The Confidence to Be Wrong

There is no better test of man’s integrity than his behavior when he is wrong.” – Marvin Williams

My dad was a very good apologizer. He had a favorite quip, “If you have to eat crow, eat it early when it’s tender.” When we sat down to talk in-depth when he was in his late 70’s, in what turned out to be his last couple of years before he died suddenly in a bike accident, he readily admitted his mistakes without defensiveness or blame.

For instance, in the 1980’s, the Presbyterian church adopted the rule not to ordain gay ministers and my dad went along with that policy in the churches he led. When I talked with him about it in 2012, he said, “I was wrong.” He didn’t try to hide behind the policy of the church overall or explain it away because the fear about AIDS at the time.  He told me, “You learn in ministry that you move to the problem, not away from the problem. When a problem arises, that’s the same issue you mentioned with procrastination. When an issue arises, you jump in and if you are going to get beat up, get beat up right away. Don’t wait til later. If you have to apologize and ask for forgiveness, do it quick.

But I hadn’t put together his willingness to admit he was wrong with confidence until Dr. Gerald Stein put it together for me in a comment he made on the Airing the Wounds Out post. He said, “Confidence and acceptance play into the surrendering of the desire to rebut every criticism.

The confidence to be wrong. The ability to lean in to what we haven’t done well and try to do better without contorting ourselves in all sorts of unnecessary shapes in order to try to avoid the blame. It seems to work on two levels.

The first is to lean in and keep us open to life. Our spiritual traditions speak to this idea. The Roman Catholics have confession. The Buddhists talk about egolessness as explained by Pema Chödrön,

“In the teachings of Buddhism, we hear about egolessness. It sounds difficult to grasp: what are they talking about, anyway? When the teachings are about neurosis, however, we feel right at home. That’s something we really understand. But egolessness? When we reach our limit, if we aspire to know that place fully – which is to say that we aspire to neither indulge nor repress – a hardness in us will dissolve. We will be softened by the sheer force of whatever energy arises – the energy of anger, the energy of disappointment, the energy of fear. When it’s not solidified in one direction or another, that very energy pierces us to the heart, and it opens us. This is the discovery of egolessness. It’s when all of our schemes fall apart. Reaching our limit is like finding a doorway to sanity and the unconditional goodness of humanity, rather than meeting an obstacle or punishment.”

When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron

I was in my mid-20’s when I cheated on the guy I was dating. When I eventually broke up with him, I didn’t tell him the truth when he asked if there was someone else. It wasn’t until 4 years later when he sent me an email that I finally told him. It didn’t make us fast friends, but it finally made us honest friends. I didn’t have the confidence to be truthful right away because I wanted so much to be liked and I did a lot of damage to us both in the meantime.

Which is a segue to the second part, to do it quickly. That’s advice that is also common in the high-tech world as a business strategy called failing fast. It refers to the strategy to identify ideas that don’t work quickly before you get too invested in them. It works because one of the things that undercuts our confidence is rumination and overthinking. When we get caught up in the cycle of second-guessing and reviewing where we went wrong, we move out of action and into our heads. Authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman explain:

“Failing fast allows for constant adjustment, testing and then quick movement toward what will actually work. The beauty is that when you fail fasts, or early, you have a lot less to lose. Usually you are failing small, rather than spectacularly. And you have a lot to gain from learning as you fail.”

The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman

As I discovered from watching my dad, it takes a lot of courage to be wrong. But when you can do it well, it actually builds confidence because we do it quickly, stay open and can move on.

This is my 7th post on confidence. The others are:

I Can

Fear and Confidence

Growth Mind-set

Bossy Pants – Confidence and Leadership

No Name Calling

Speaking Up

(featured photo from Pexels)

Speaking Up

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca

A few weeks back when we were in the car on the way to Parkour class, my 6-year-old daughter, Miss O, wanted me to ask her coach to call on her more. I told her that wasn’t my place to do. Then her best friend who was also in the car volunteered to say it for her. We practiced in the car what the friend would say for about 3 minutes which was something like, “Miss O feels like you don’t call on her as much and she has good ideas. Can you please call on her more?

