I read an interesting article this past week, about women and men and confidence. It’s well worth the read, especially if you are a woman or wish to be supportive of the women in your life. It talks about various studies that show how women have an “acute lack of confidence” which prevents us from taking action, risking failure, and believing we can make our impact on the world.
I certainly have experienced what they describe. My inability to believe that I could be successful on my own, doing work that I am skilled at performing, kept me “trapped” (frankly, because of my own mindset) in unhealthy employment situations for far longer than was necessary. As a freelancer, I have had to overcome my reticence and learn how to increase my rates—because I no longer worked within a system that automatically gave me raises for good performance. I have also, in retrospect, missed opportunities because I thought I had to be perfect, rather than “good enough,” to take the chance, and risk, of that next step.
Interestingly, as I’ve been contemplating this article, what keeps coming to mind are big, showy flowers. The night-blooming cereus is only the most recent example to come to my awareness, but many plants don’t stand out until their flowers catch the eye and wow the onlooker. For plants, those flowers are critical to long-term survival. Plants must have, or develop, confidence in their blooms if they want to attract pollinating insects that will propagate the species.
Of course, plants come by their flowers honestly and naturally. They don’t appear to have any capacity for crippling internal dialogue: “What if my flower isn’t perfect enough? What if it won’t attract the right type or number of insects? The flower to my left had incredible success last season; why am I even trying to compete with that?” Instead, every plant makes the most of nature and nurture, whether the rainfall or nutrients were lean or plentiful, and blossoms to the best of its ability.
And unless we happen to be master gardeners, we probably couldn’t analyze why flower X is more or less “successful” than flower Y. But our “nurture” has sure taught us that we must evaluate every “success” around us—to our detriment, I believe. As Jesus said in Matthew (6:28–29), “Why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.”
One of the key takeaways from the article—for me, anyway—was that acting with confidence actually increases confidence. When we take risks, even if they involve “failure” and thus become opportunities for learning, we grow in confidence. But we have to “show up” and take those risks. It turns out that girls quit competing in things like team sports when they lose confidence—and thus miss out on valuable, confidence-building lessons about how to own triumphs and survive setbacks.
We each have our own splendor—our own specific, unique mix of gifts from God. We were created to blossom, each in our own ways. Whether we are woman or man, our confidence should not be placed in some misguided idea of perfection. Instead, it should be rooted in the fact that we are created to blossom, and the world needs the flowers we have to offer. I do not need to compete with the power of your flower; instead, I need to nurture my own nature and believe that God has called me to do just that. It’s time to stop thinking so much, step out with confidence, and act.
When in your life have you lacked confidence? When have you been able to blossom? Where in your life might you find opportunities to encourage younger generations of women, and men, in the art of confidence-building?