What does confidence mean to you? Is it about struttin’ your stuff effortlessly? Standing before your co-workers and giving a presentation while your heart is beating a mile a minute? How about going on a first date without worrying if this person is THE ONE? Every woman has a point at which knocking knees can turn into knockers up! Are you ready to take that leap from wallflower to wild wonderful wise woman?
Consider this: we learn from the people around us. What confident female role models did you have as you were growing up? Although I was surrounded by many women (mom, two grandmothers, older cousins and many aunts, since my maternal grandmother was one of 13 children), none of them were ‘successful’ by the standards with which we measure now. I’m thinking that my mother was one of the few who were professionals in addition to being parents. There were some who were outspoken and feisty, like my Cousin Rose who owned what was referred to back then as a ‘Mom and Pop grocery store’ in a working class neighborhood in Philadelphia called Fishtown. Sadly,the ‘pop’ part of their team died when she was in her 20’s. My father’s Godmother, she was kind and loving, sending home ‘care packages’ for my sister Jan and me an she spoke her mind, seemingly without concern for what others thought of her.
Years later, I met someone who had grown up in that area and as we were reminiscing about our childhoods, his eyes lit up when I mentioned Rose. He knew her well and had shopped in her store. He would have agreed that she was indeed confident. My Aunt Kate who had been widowed young as well, continued to work in the corner store/pharmacy that her husband had co-owned with her. She dated, but never remarried and her confidence took the form of a willingness to be a playful adult who danced to the beat of her own drummer. One New Years Day, while in college, I was enjoying an annual Philly ritual called The Mummers Parade. The day was brrrrr cold and my friends and I were looking for a warm place to thaw out. I called my aunt and asked if we could come over. She was delighted and left the door to her apartment open for us.
Walking down the long hallway, we could hear music issuing forth and when we entered, we beheld quite a sight…my late 70-early 80 year old 5 foot nuthin’ tall aunt, dressed in skirt, blouse and stocking feet, doing the ‘Mummers Strut in front of the TV. She didn’t stop when she saw us there and invited us to join her in the merriment. Of course we did. When my sister and I were young, she hopped a bus from the city to our suburban town of Willingboro and then walked the few miles to our house to pop in for a visit. Not sure she called first. Thank goodness we were home. An hour or so later, my cousin Sid with whom she lived, called to ask if my mother had any idea where his mother was. “She’s sitting on the kitchen floor, playing jacks with my kids,” was her laughing response. He was relieved, but not pleased, as if he was the parent and she was the child. My mother was a closet confident-inista. She always claimed to be shy, hiding behind the facade of being “Moish’s wife and Edie and Jan’s mother.” She was so much more than that, as she could speak with anyone, putting them at their ease. She was loved by friends, family and co-workers alike who counted on her to be the ‘rock’ on which they could land for support and ideas. Her unwavering love sustained so many people.
Were they confident or was their demeanor informed by a ‘fake it ’til you make it’ mindset? With my mother, I might believe so. From her came the most powerful confidence tool in my own life skills kit.
1. Walk in like you own the joint with head held high, making eye contact and smiling. I added ‘knockers up’. While I was working in a psychiatric hospital as a social worker, I offered that advice to a female patient as we were talking about ways that she could increase her sense of confidence and self esteem. When I shared the final piece of what I refer to as ‘Mom-isms’, she looked down at her chest and replied with dismay “Not much there.” I told her that we need to “work with what we’ve got.”
2. They put their pants (or pantyhose) on one leg at a time just like you do. That came from my equally inspiring father Moish (I call his words of wisdom ‘Moishisms’. ) He grew up in the multi-cultural blue collar hood of South Philly where ‘Rocky Balboa’ hung out, so he learned to get along with folks who hailed from all over the world. Although his hands were cracked and raw at times from his work as a milkman and bus driver, he was easily able to extend them in friendship to those who had more education and larger bank accounts than he did.
3. Act as if. There is a story that I heard about David Bowie. Before he became famous, he wanted to be a rock star more than anything, but his music wasn’t being recognized, so he decided to act as if he was already as famous as he desired to be. He dressed the part and was seen with others who had achieved a level of success that he thought he was capable of. In short order, he was ‘discovered’ and the rest is history.
4.The Marilyn Monroe Effect Another legendary figure was walking down the street one day, decidedly dressed down, in jeans, sans makeup and hair tumbled. No one took notice of this icon until she stood up straight, smiled and walked assuredly and all of a sudden, people were ooohhhing and ahhing when they recognized the movie star.
5. The Greatest Although I am not a fan of boxing (even though my dad was a Golden Gloves boxer in the Navy and used to put boxing gloves, mouthpieces and protective head gear on my sister and me and let us go at it when we were kids), I admire the tough stuff attitude of Muhammad Ali. Remember his signature line? No, not “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”. He pranced and danced around, declaring “I am the Greatest!” What if, instead, he had said, “Someday, maybe I could kinda sorta be a halfway decent boxer.”? He would have been on his butt far more than on his feet. I remember thinking he was arrogant when I first heard it and then I realized he had the moves to back it up. What are you the greatest at? I know that my gifts and talents flow in the areas of writing and speaking and am now able to share that with certainty, without stuttering.
6. Yaysayers vs. Naysayers Who are your cheerleaders? Are there people in your corner who remind you of how wonderful you are and what you are capable of doing? I have been blessed to have all in the first category and none in the second. While it is important to have people who offer constructive suggestions and don’t placate you, it is equally valuable to be surrounded by those who bring out the best in you. Can you be your own yaysayer? The woman in the mirror has gained alot of wisdom.
Identity Magazine is all about empowering women to get all A’s in the game of life — Accept. Appreciate. Achieve.TM Every contributor and expert answer the Identity 5 questions in keeping with our theme. As a team, we hope to inspire and motivate ourselves and inspire you to get all A’s.
What have you accepted in your life that took time, physically or mentally?
There was a time in my life when confidence was in short supply. Although my family provided a haven in which I could blossom, inside I felt limited. I was diagnosed with asthma at around 5 and was pigeon toed and flat footed which required wearing clunky, red orthopedic shoes when my friends were wearing sneakers, saddle shoes and loafers. I thought I needed to compensate for those imagined weaknesses by overachieving in all areas. I became an A student and fiercely determined competitive swimmer from ages 11-18 and then coached for three summers after that.
What do you appreciate about yourself and within your life?
I appreciate that I can look in the mirror in gratitude for the 54 year old woman who has evolved from the sometimes scared little girl. There are moments during which the seasoned woman assures the Shirley Temple curly haired child that all is well and all will be well.
What is one of your most rewarding achievements in life? What goals do you still have?
The learned confidence and resilience has allowed me to interview well known teachers, healers and authors for the past 25 years, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Shirley MacLaine, Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson, Debbie Ford, Jack Canfield, Lisa Nichols and Ram Dass. My intention is to add Oprah and Ellen to that list, so I can say I have interviewed them as well.
What is your not-so-perfect way? What imperfections and quirks create your Identity?
I meander between feeling grandiose and too self promoting and embarressed by the attention I receive that I crave. Such a juxtapostion.
How would you complete the phrase “I Love My?
I love my willingness to reach beyond comfort zones to live the life of my deepest dreams and desires.