Then as we stepped out of the car and Miss O said, “Actually, I can do it.” She went inside, found him in the entry way and said, “Um, I feel like you’ve been calling on my friend more and I wish you’d call on me.” The coach said, “Is that how it feels?” and she said, “Yes!” He responded, “Well, one of the reasons is that your friend is more attention seeking” which was perfectly illustrated by the fact that she was standing behind him doing rabbit ears, “but if you would like me to call on you more, I’m glad you let me know and I’d be happy to.

I witnessed all this as I was waiting to check the girls in and thought about how hard it is to work up the confidence to advocate for oneself. About nine months ago, I submitted some writing to the folks who run the Pointless Overthinking blog to become a regular contributor and I hadn’t heard back in several weeks. I waffled on the pros and cons of following up – Would I be a pest or seem too pushy? What if prompting them was irritating and made it so I just got a “no” answer faster?

In The Confidence Code, authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman suggest a few ways to build up confidence to speak up. First of all, practice what you want to say just like my daughter did in the car. When we practice the words out loud, it’s easier to imagine actually saying them and have confidence that you won’t trip over the words, or at least not too egregiously. The practice often also helps us work through to find exactly what the point or question is.

Second, imagine that it’s a “we” issue, not a “me” issue. When I did in fact follow-up with my writing submission, I pointed out that the blog didn’t have anyone that was writing from the point of view of someone who was a mom in the thick of parenting and that 100% of readers have or had a mother. It was a small attempt to be funny and without intending too, I was adopting the mantle of a group bigger than just me.

And lastly, the more that we take that step to advocate, the easier it becomes. Maybe it starts with asking coaches for a turn or extra attention. Or asking someone sympathetic like a grandmother for a loan to buy a used car. But somewhere down the line everyone is in the nerve-wracking position of knowing they deserve a raise, a promotion or benefits and need to ask. If we’ve exercised the muscle to advocate for what we want before, it’ll be easier.

The response when I sent my follow-up inquiry on my blog submissions was almost immediate and very positive. In fact it started with, “I’m glad you reached out a day or so ago because it prompted me to go back and look at your writing again. And I liked what I saw.

Not all my inquiries have worked out so well and I’m sure that’ll hold true for the future too. But I’d hazard that in this case, along with many things that require confidence, that trying helped tip the balance in the direction that I wanted. That is to say, if I hadn’t tried, my submission might have just stayed buried in the bottom of the pile.

As my daughter has learned, you have to hold your hand up if you want to be called on.

What do you think about advocating for yourself? Any tips you’ve learned to make it easier?

This is my sixth post on confidence. Here are the others:

I Can

Fear and Confidence

Growth Mind-set

Bossy Pants – Confidence and Leadership

No Name Calling

No Name Calling

Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

About ten days ago, a week before my daughter’s elementary school let out for the summer, there was a school Field Day where the entire student body of 400 kids played games at 28 stations to earn food and prizes. They were looking for volunteers so I tended the soccer kick station with another parent.

It was an easy 10 feet kick into a goal. We had a lot of kids come by – Kindergartners who had feet about the size of a deck of cards, differently abled kids that came by with their instructional aides, and most of the student body including the 5th graders who looked like they were ready to take on the world.

Everyone was displaying great spirits until one girl, perhaps in the 4th grade came by with a friend and gave the ball a kick. I shouted “Wuhoo” and she said, “Don’t say ‘Wuhoo.’ I’m a failure.” And I said that she kicked the ball with lots of strength and she repeated, “I’m a failure.”

Her ball hadn’t gone in (we didn’t really require that) but most kids could get it in, even the little Kindergartners. So I gave it her the ball again and said, “Kick it again.” And she did – without even really trying and it didn’t go in. She said, “See, I’m a failure.”

