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It’s 7 a.m. and I am getting ready for my first Zoom call of the day. I brush out my hair, apply mascara, and swipe on some lip balm.
If there is one thing I am thankful for in this pandemic, it’s my new low-key grooming routine.
My mirror has become an ally instead of a portal into the green eyes of the comparison monster, up to his usual tricks. I get ready to teach a class on female confidence to a group of young corporate women.
And, as I do, I board a familiar thought train: you aren’t experienced enough to teach this class. What do you know about confidence? You’re so sensitive you cry at your desk at the slightest bit of feedback. You don’t know what you’re talking about.
And then I shake out my shoulders, give myself my usual fake it till you make it pep talk, and head into my day.
It never fails to surprise me every time I read a book or watch a Ted Talk about confidence that the same names and faces pop up. The same overused, tired examples of billionaires, CEOs, businesspeople, athletes, entertainers, and politicians. Money, wealth, status, titles.
Like everything in our society, confidence speaks the language of capitalism.
Whether you were born wealthy or not, in our world, confidence equates to your wins. If you project power, it’s assumed that you have it.
It’s an inherently masculine version of confidence. A framework that wasn’t created with women in mind. Its vocabulary is inherently male and written from a male gaze.
Confidence is about how much you can flex.
And yet, when women lean into this, we’re either penalized for it, or it feels alien and inauthentic. Both of which leave us feeling about as tall as a mushroom.
As a writer and social anthropologist (which is a fancy word for storyteller), I believe that true confidence comes from owning your narrative. It’s the type of confidence that invites you in.
The type of confidence that makes you completely comfortable in the presence of another person because they are so at ease with themselves. It comes from getting personal, knowing yourself, and loving the bits that might be broken.
Confidence is about owning your story so completely that no one, not even the comparison monster, can poke holes in it. But here’s the thing: if the path to confidence is in your story, then language is the lighthouse that will guide you there.
Language is what helps us understand and contextualize our experiences. It connects isolated, random events to shape a cohesive narrative about who we are and why we’re here.
When I think about language in relation to confidence, I often draw a parallel to the recent evolution of language around racism in America.
As the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum and people began grappling with their own complex relationship with race, certain words and terms started to flood the mainstream.
BIPOC, micro-aggression, police brutality, white fragility, intersectional are all words that had been around for some time but have recently become part of the popular vernacular.
The word “Black,” which until recently was considered a derogatory descriptor among the liberal elite—with people opting for the politically correct “African American”—has been reclaimed and re-appropriated by the Black community.
The lingua franca on the topic of race is changing. This evolution of language has allowed people to contextualize their experiences, behaviors, and feelings. Now when we experience a racially-based micro-aggression, we can name it. The experience is no longer a nebulous, ambiguous thing.
The language of confidence needs to evolve in a similar way. Women are especially victims of a sharp tongue when it comes to confidence.
In a patriarchal world, our innate gifts have been used against us to hurt our confidence. Words like sensitive, overthinker, Type A, and emotional have become pejoratives.
In 2014, Sheryl Sandberg mounted the #BanBossy campaign, a form of self-censorship with the intent of protecting young women who showed leadership potential from being called bossy.
But banning a word gives it more power. Rejecting a word that has been used to oppress or tear women down only keeps it relevant. And when women are at the receiving end of unflattering comments or are called bossy, we spend our time, energy, and precious resources trying to educate others on the inappropriate use of the word.
Instead of stepping into our leadership qualities and actually being the boss.
For many of us, it is in these so-called disparaging words that our innate gifts lie—the empathy, the grey zone thinking, the meticulousness, and the heart.
Our confidence vocabulary needs an overhaul. A similar reclamation of words.
And so, while many of us might be able to see ourselves in the traditionally male framework of confidence, we structure a female-centric version as well. Re-appropriating words that have historically been used to hurt women allows us to start to build a vocabulary that feels authentic and our own.
The raw and unrestrained Glennon Doyle described confidence in this tweet:
“The roots of the word confidence are Con and fid. With fidelity. Fidelity to self.”
The language of confidence is one of truth. Truth to know yourself; truth to love yourself. There is no room for faking it.
You’re not faking it till you’re making it. You’re faking it until faking it becomes so draining, so exhausting, and so hard to keep up that you’re either exposed for what you are, or you opt-out.
Find your confidence language and let it speak to you.
Only then does the mirror become an ally, instead of that green-eyed monster we must battle every day. It’s the only way true confidence, the kind that invites and elevates, has even the remotest chance of living within us.