Confidence is the ability to follow your chosen path without being hindered by fear of failure or rejection. Life can be scary. When I was a baby lawyer, appearing before certain judges would bring me out in a hot sweat in case I was criticised and embarrassed. The first time I spoke at a big conference I spent most of the night under a duvet on the bathroom floor I was so sick with fear I would do it badly . But eventually both those activities became second nature simply because I did them so often I started to know what I was doing and even to enjoy it and there was nothing left to fear.
Photo from Son of Groucho/Creative Commons
With creativity, though, my fear is more subtle. With art I am revealing much more personal things about myself. Your art is about who you are, what you care about and how you express that passion. And there are no set procedural rules to tell you exactly what to do as there are in law. I find it easy to become stifled by fears that my art is in some undefinable way ‘not good enough’ or that I am not a ‘real artist’.
So, I got to thinking. What have I learned in my legal career that might help you and me both to be confident in our creative endeavours? Here are ten techniques that have worked for me and I hope will help you too:
- Be good friends with yourself. Would you constantly tell your best friend she was no good, that she was wasting her time, that she was talentless, hopeless, stupid or plain mediocre? I bet if you did she wouldn’t be your best friend for too long. So don’t do it to yourself. Do unto yourself as you would do unto others.
- Change your language. How we speak influences how we think. I habitually accept a compliment with, “Thank you. Its only…” Or “Oh that? Its just…” But We don’t need to sabotage ourselves in order to not seem arrogant and immodest. Try asking a question instead of giving a comment. ” Oh, Thank you. What did you like about it?” Or simply a statement. “It was inspired by my Grandad’s old diary..”. Watch out for inbuilt expectations of disaster in your language. So rather than, “Well, I’m going to try and have a go at making a quilt.”, say simply. “I am going to make a quilt.”. Listen to your habitual phrases and correct yourself. Or as they say in Northern Ireland, “Catch yourself on, now.”
- Get yourself a mentor. Find someone who will speak the truth to you and will happily and naturally point out your achievements without jealousy . Someone who will pull you up when you start to kick yourself down. It helps if they have some shared knowledge of your activities so I found it useful to have one person for my law career and others for my art. You dont want them to puff you up with platitudes and ideally they will be good at constructive criticism, but you do want someone who will believe in you when you dont believe in yourself. N o suitable friends? Pay a professional coach. My friend Diane Hock fulfils this role for me wonderfully but I have also signed up to Lisa Call’s Masterclass for an additional perspective.
- Set a motto. When I was a trainee solicitor I changed departments every six months. My first boss happened to be the man who originally interviewed me. He was encouraging, patient, and supportive. I flourished under his tutelage, even though I had zero desire to be a conveyancer like him. My second boss ignored me except when he was bullying me. He taught me nothing and was angry when I didn’t know what he failed to tell me. I wanted to quit. I felt stupid and had no confidence at all that I had what it took to be a solicitor. Then, approaching the end of my second six months I was asked to sort through some papers and accidentally saw the notation Boss No 1 had made on my interview invitation. He had simply written: definitely Yes. My confidence soared. He had no doubt about me. If the man I admired so much thought that of me then who was I to doubt it? I stuck it out with Boss No 2, moved into the family department and began the career I love and am good at. But for years afterwards ( and even sometimes now) when I got scared and doubted I had what it took I scribbled ‘DY’ on a post it note and placed it where I could see it. Its all it takes.
- Start with courage not confidence. Confidence is accumulated from a series of good experiences. But how do you get the confidence to get out there the very first time? Simple answer. You don’t. Instead you pluck up courage. Whereas confidence is doing something knowing you may not get the desired outcome but not being afraid of that, courage is being afraid but doing it anyway.
- Remember others feel the same way. This post started because I asked on an online list whether the successful and seemingly serene artists I saw out there in the world also suffered from a lack of confidence at times. The answer was, yes. Because fear is an internal emotion so often we assume others do not feel it. But they do. At the end of my first day at a big new legal job a friend in the same post but elsewhere in the country rang to see how I had got on. I told him it was OK because I had simply acted as if I knew what I was doing, pretended I was competent and the public seemed to buy it. His reply? “What do you think the rest of us do everyday?”
- Record your achievements When I set my website up I was reluctant to have a CV page. What would I put on it? I was just a wannabe. But when I started to think back and write what I had done so far I was amazed how much space my list of exhibitions and publications took up. (And very grateful to Brenda Smith who had wisely recorded all the Twelve by Twelve activity for me!) It was a real confidence boost. Not that it made me feel I had ‘made it’ but rather that I was well established on the road and so the fear of being a rank beginner vanished. This year I have started a page in my planner where I record the weeks achievements, big and small. And, I record how I celebrated them which is often with a nice purchase. So when I look at my beautiful pen or sable paintbrush I am reminded of past achievements.
- Baby steps. Note, I said, small and medium achievements not just big ones. Confidence comes from constant exposure to accomplishment. Set small goals and build up your confidence quickly and then review and expand those goals rather than setting one difficult goal and never seeming to reach it.
- Notice when you feel confident and deconstruct the experience. Last night I made my first iMovie tutorial video. I had little idea what I was doing when I started ( mostly because I didnt bother reading all the help files on how the programme worked!) but when the video was finished I pressed the publish button with a confident flourish and an internal yell of “Yeah!”. Which is odd because I when it comes to videos I really am a rank beginner. Normally I’d feel worried that my video was not as good as others or that I had just sent out some embarrassingly mediocre product. When I thought about it I realised that my feelings of confidence were closely related to my last point:
- Be clear about your measures of success. I was entirely happy with my video because my (un-articulated) aim had actually been to figure out the basics of iMovie and put together a basic tutorial by a deadline related to a linked magazine article. I did that. Had I actually been aiming to make a video that would prize win at Cannes next year it would have been a different feeling all together. By all means, dream big for the future, but set today’s measure of success at realistic and achievable and confidence that you can do it will come much more easily. Then, remember how good it felt to succeed, how you achieved that feeling and repeat.
So, tell me, what do you want the confidence to do?
Did any of those tips resonate with you?Do you have any of your own to share?