I was flummoxed. Her assertation that she was a failure was a wall that seemed to keep everything from going in. With that up, it didn’t seem like anything could penetrate.

With the first post I wrote about confidence, I can, I quoted author and psychiatrist Neel Burton who distinguished confidence from similar concepts by explaining confidence is feeling “I can,” self-esteem is feeling “I am” and pride is the feeling of “I did.”

When the little girl came to the soccer kick station, she both asserted that she couldn’t and that she was a failure. And once that was in the air it seemed to operate like a foregone conclusion for which there was no quick fix.

Because we can fail over and over again and still be confident. Here are some examples.

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

Failure is only an opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” – Henry Ford

A woman who never gives up can’t fail.” – Abby Wambach

The distinction seems to lie between admitting we’ve failed without calling ourselves a failure. I hadn’t thought much about that small difference until I heard researcher and author, Brené Brown tell a story about when her daughter was in pre-school. The pre-school teacher told Brené that one day after Brené’s daughter had been doing art at the glitter table the teacher said to her, “You are a mess.” And the daughter retorted, “I might be messy right now but I’m not a mess.”

In the retelling, Brené laughed and said that her roots as a shame researcher were visible. We can describe our current situation without calling ourselves names. No name calling is a rule in my household since I heard that story, and I apply that to the conversations I have with myself as well.

My daughter overheard me telling my mom about the little girl who called herself a failure at Field Day and was fascinated by the story. It was a great opportunity to talk with her about what happens if we believe the names we call ourselves. I hope the ripple effect is that she won’t call herself names and maybe even say something if she hears someone else doing it.

This is my fifth post about confidence. Here are the others:

I Can

Fear and Confidence

Growth Mind-set

Bossy Pants – Confidence and Leadership

Bossy Pants – Confidence and Leadership

Kid, you’ll move mountains.” – Dr. Seuss

The other day my 6-year-old daughter Miss O, came home from school and told me about a conversation she had with a friend at recess.

Miss O: You are bossing me.

Friend: You’ve been bossing me since Kindergarten

There are times as a parent that I try not to laugh. This wasn’t one of them – I burst into laughter and my daughter laughed right alongside me. It sounds so dramatic that way – so much better than just last year. It also reminded me how early that word bossy is introduced for these young and precious girls.

It’s the fear of being called bossy that has made my confidence as a leader falter. I say that after 20 years of having my own business, teaching employees and subcontractors and being accountable to a bottom line for both my family and my company.

In the years that I’ve had business partners for my computer consulting business, they’ve always been male and I’ve been far more comfortable with them providing the visible leadership. Even when I’ve had better ideas, more experience and am the one calling the shots.

About a dozen years ago, I owned a small office building with two business partners that housed my consulting company offices. We’d purchased the building in 2007 at the height of the market. When things got messy because one business partner told me of my husband’s infidelities and my husband was the other business partner, our partnership in my consulting business fell apart and I bought back their shares in that company. But we still owned the building together and after the 2008 crash, the value of the building was less than its mortgage.

My partners were no longer interested in being involved, the building couldn’t make ends meet and I had to do something. So I went to the Small Business Administration and asked them to restructure the loan for the building. The advisor gave me a list of things I had to do like changing all the tenant leases and restructuring the accounting.

Five months later I scheduled an appointment with the SBA advisor, showed him the list and all that I had done to meet each point. He sat back and said, “I’m impressed.” I wondered why because all I’d done was what he’d told me. He replied, “Because not many people come back after I give the list of what needs to be done.” I burst into tears. Even through my tears, he restructured the loan for me anyway and when the market came back enough so we could sell the building, I finally sold it and ended the partnership with those guys.

And still after all that, I didn’t have the confidence to call myself a leader until about age 50 when I had children as a single person and they looked at me asking “what are we going to do today?”

