covered in horseshit and then painted over with nail polish!
The idea is that we are all born beautiful diamonds. Pure, good and curious about the world. Able to communicate our wants and needs without agenda. As we grow, we make big decisions about our purpose and values – the person we want to be. This is who we really are. Our authentic self.
Unfortunately, from a very early age we start to accumulate ‘horseshit’. Our failures are pointed out to us by well-meaning parents and teachers – just think about your school report! Peers speak to us in negative ways perhaps suggesting we are not clever enough or cool enough to join the gang. We take on board negative beliefs about ourselves which cause fear, anxiety and self-doubt. Our brains naturally look for evidence to support beliefs and tend to ignore any evidence to the contrary so as we get older these unhelpful beliefs get deeper and deeper ingrained – and we begin to become ashamed of who we might be.
We feel we must hide this person we fear we are – the horseshit – from the outside world and so we paint over our insecurities with a layer of nail polish – a pretence. We design a person we pretend to be and show the world that. We may rely on job titles, financial wealth or qualifications to maintain our position as significant. We may develop a show of confidence – speaking loudly about what we are pretending to believe.
But it is hard work to maintain a pretence. We live in fear of being found out – of being exposed as a fraud. So we spend our lives painting layer upon layer of nail polish believing that will protect us.
The easier and happier life lies in the opposite direction.
If we can chip away that nail polish and shovel out the horseshit and expose the beautiful diamond within – our authentic selves, then life becomes easy. We can tell the world who we really are and because we are happy with who that person is we really no longer fear being judged. We accept that not everyone will like us or agree with us, but we are okay with that because we like ourselves. We no longer have to spend energy painting on the pretence. We can spend our time working out who we really are and showing the world that.
The great thing about speaking from your diamond – your authentic self is that you feel unshakeable. You only say what you truly believe and you say it with an open and relaxed mindset. You are open to being questioned and even sometimes being persuaded to change your view.
This is true confidence.