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Posts Tagged ‘confidence’

I was getting ready for bed on Monday night, flossing and brushing my teeth, when suddenly I looked in the mirror. I stared at my face, and I said, “Wait a second. Amy, what are you doing?”

And I blinked and looked myself in the eye, and several layers of exhaustion and doubt and fear and overwhelm sloughed off, and I said, “Oh yeah. Right, then. Back on track.”

Because in that moment, I remembered who I am.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about identity recently: what is essential to identity, of what layers it is comprised, how malleable it is, why some people are able to hold onto some core of who they are throughout their lives while others are not.

And I realized that an essential part of change, for me, is re-crafting personal identity. External circumstances can and do change, sometimes because of a deliberate decision we’ve made and sometimes not. Sometimes our lives change because of other people’s decisions, or because of the accumulation of lots of tiny decisions we’ve made mostly unawares, or because of pure happenstance.

But I think the change that matters most, or certainly that is the most interesting to me personally, is the change of self. And while identity can change based on external events, it certainly doesn’t always do so. And sometimes external circumstances can change from the inside out, based on changes of the self.

And then there’s the common temporary changes, such as most New Year’s resolutions, that end in backslides and no long-term change whatsoever.

One of the ways to hold onto change, then, is to craft that change into your personal identity, into how you see yourself, into who you are. For example, I am a person who is confident in her abilities. Or, I am person who cares about eating healthily. Or, I am a person who is kind to others. Or, I am a person who goes out of his way to be generous.

We can incorporate these beliefs into our identities through repeatedly engaging in thought patterns and behaviors that support them. If I go dancing one to three times a week for six months, then it is easy enough to include “I am a dancer” in my self-identity. If I am steadily working on writing projects, then “I am a writer” comes easily as well.

And the same holds true of traits. For example, I decided I wanted to be more confident. So I told myself over and over again that I loved myself, even though it felt like one of the stupidest things ever. And I gave myself pep talks. And I encouraged myself to stand with my hands behind my back in a confident pose, especially when I felt the most nervous. And I made the deliberate choice to surround myself with people who boosted my confidence. And I experimented with acting confidently even when I didn’t feel that way to see what happened. And I did all these things for years. Literally.

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The test comes in times of stress. Now, invariably when I am faced with a challenge, I think to myself, “Wait. What would I do now in this situation? I have been practicing for this!”

So I’ve been tested these last few stressful weeks. And because I’ve practiced so much, I was pretty pleased with how I was doing. But even so, that much deliberate action during stress was taking its toll, in that I was getting more. and. more. tired. And as I got more tired, my confidence was decreasing. And doing the things I wanted to do and reacting the way I wanted to react was getting more and more difficult. And I was feeling more and more pull from my old identity and from old ways of thinking.

Until that moment at the mirror. Because what I felt wasn’t disappointment or anger or fear. It was confusion.

Wait a second, I thought. This isn’t who I am. I am perfectly capable of coming up with good plans and following through on them. I don’t have to feel threatened; I know I’m enough. I don’t have to feel frightened because I know I can see this through for myself. I can write this fucking book. I can take this fucking risk. I can live this fucking life.

Once you’ve built your personal identity to be strong and true, sometimes all it takes is one moment to remember who you’ve become.

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“How do you build up confidence?” he asked.

I gave him some of my general advice, and then I had an inspiration. “Or, just pretend you’re a rock star because that will be way more fun.”

I love this thought experiment so much. It doesn’t really matter what form it takes. You can pretend you are a rock star, or a movie star, or a famous opera singer, or a Bohemian poet, or a tragic romantic figure, or that you’re leading a literary life (substitute that adjective as needed), or that you’re the type of person who is going to have ridiculous memoirs to write when you’re ninety years old. The point isn’t the exact shape the thought experiment takes, but rather, using your imagination to get out of your own head.

The trick is to get out of your normal mode of thinking. Instead of thinking, “What would I do in this situation?,” I think, “What would rock star Amy do?” And then I do the rock star way, pretending like it’s actually what I’d do and ignoring any resulting discomfort as much as possible.

