You Are What You Think

As a man thinks in his heart so is he.

– Proverbs 23: 7 New International Version

The Bible quote above has rung true for me on many occasions, especially when it comes to confidence.

Being confident can open a lot of doors, or at least, give you the courage to open them.  There are times when maybe the confidence isn’t completely there but you know you have to at least try to appear as though you’re on top of your game.  To illustrate my point, I’ll describe some examples of times when I was able to display confidence and succeed, or when a lack thereof caused me to fall on my face and hope no one was looking.

When I feel confident, or at least project an image of confidence, things work in my favor.  For example, I’m a member of my local Toastmasters International Club, a group dedicated to helping members cultivate their leadership and public speaking skills.

I’ve been at it for nearly a year, yet getting up in front of a crowd still makes me uneasy.

t’s not so much that I don’t think I can do it- it’s the nature of public speaking itself.  It seems so one-sided.  I tend to be outspoken and like talking to people.  I’m confident about interacting with them and engaging my audience.

But there’s something that just feels so unnatural to me about making a speech.  It’s awkward for me to stand in front of a group and talk to them without it being an actual conversation.  I feel like I’m talking at them, and I feel as though I’m the center of attention, and as if every word and gesture is being scrutinized.

However, since I feel comfortable with the being-around-people aspect of it, I can generally pull off a decent speech without anyone suspecting that I was fighting off waves of nausea/nervousness while practicing in front of the mirror just a few hours before.

Several years ago, I served as director of a summer residential program for blind teems.  In that position, I had to supervise staff members, plan activities, write reports, and teach some of the independent living classes our students participated in.

I was 25 years old, and one of the staff members I was responsible for overseeing was nearly twice my age.  The other was ten years her junior.  “How’s this going to work?” I wondered.  Technically, I was their boss, but would they respect my authority?

Because I had a good understanding of what my job entailed, and because I had a good rapport with the students and staff, I felt adequately prepared to direct the program.  Consequently, save for a few minor bumps in the road, things proceeded quite smoothly, and I think it’s safe to say everyone enjoyed the experience.  My older colleagues respected me because I knew not to micromanage them.

In contrast, the following summer I found myself working as an intern at a college ministry serving students at Louisiana Tech University.  This time, my footing wasn’t as solid.  I didn’t mesh well with the students and other staff in the ministry.  I had lived in north Louisiana for only a few years, while most of them were native to the area.  Many of them had gone to college together, and, in some instances, had been friends even before that.  I was a couple years older and had attended our local university for graduate school, so we never had the opportunity to take classes together.  I felt like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole.

In this situation, I felt like I had to learn as I went along.  I seemed to have difficulty getting students to see me as a leader.  As interns, we had teams of students working under us in different areas of the ministry, and I couldn’t seem to get my group to take me seriously.  I found myself dreading any undertakings in which I was supposed to be in charge.

That wasn’t my first experience where I felt undermined by a lack of confidence.  I entered ninth grade at a small, suburban Catholic school, an all-girls school, I might add.  Previously, I had attended a South Side Chicago public school.  I took it for granted that our classrooms were co-ed.  Suddenly, I was thrust into an environment where I felt completely out of my element and like I was always in the wrong place.  I felt like I was always wearing two different socks or had my shoes on the wrong feet- just generally out of place.

Because I felt so removed from the familiar, I didn’t really try to assimilate with the school culture.  I made a decision early on to just buckle down and focus on my classes and whatever else I needed to do to prepare for college.  It’s not surprising that most people saw me as shy and quiet.  It wasn’t until I was in college that I started feeling a little more comfortable in my own skin and people began telling me I was outgoing.

I guess when it comes to confidence, or lack thereof, you fulfill your own prophecy.  If you feel self-assured, or can at least convince people that you are, whatever endeavors you embark on have a good chance of turning out well.  Other  people are more likely to have a favorable review of your track record, too.

When the opposite is true (confidence is severely lacking) you’ll reap fewer rewards for the fruits of your labor, or people will perceive you to be less successful than you really are.

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