On confidence

Where does self-confidence come from?

I was asked a very interesting question by one of my colleagues recently. The question was: Where do you get your confidence? My colleague went on to say that she had noticed twice— in conversations that I had with her and others—that I was happy to say stuff I was doing was good. Like this blog, for example. She asked the question because a) she could see that we had had a similar dysfunctional upbringing and b) she didn’t feel at all confident, possibly because of hers and c) wanted to know why I was, despite my toxic childhood. At the time, I didn’t have a proper answer for her, and another colleague suggested that this subject might make a very good blog post…

So where does my confidence come from? I think, ultimately it’s an innate belief in myself and my abilities that refuses to be quashed by others. And I am confident this post will help me work through the question and come up with some answers 😉

If you can survive a shitty childhood…

I have made no secret that my childhood was less than perfect. From the age of around nine, I lived in an increasingly dysfunctional – and often violent household – that had me living in a state of constant fear. This was when my mother and her second husband—my stepfather—moved my sisters and me to Mt Gambier, and their marriage promptly disintegrated. The more out of control my mother felt, the more physically violent she became, especially towards me. I spent the age of nine to eighteen (the age I moved out) dodging blows. And the blows would come for all manner of reasons: being home late, standing up for myself, questioning decisions, joking. But mostly, I would be hit for speaking out and speaking up. Interestingly, I would speak out and speak up, anyway. And I still do.

If you can regularly go to a happy place…

School was my happy place. I loved school, and was good at it because I was smart, and against all the odds, I fitted in. I was rewarded with good grades and excellent relationships with my teachers, who almost became pseudo-parents. They were good people, who cared about me and my welfare and encouraged me to do well. My home life was the antithesis of school, and akin to a domestic war zone, where I just focused on surviving.

I also loved reading, and escaped regularly into a good book. I have written about this in Things Remembered Fondly 1.0. My mother, for all her violence and dysfunction, encouraged me and my siblings to read, something that I am grateful for. Growing up in the country also meant getting my driving licence early, and once I had a licence, I had freedom.  And an escape. My sister and I and our friends would drive for hours, to the beach, to the river, to the local swimming hole, and spend hours away, out, absent from my mother and her rage.

If you can survive the 80s…

I spent my teenage years and twenties having an awful lot of fun in the 1980s; I remember the 80s with much fondness. I had moved out of my mother’s home by then, and eventually away from my town to the city. My sister joined me, and we shared a half-a-house together in a near-city suburb. This time of my life was carefree and frivolous; I was working at the time, in banks, then in a series of temp jobs, but nothing particularly serious.

Our spare time and money were spent on going out: drinking and partying and drinking some more. I had no responsibilities, and while many of my peers were focused on their education, or careers or boyfriends/husbands or buying houses, those things were not on my radar. I’ll say that my behaviour was mildly risk-taking, and while I didn’t do drugs, apart from smoke a bit of weed every now and then, I did marinate myself in men and alcohol. Often. And certainly not in a healthy way.

If you can quit your job and go to Uni…

In my mid-twenties, toward the end of the 80s, I had again been lured back into banking yet again. My “new” bank job, which I had initially enjoyed because it was working in a clearing centre with late starts and penalty rates and a rostered day off once a month and a vibrant social club, was starting to grate. I wanted more than just float from banking job to banking job. I was smart and I wanted a career. And I thought the best way to do this was to go to university.

So at the age of 26, I quit my well paid bank job, applied for the pittance that is/was Austudy and started my Arts degree. I managed to find a part-time data entry job which supplemented my income, and I had to take in a flat-mate (and I hated sharing my living space—still do), and lived on a constant diet of frozen veggies and two-minute noodles. But I survived. Just. And this was probably one of the happiest times of my life.

If you can raise a child on your own…

While I loved studying, I finished my Arts degree with (literally) no job and no prospects, and after a period of unemployment and short-term temp jobs, was forced back to banking once again. Around this time, I found myself in a relationship with a very charismatic man who (like many charismatic men) promised me the world and showed me an atlas. I was with this man for only a short period of time before he moved in with me and I fell pregnant. A short period of time after that, I received a phone call from another woman who also claimed to be in a relationship with him. It certainly explained his notable absences, which I (foolishly) thought were due to his football commitments.

At 29, though, I was ready to settle down, and while I had no financial security and no support and didn’t know how the hell I was going to do it, I decided to keep my baby. And keep her I did. At the time, the Australian (Hawke/Keating) Government had very generous support systems in place for solo parents. I was supported with rent relief and study allowances and child-care assistance, so I went back to university and topped up my (useless!) Arts degree with a degree in education. I was poor as a church mouse in those years, but I loved being a mum, and I was happy.

If you can buy a house on your own…

When I graduated university with a degree that was a bit more useful, I was lucky enough to win a permanent part-time job at the school where I did my teaching practicum. I had a 0.6FTE load, was paid holiday pay, and (from memory) around $35K for the privilege. I might as well have been earning $1 million, because it was a long time since I had seen that sort of money!

Permanency meant that I was in a position to think about buying my own house. After each of my mother’s marriages disintegrated, we were forced to move house—it seemed like an annual occurrence—and I didn’t want that for my daughter. I should have taken advantage of low housing loan rates when I was working in the banking industry, but I didn’t. So, in the late 90s, I bit the bullet and bought a run-down unit, with lots of potential in an excellent location. I’m still there.