So how I am leading my rock star life?

Well, because I’m a rock star, heads turn when I enter a room. I’m allowed to wear fabulous and eccentric clothes as much as I want. And I’m charming, and people generally enjoy meeting me and are interested in hearing what I have to say. And I can go and strike up conversations with random people without it being a big deal. Whatever, I’m a rock star.

Because I’m a rock star, I generally get to do what I want. I’m not afraid to ask or put myself on the line. And when something really sucks, I speak up or I move on. When someone isn’t treating me respectfully, I just walk away. Because I’m a rock star, so I don’t have time for that shit.

Sometimes I am also a super hero with a secret identity and everything.

Sometimes I am also a super hero, with a secret identity and everything.

Because I’m a rock star, I can try new things and be fearless. My self-esteem doesn’t ride on my success or failure. I feel good about myself, so it doesn’t matter if I’m bad at something when I start out, even when other people feel the need to vocally judge me. Instead I can enjoy the satisfaction of the challenge.

Because I’m a rock star, I can say absurd things in conversation and then stare the other person in the eye and dare them not to find it funny. And if they don’t find it funny, I laugh anyway.

Because I’m a rock star, I stay up late and I sleep in late and I don’t cook unless I feel like it. I can find instant oatmeal and peanut butter toast glamorous when in the right mood. I have dance parties in my kitchen, anthems that I talk about incessantly on Twitter, and I proudly make brownies from a mix because they’re damned good.

Because I’m a rock star, I never have to apologize for who I am. And I don’t care if you like me because hey, I am who I am. Instead I celebrate myself.

Because I’m a rock star, I can walk in a room where I know no one. I can stand in a crowd and not have to talk to someone every single second. I can afford to not hide behind my phone. I can smile a small, amused smile and watch the world turn until I choose to engage.

Because I’m a rock star, I get to go to live concerts and plays and museums and clubs and dances. I get to travel and see new places and learn new things. I get to write and dance and sing and spill out my heart and soul for you in characters on a computer screen, and I get to be nostalgic about ink.

Because I’m a rock star, I get to surround myself with other rock stars, people who have passion and dreams and ambition and gratitude. People who don’t ask me to shrink down a few sizes but who take up their own space just as I do. People who love and laugh and have accidental adventures on a Sunday afternoon. People who are both fascinating and fascinated and love to laugh. Imperfect people, yes, but imperfect people who don’t take their lives for granted.

Here’s my secret: I’m not really a rock star. But when I pretend to be a rock star, all the above things are true anyway. Because when you pretend something long enough, after a while it stops feeling pretend, and instead it simply feels like you.

So if you want to become more confident, give it a shot. Pretend to be a rock star, and see if you can find the freedom to be yourself.

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I ran across an excellent article on an economics blog I follow called “Amateurs versus Professionals.” It very much applies to what I’ve observed about writing, and I imagine it holds true for many other pursuits and professions as well. I thought it would be fun to expand on some of the points made. (Yes, this is totally what I do for fun. Welcome to my mind.)

After reading this list, it occurs to me that much of the difference between an amateur and a professional is a state of mind. This means that even during the earliest stages of a career, we can aspire to professionalism. And I believe this state of mind will make it much likely to eventually find success.

Here are some points I find particularly relevant:

Execution: Amateurs don’t see their work through. They don’t finish. They don’t find the time, or they get distracted by other shiny ideas, or they allow themselves to be held back by their own fears. To a professional, execution is paramount: “Sure, they occasionally abandon a project when they see further effort is fruitless, but the mark of a pro is someone who begins and ends.”

Image: Amateurs are concerned with image, whereas professionals are concerned with their work.

It can be fun to be involved in the industry, to network and name drop and know “important” people. And knowing writers definitely livens up my social life. But it doesn’t matter who you know if you’re not doing the work. It doesn’t matter how connected you are if you are not finishing any of your projects. The work trumps everything else. And professionals know this in their bones.

