One Win At A Time

The long journey towards confidence

By Hammad Ali

Confidence is attractive, in more ways than one. When facing a crisis of some sort, it can be extremely reassuring to have someone on our side who stays calm, and appears confident that we will be able to handle the situation. 

As such, at some level we also owe it to ourselves, and our loved ones, to work on being more confident ourselves, about the diverse challenges of life. When life throws us a curveball, it can make all the difference if we can look at the situation and know that we will be able to handle it. That is the essence of confidence. However, this might be a good place to comment that that feeling of being able to handle oneself, that confidence, has to be well-deserved. Nothing is as annoying as the empty vanity, the sheer lack of awareness of the challenges one is facing, trying to pass off for the calm, hard-earned feeling that one has faced such problems before and negotiated them with success. Confidence is attractive, and calming, only when it is paired with competence and not just empty bravado.

So how does one earn true confidence? The same way every good thing in life works. We work on it, we do a little better each time, we focus on the goal and why we want it. I know that sounds very vague and generic. Allow me to elaborate and be more concrete.

It is my opinion, and that of many who are better than me, that confidence in the face of an adversity comes from the knowledge that one has the ability to overcome this adversity. That knowledge in turn comes from the lived experience of actually having solved similar problems before. At the risk of sounding like a complete nerd, I love math. Now, I would love to say that I was always good at it. But that would be being flexible with the truth. I very clearly remember a time when math was not my thing, and math class was terrifying. 

And I cannot thank my family enough for not putting up with that attitude and making me work at it more. Until it began to first make sense, and then feel like a fun thing to do. Yes, I know I just said math is fun for me. That is the point. I was made to keep working at it, got better at it, and firmly believe that I can keep getting better at it. When faced with a tough math problem in my day job, I now know that so far, I have solved every such problem that has come up. Yes, I have whined about it, and complained about it. But I have also figured it out. In this one tiny, nerdy domain, I have the confidence that I will do fine.

Credit: Clique images

For a completely unrelated example, I have no physical skills. I can fall over because I leaned too far back on my chair, have two left legs when walking, and cannot do anything with my hands that involve fine motor skills. Yet, some fifteen years ago, on a whim, I signed up for a karate class. Of course, I was terrible at it. I huffed and puffed five minutes into the class, and often did not know where my right hand is on my body and how to move it the way Sensei was asking me to. Once again, I was lucky to have a Sensei who did not care that I was bad at it. He only cared that I could get better. And over the weeks and months, I did get better. Nothing compared to many others in the same dojo, but better than I had ever thought I could be with something as physical as karate. To paraphrase something Sensei once said, “If you keep working at it, you might still be clueless. But you will be less clueless over time.”

In the years since then, I have tried two kinds of karate, and also done some other martial arts. I am not great at any of it, but I did get better. I do have a little better awareness of my body, and the world around it, and how I can move myself. I will probably always be better with the math, though. And that is OK. I am still clueless, but a lot less so.

And the best part of it, for me, is that I feel confident about life. I know life will put obstacles in my way, in everything I do. I know there will be situations that I am simply not qualified to handle. I know there will be many things in which I will fail. Just like I once failed to understand algebra. Just like I once failed to throw a kick. But I no longer fail at those same things. Which is why, when I fail at something today, I feel confident. Confident that at some point in the future, I will no longer fail at this same thing. But oddly, I also feel confident that there will be something else, something new, something I might not even be aware of today, that I will fail at on that day. And that is fine. Because then I can begin working on not failing, all over again. One thing at a time. One less failure at a time.

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