If you can rebuild your life from a broken heart…

In my late thirties, I met The Italian. After a stop and start beginning to our relationship, I was with this man for 5 years. He was the love of my life and he broke my heart. Not only broke it, but mangled and shattered it. I thought we were going to spend the rest of our lives together. I was wrong.

So I spent my early to mid-forties rebuilding my life post-The Italian. I had no job (I was consulting, and he had promised to “take care of me” financially while I was setting up my business) and I had no friends (his family, which was huge, was our social life). What I did have, though, was smarts and get up and go. So I picked myself up and dusted myself off and got a job and went back to University to get my Master’s degree. It took a good two or three years to really feel like me again, though. It was a dark, dark time of my life, but survive it I did.

If you can reach an academic pinnacle…

Each time I went back to university, I seemed to get better at it. When I started my Arts degree in 1989, it had been almost 10 years since I had been in a formal education environment, and it took a year or so to relearn essay and report writing. I scraped through with mainly P1s and P2s in the first couple of years, and managed to score a couple of Credits towards the end. My post-graduate studies were where I came into my own: things just clicked into place, and suddenly I was a Credit and Distinction student.

Once I ventured into Master’s territory, it was High Distinctions all the way, baby. I did so well that in 2008, I won the Schulz Communication Prize for being the student with the highest GPA in my cohort. I was then head-hunted by the University to be a candidate for their Doctor of Communication program, which I was for about 18 months, after which time I quit. I was very grateful for the academic acknowledgement and validation, though!

If you can travel by yourself…

I’ve travelled domestically, and I used to take my daughter on intra- and interstate trips, but I’d never travelled overseas before becoming a parent. When my daughter left school, I made it very clear to her that my parenting was more or less done, and it was my turn, and that I was going to travel overseas because it was something I’d always wanted to do, and I would hate to die and not have done it.

My issue was that I had no one to travel with. So I made the decision to travel by myself, but do a group tour. My first overseas trip was to Vietnam in 2010 and it was wonderful and scary and surreal and hard and I loved it. I have travelled every year since then. And I have travelled on my own. I’ve had to figure things out and problem-solve and be totally alone in a country that doesn’t even know I exist and where I often can’t speak the language. I can’t imagine travelling any other way.

If you can run…

After struggling with my weight in my thirties and forties, I took up running at the grand old age of 47. I couldn’t run 10 metres to save myself. But I persevered and I dropped lots of weight and got fit. Really fit. I ticked off 5 km races, then 10 km, then 14 km events. This year, I ran my first half marathon ever—a whole 21.1 kms—and I didn’t die. In fact, I want to run another one!

The point is: I hated running. Actually, that’s not quite true. I ran in high school, but short distances – 100 metres, 4×100 metre relays, that sort of thing. I hated running long distances. I thought it was a form of torture inflicted on us poor students by sadistic gym teachers (I’m looking at YOU, Mr Riddell!). Oh, how wrong I was. And for so long! My one regret (and not that I have many) is that I didn’t take up running sooner.

If you can harness your creativity…

I have always been a creative person, from indulging in handicrafts like knitting and sewing and crochet and tapestry, to artistic endeavours like painting and drawing and pottery and mosaics to creating worlds and people and scenarios with words. Words in particular, are the essence of my creativity. I use words to make sense of the world and myself, and record my experiences and insights and observations so that my daughter and her children and grandchildren will know who I am and what I was like. I enjoy writing, and I’m good at it. And the technology has made it possible to fulfil a dream: write a book (coming soon!).

Travelling has also pushed me into another creative endeavour that I’d not previously (seriously) considered: photography. Of course, I’ve always taken pictures, but they weren’t very good. They were frequently out of focus, had exposure issues, terrible composition and uninteresting subject matter. I was devastated that most of my photos from my Vietnam trip kind of sucked. So I bought a decent camera. I learned about photography. And now most of my pictures are good. Really good.

Last word

This article from Zen habits popped up in my feed and it’s worth a read. It’s about believing in yourself, which, I think, is the foundation of confidence. And this article from Psychology Today about the freedom of living an imperfect life is also a worthwhile read. And this post from Baggage Reclaim about why people choose to dim their own lights.

If I have to sum up my how my confidence comes about in few sentences it is this: every excellent thing I do, every wonderful thing I achieve – all against the odds – is like confidence dollars in the bank. It is proof to the world – and especially that sad, nagging voice implanted in my head by a family script that has run its course – that I am a worthwhile, creative, resilient creature. Of course, “excellent” and “wonderful” and “good” and “worthwhile” are defined by me and me alone. Living life on my terms – with all its beautiful imperfections and crazy mistakes and unintentional wins and purposeful meanderings – is ultimately the secret of my confidence.

4 thoughts on “On confidence

  1. We have quite a few similarities Di. Luckily I didn’t have the dysfuncational childhood you had, but I grew up in the country, moved out at 17, worked, travelled, studied, bought a house, am raising a child as a sole parent, somewhat creative. Interestingly people have observed that I’m confident and sometimes I feel it but often I feel I’m acting confident rather than being confident. Anyhoo, you’ve done well to get through and achieve what you have.

    1. We are quite similar, Jen. You are doing well too! It’s hard work raising a child on your own, but ultimately rewarding. They get to an age where you can take a step back and say: you’ve done a good job, Mum!

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