Confidence: This one is interesting, because if there is any profession in which professionals are insecure, it’s writing. But professionals tend to express it differently. They are less likely to express their insecurity publicly on the internet. They are less likely to make extreme self-effacing remarks in public. They are more likely to be matter-of-fact about their insecurities if they happen to come up. And they are more likely to deal with their insecurities with their close friends instead of with whoever happens to be around.

A writer must have the confidence to envision entire new worlds in her mind. Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

A writer must have the confidence to envision entire new worlds in her mind. Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

 

Empathy: Professionals recognize we all have to pay dues, we all have to navigate a series of “breaks,” and we all have our own set of problems.

I wince whenever I hear one writer talk about a professional difficulty, only to have another, usually less experienced writer say, “Oh, I wish I had your problems.” NO. Just NO. First off, problem comparing is not helpful. Second of all, that other writer just passed up a golden learning opportunity. Who knows when this “coveted” problem might be your own? Third, the writer sharing the problem is going to notice the lack of empathy offered and the relationship might be weakened as a result.

Talking/Listening: Amateurs interrupt; professionals listen. Amateurs tend to go on and on with a minimum of prompting. They talk for twenty minutes straight about their current project and then never ask about yours. They inadvertently reveal ignorance because they are so busy filling the space with themselves.

One of my favorite things to do in a professional setting is find someone whose knowledge and opinions I respect and get them talking. And then I sit there asking questions and soaking up everything they say like a super-absorbent sponge. The amount of information I get from doing this is priceless. I already know what I have to say; I want to learn about what other informed people think.

What do you think are important marks of a professional?

 

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I recently received an email from a friend of mine asking for travel advice for an upcoming trip to Europe. I am always thrilled to be asked about travel, because any excuse to talk about it is a good excuse in my book. So I wrote back promptly sharing what I knew, and when he thanked me, he also said, “You talk and blog about the wonders of travel, but for us newbies the actual process can be a bit intimidating.” And I knew I had today’s blog post.
One of my favorite things about travel (and also one of the things I most dread, paradoxically enough) is how uncomfortable it can be. It can shake us loose from our daily routines, from our preconceptions, even from who we might think we are. It challenges us, it taxes us, and sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes things go very, very wrong.

But I realize that maybe that’s not what I tend to talk about. My excitement and passion for travel shines through so brilliantly that it tends to eclipse all else. I gloss over many of the hard bits, or I don’t mention them at all. Plus many events that were quite difficult at the time seem funny or interesting in retrospect. Even as they’re happening, I try to see them as all part of the adventure, and that attitude carries through even when I’m back home.

So yes, the process of travel is intimidating, and not just if you’re a travel newbie. It takes a certain amount of energy to get started, and at this time in my life when I’m getting more settled and am dealing with lingering physical limitations, I have that energy less often than I used to. And while I’m not overly intimidated by travel to Europe anymore (which wasn’t always the case), I’m still easily overwhelmed by contemplating trips to other parts of the world. (Exotic diseases are my bugaboo. If the ailments I read about in the medical part of the guidebook are too disgusting, I lose all enthusiasm for visiting. I’m also convinced that I will get malaria in many parts of the world because mosquitoes love me soooo much.)

I didn't have a digital camera when I was in Sweden, so a photo of Norway is going to have to do...

Still, it is through the discomfort that transformation can occur, which is why I love it in spite of itself. The first non-English-speaking country I visited by myself was Sweden. Very modern, almost everyone speaks at least some English there, the food isn’t too crazy. I’d arranged to stay in a dorm room in Stockholm, so I even had a place to head upon arrival. I went out and about my first day, and I was so overwhelmed by being alone in a foreign place that I went back to the dorm and hid. I’m not even kidding, I hid and watched TV and cooked food in the dorm kitchen and felt miserable. I thought I’d made a terrible mistake, and it took all my willpower to eventually leave the safety of my room and continue my travel adventure.

On top of the world... in Switzerland.

