Gaining Confidence with Age
The past few weeks I have been engaged in some training initiatives for my new role at work. This training has involved a lot of new material and experiences and has required me to interact with tons of people I don't know and from business segments to which I am still pretty unfamiliar. When I got home from work last night, after a long week or learning, interacting and so much socialization, I told my sister that it is hard to imagine myself ten or fifteen years ago having the confidence to do this.
It led into an interesting discussion about confidence increasing with years. I have always been a confident person, even when I have been the underdog, even when I have been openly disparaged for my beliefs or opinions (I think back to a project in my high school economics class were I proposed privatization of health care and education - I was ridiculed). However, I have always been very comfortable in these situations and therefore I was confident.
And that led me to the realization that what I had in my twenties was a high level of confidence in situations where I was comfortable. I was confident when I knew the subject matter or had a good read on the people in a room, or had previous experience dealing with a situation. In those times, my confidence really set me apart. But in times where I was blind sided, or unfamiliar with content or couldn't get a good read on people I felt a little more insecure.
I am thirty-six years old now and even in just one decade, I can tell that my confidence level has soared. I am not longer confident only when comfortable or when I know the players involved or when I am skilled at handling situations. Now, I am confident even when I am unsure, even when I don't know anyone, even when I am the most inexperienced person in the room.
My sister's comment on this - also a woman in her thirties - was, "We are older. We have gone through some real shit in our lives now! This is what gives us that confidence!"
When I was young, I could base a lot on my early accomplishments or my natural energy and enthusiasm, or that because of my youth and potential people placed a lot of hope in me. But now, I have life experience. I have better perspective. I have faced life and death and I have a confidence that comes from knowing what truly matters and who I really am.
Now, when I am in a room full of strangers and dealing with content that is totally foreign to me, I don't see myself as an outsider. I see myself as a contributor, someone with a unique perspective, someone with good questions and a lot to offer. This past week, few people contributed as heavily or with as much enthusiasm as I did, even though I was certainly one of the least experienced people in the room.
I have always felt secure in my own sense of self worth, but as I am getting older, I find that it comes to me without the feeling of having to prove it. I have already proved it to the only person that it really mattered to understand: myself.
And this makes me excited for my forties, and what another decade of life experience, trial and error, achievement and exploration will do for me. It makes me wonder how much more in that time I can offer my teams, my friends and my family of myself.