Brené Brown defines a leader as “anyone who holds him or herself accountable for finding potential in people or processes.”  Fortunately that’s a definition that is broad enough for me to confidently own my leadership. Given that I’ve been leading for years, one wonders why I haven’t had the confidence to do so til now.

“Bossy” says it in one word. I don’t want to be called that word that people use for girls as early as first grade (and maybe earlier).

Brené Brown has a model of types of power as they relate to leadership (link goes to a PDF of the model). She differentiates people who lead using power overbelieve that power is finite and use fear to protect and hoard power” from those who lead using power with/to/within. Those leaders in the latter category “center connection and humanity with empathy-driven agendas, policies and values.

Those are a lot of big words for a first-grader but I think it’s worth trying to talk to my daughter about how to build confidence in leadership and power. I think any leader, male or female, who works with the power with/to/within is more effective because they believe that “getting it right is more important than being right.” And building on my daughter’s sense of empathy, she can learn the confidence to work with others to lead and not fear being called bossy.

Have you ever been called bossy? Do you think of yourself as a leader? If so, what gives you confidence as a leader?

This is my fourth post about confidence. Here are the others:

I Can

Fear and Confidence

Growth Mind-set

(featured photo from Pexels)

Growth Mind-Set

Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.” – Mahatma Gandhi

My mom, who will turn 83-years-old in a few weeks, just put on a piano concert for her senior living residence. It’s something she’s done since the pandemic started, trying to fill in the entertainment schedule especially for those who can’t readily leave their apartments. She has to do three performances to keep the audiences small, they performances have been broadcast over the in-house tv and she learns new music for each one.

All that is to say, my mom is a pretty confidence and very capable person. She still practices speaking Russian, a second language she learned in college and even typing out messages to her Russian friends in her What’s App phone application.

But when something goes wrong on her phone and computer, she brings it to me. Often she’s already figured out the solution but she just wants me to confirm it. Which I am more than happy to do. But it always amazes me and amuses me that she has a blind spot in her confidence.

According to Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in their book, The Confidence Code, this is not at all unusual, especially with women. Drawing on the research of Stanford professor, Carol Dweck, they describe:

“Most women think their abilities are fixed, Dweck told us. They’re either good at math or bad at math. The same goes for a host of other challenges that women tend to take on less often than men do: leadership, entrepreneurship, public speaking, asking for raises, financial investment, even parking the car. Many women think, in these areas, that their talents are determined, finite, and immutable. Men, says Dweck, think they can learn almost anything.”

The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman

And the way past that fixed assessment of abilities is to adopt a growth mind-set according to Dweck. It ties with confidence because “Confidence requires a growth mind-set because believing that skills can be learned leads to doing new things. It encourages risk, and it supports resilience when we fail.”

When I first had children, I remember reading several articles about not praising your child for being smart but instead to focus on praising them for their efforts. It turns out that this is exactly the thing for building our own growth mind-set as well. When our internal dialogue is focused on effort and improvement, we reinforce the internal story that we can learn.

Sometimes we have blind spots in our abilities on purpose. We don’t learn things because our partner, friend or child can do it for us. It works fine for us as long as when life requires us to do those tasks, we adopt that growth mind-set, believe we can and then support that with the patience and praise for our efforts as we learn.

I’ve seen my mom do that in these seven years after my dad passed in the many things that were his specialties like taxes and car maintenance. Either through nature or nurture, I think my mom has a growth mind-set. I’m happy to be her computer help but notice that when I do it, she usually looks over my shoulder to see what I’m doing. Maybe by the time she’s in her mid-eighties, she’ll no longer need me for tech support.

This is my third post in the series delving into confidence. The first was I Can and the second was Fear and Confidence.

(featured photo from Pexels)

Fear and Confidence

Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.” – George Adair

The other night our iPad fell on the ground. My kids and I were getting in the car after visiting my brother and his wife. My brother folded the stroller and the iPad that my 6-year-old daughter always uses fell out of the pocket and landed on its corner. We picked it up and went on our way but as we drove, my daughter discovered that the power button had been slightly crimped down by the fall and so all the iPad would do was show the Apple icon and then go black over and over again.

