Losing confidence

What I learned by losing my confidence

Confidence comes with maturity, being more accepting of yourself.

Nicole Scherzinger

I joined a team with a very direct management style. It relied on creating mostly passive team members and then leading them with an iron fist.

I hated it. I tried to conform to the style to fit in. But I was in constant conflict with myself and my “natural” management style.

In the end there was too much of a clash and the work relationship ended. It was a relief, but this experience left scars. I was bullied in the process and it damaged my confidence.

Afterwards, I had doubts about my capacity to work in a high-pressure environment. So I had to rebuild my confidence.

It took time. I had to face my demons. I had to let go of the past and focus on the future.

But I made progress, step by step, little by little. Now I am back in full swing. Here is what I learned through the process.

1. Learn from the past, then let it go

Re-frame failures as learning experiences. Your history teaches you lessons. I certainly learned and keep learning from trying out and failing.

As Oscar Wilde said:

Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes

But it is equally important to let go of the past. If you don’t, it can cripple your future. Your past doesn’t dictate your future if you decide to change your actions so that your outcome changes.

My lesson was that the direct style of management is definitely not for me. I learned recently in Susan Cain’s book Quiet that extroverted people get better results than introverts when they are leading a team of passive people as their charisma and natural social energy make them more effective leaders in this condition.

While introverts get better results with a pro-active team as they tend to listen to their team and implement their ideas more.

I also learned that I need to be a lot more careful before taking a new position. I wasn’t at the time. I need to channel my ambition.

But then I learned to let go of the past, now that I had drawn on the lessons. And to focus on the future.

2. Focus on building your future

To re-build your confidence and build your future, you need to change your actions. As Albert Einstein said:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

That means figuring out what you really want in life, what your values and must-haves are. What is the future you want to build?

Once you have clarified in details what you want and where you want to stir your life towards, you need to write down specific actions you need to take and start executing on them. This is a crucial step. You will find a post here that will help figuring out a plan.

I have been adding all my tasks in to-do lists for years and have spent time prioritizing all of them. But in the past I haven’t written down concrete plans to take my life to the next level. This was a grave mistake. Fortunately, failure taught me a lesson that pushed me to change my methods.

To re-build my confidence and build my future, I took a job in a more quiet environment, which re-centered my perspective on what a healthy work environment is for me. I can now apply my management style and do very well in an pro-active environment.

After a hard time, it can be hard to believe in yourself and to get started on a new journey. But getting started is exactly what will rebuild your confidence. So don’t be afraid to dream big, set goals that excite you!

And once you have a plan, just execute on it, even if you don’t feel like it. Execution and achievement will make you feel good. So execute first, feel good afterwards.

If you feel down, remember Richard Branson.

When he was 16, his first endeavor, the Student Magazine, almost sent him to jail for publishing remedies for veneral disease. Later on, he got put in prison, but for one night only, because of an issue with tax evasion through his Virgin record shops. The issue was settled in the end.

Through his entire life, he has had a trend of failures: Virgin Cola, Virgin Vodka, Virgin Vie, Virgin Brides, Virgin Clothing, Virgin Cars and Virgin Digital all failed. And the list isn’t even complete.

But he didn’t let failure discourage him. He systematically recovered and has had tremendous success as well. He now has a hold over an empire of 400 companies and has a net worth of $4.6B.

Failure is a learning experience and you decide what you want to learn from it, you are the boss of your life.

3. You are in control

Set your own agenda and stick to it. Plan your weekly and daily priorities. When new tasks come in and your previous plan isn’t optimal any more, adapt it.

But don’t let others “set” your agenda. Take their priorities in a coherent manner and make sure your activities stay linked to your long term goals. You are in control.

Above all, avoid being reactive. This has been one of my biggest mistakes. I have let others dictate what I should be doing and this has destroyed my previously laid out plans.

Also I didn’t have long term goals written down. I was only focused on short term goals, on current work projects that were not going to bring me much in the long term.

To be fair, I had a vague 3 year plan to get to a different position, but without specific milestones. It was based on: “Do good work and you will be recognized for it”.

This thinking works, but it is not an effective strategy. It can take many years before bearing its fruits. Also it doesn’t involve thinking outside of the box and is very limited in terms of leverage and opportunities. And most importantly, you are dependent on the decision of others, you are not “in control”.

In short: make a plan and execute on it. Stay focused and don’t get distracted along the way.

4. Get support

Friends, family and partners are here to support you and give you their perspective on events and your situation. They can offer you well needed support, good advice and strength when you are at a low. So don’t be shy to ask when you need help.

Also, people close to you are a good reminder that you should be grateful for what you have. And gratefulness has been proven by studies to bring more happiness.

My tendency is to try to cope on my own and I shun asking for support. Also, I haven’t been a great practitioner of gratefulness. But I have learned and seen the benefits of support and gratefulness so I’m practicing more now.

Don’t be like me, get help when you need it and stay grateful.

5. Take small steps

Re-building confidence takes time and the long road can be discouraging, especially when you are about to embark on it. But a journey always starts with a first step. As Lao Tzu said:

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

It helps to take small steps and to focus on incremental progress to re-build your confidence. Trying to change completely with the flick of a switch is delusional. And taking too many steps at a time will exhaust your energy and take your focus away.

Plan 2-3 steps to take to start building your future. Plan them for the coming week. Your first goals should be simple enough so that you can almost not fail to reach them.

Then, plan another few steps for the week after and follow through. Build confidence by taking action and achieving your first goals. Over time, build a plan.

Focus on your strengths and don’t dwell on your weaknesses.

My small steps were to look for a job in a more quiet environment and then isolate time to reflect and start rebuilding confidence and the future I wanted.

6. Review and adjust

At this point, you will already be well on your way of rebuilding your confidence. Take a step back and time to appreciate your progress. Then, do some analysis.

Listen to what people tell you. Get their feedback. What do they praise your for? Get attuned to your impact on people.

Review your progress. What activities have brought you most of your results so far? What is working well? What are you struggling with? What are your strengths?

Write down anything you find. Look at your results, get into the habit of measuring your progress. Then, make adjustments to fine tune your plan and build a future that brings you confidence and success.

Be effective first, efficient second. Over time, you will get great results. You will build strong confidence in your abilities and be a lot more fulfilled and happy in your work and, by extension, your life.

I picked up habits in my previous job that were not bringing me closer to any goals and that were making me miserable rather than fulfilled. I had this constant gut feel (physical reaction) that something was wrong.

I learned to get rid of these habits and rebuild the previous ones that are making me effective, fulfilled and much more in tune with my personality. I also picked new habits on the way. I not only completely rebuilt my confidence but now have an even higher confidence that I can achieve a lot more than I have already.

I am in control of my life and agenda and so can you.

That means I am not afraid to overload a post with four quotes in it…

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