Fast forward two months and I was in Switzerland, also alone, but completely transformed. It wasn’t that I was so much more comfortable, but I knew I could rely on myself. I had more confidence, I had seen amazing places and met a huge array of different people, and I had survived. I had faced up to the strong surges of grief I still felt over my mom’s death, and I had finally found a measure of peace around it. I was a different person, and to this day I believe that those two months are among the most important experiences of my life.

So is travel amazing? Yes, but it’s not for the weak of heart. It can be dizzying and terrifying, tedious and stimulating, painful and healing, and no matter how carefully we plan, travel will turn out differently than we expect.

What is an amazing travel experience you’ve had? Or, if you haven’t traveled much, what destination are you eager to visit?

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Last week I got some exciting news.

I’d been on an airplane for several hours, flying home from a very successful vacation. I was slightly brain-dead, and I’m sure my in-flight dinner of Pringles and peanut butter cups hadn’t helped matters. After having survived the little dog frenzy of homecoming, I settled by the fire to check my e-mail, happily procrastinating from unpacking my suitcase.

I clicked on one of my e-mails, read the first sentence, and screamed. Literally. I think my husband thought I’d seriously hurt myself, because he came running from the other room.

What did that e-mail say? It told me that I sold my first story! Daily Science Fiction wants to publish my story “Forever Sixteen”. Hooray!

(And no, I don’t know when it will come out, but I’m guessing it will be awhile. Stay tuned….)

I was feeling pretty good about myself, in an I’ve-spent-all-day-on-a-plane sort of way. And I felt even better when, the very next day, I found out that I’d received an Honorable Mention in the most recent quarter of the Writers of the Future contest.

(Taking my moment to bask, giggle, jump around the room, and basically celebrate!)

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Okay, I’m back.

Now I’m going to share a bit of unproductive thinking that went along with this good news. When I found out about the sale, I was happily sharing my news on Twitter and Facebook, celebrating with the great people who have been supporting me. But, when I found out about the Honorable Mention the next day, after the requisite excitement, I turned to my husband and said, “I don’t know if I should tell anyone about this.” He asked me why not, and I continued, “Well, it’s just too soon after yesterday’s good news. Plus won’t it seem like I’m bragging if I say anything?” Then I paused, thought about what I’d just said, and cried, “Oh no! I just did that thing!”

Do you see that thing I did? I automatically wanted to downplay my success instead of sharing it. I worried about “bragging”, even though I would never think that of another writer posting the same news. Is this because I’m a woman who has been trained to be a team player and never toot my own horn? Is this because I’m a writer with the prerequisite insecurities so often found in my profession? Even after noticing my strange behavior, I still rationalized with a “Maybe I should say something on Twitter but not Facebook.” Because somehow that would make a difference? Hello, irrationality!

I’d love to say that this was an isolated case, but the truth is I see it all the time. Just this past weekend I was spending time with two lovely women writer friends of mine. Both of them have blogs. Both of them are active on Twitter and Facebook. But neither of them regularly post notifications of their new blog posts on Twitter or Facebook. This drives me crazy because I forget to read their blogs as a direct result.

I talked to one of them about it, and she said, “Oh, I don’t know if people would really be interested.” And that’s the clincher, right? I think most of us have moments of thinking the same sort of thoughts. Why would anyone care about what we have to say? Maybe it’s not a good idea after all to put ourselves out there.

Newsflash! People are following you because they’re interested in what you’re doing, and they’re interested in what you have to say. So if you don’t let them know about your newest blog post, you are shooting yourself in the foot. After all, they don’t have to click on the link you provide if they don’t feel like it. You’re not forcing them into anything. You’re just letting them know what’s available.

This ties directly into Sheryl Sandberg’s advice to women on the video I linked to earlier this week. Her first point? Sit at the table. What did she mean? That if we sideline ourselves, letting other people sit at the table while we hang off at the edges being self-effacing and shy, we aren’t giving ourselves the same chance at success. We aren’t giving ourselves the same respect that we give others. And if we don’t give ourselves that respect, then why will anyone else?

Sit at the table. I dare you.

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