This iPad is her favorite thing in the world. It represents her agency in the world to discover things that other 6-year-olds are doing. It has her books, videos and games so it is also her main source of entertainment. That iPad holds a lot of power and possibility in one sleek package.

She started wailing in the backseat that it was broken. I calmly said, “Don’t worry, I’ll take a look at it when we get home. We’ll try to fix it.” And she wailed back, “We can’t try. It won’t work.”

What?? We fix things all the time. This was the little girl that just an hour before had confidently stood up on a paddle board and was paddling it by herself on Lake Union. And then she was jumping off the paddle board over and over into the lake to swim around with not a worry in the world.

And now she was saying we couldn’t even try. That all was lost. Everything was broken and would stay broken. This wasn’t normal or rational, this was fear.

It struck me that confidence can’t show up when fear is running the show. So in my ongoing inquiry into confidence, I went digging in to get some perspective into this.

In their book The Confidence Code, authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman distill the definition of confidence from all their sources of research and erudition into “Confidence is the stuff that turns thoughts into action.” They also describe the other positive attributes that often go hand in hand with confidence, what they label as the confidence cousins: self-esteem, optimism, self-compassion, and self-efficacy. But all of these things, confidence and the cousins that work to create belief that you can make something happen, are part of our rational/thinking brain.

Neuropsychiatrist Dan Siegel and parenting expert Tina Payne Bryson have great illustrations in their book The Whole-Brained Child that illustrate how fear is a downstairs (limbic) brain function and that when we flip our lids, we temporarily lose access to the upstairs brain that supports thinking. The downstairs brain that provides quick reaction so when we are in critical moments of fight of flight doesn’t stop to think about it.

So in our moments of fear we lose, maybe just momentarily, access to the stuff that creates confidence until we move though it. This brought to mind for me of one of the rapid fire questions Brené Brown often asks her guests on her podcast Unlocking Us: “You are called to be very brave but your fear is real and you can feel it in your throat, what is the very first thing do you do?” And the answers from her guests are things like:

  • Oprah: “Take a deep breath. Remind myself to breathe.
  • Dr. Angus Fletcher: “I think of the bravest person I know who happens to be my son who is much, much braver than me.
  • Dr. Julie Gottman: “Put my hand on my heart.

Coming back to my daughter in the car I asked her if what she was saying was because she was afraid of losing her iPad. She said she guessed it was. And owning that, we then could reason through the fact that the only sure outcome was the one if we didn’t try. If we did nothing, the iPad would stay broken. So we had nothing to lose by trying.

Sure enough, we got home, fiddled with the button and it came back to life. The button is a little tricky now but our confidence is restored. We could try – and it worked. As the quote for this post says, and it is one of my all-time favorite quotes because it has gotten me through many barriers of my own making, “Everything you’ve always wanted is on the other side of fear.

This is my second post delving into confidence. I Can was the first.

(featured photo from Pexels)

I Can

“Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot.” – Truman Capote

I was talking with my friend Scott the other day about confidence. How did he have the confidence to start his own business 25+ years ago? And does the person he’s picked to replace him have the confidence to run the business when he retires? In the course of the conversation, I told him a chain of events that sparked my interest about the subject of confidence.

About two years ago, in the spring of 2020, I had two things that I needed to replace. I’d torn the passenger side mirror of my car loose when I backed up too closely to the yard waste bin. And the torsion spring on my garage door had snapped, maybe after my 4-year-old hung from the door as it was going up. This was the very start of the pandemic so just calling someone to come fix the problems wasn’t a viable option and my inclination anyway is to at least triage things myself.

It took a little googling to figure out what I needed to do next to fix my problems but with help from the internet, I figured out what parts I needed and ordered them. Then I talked over the issues with my brother. He found YouTube videos for how to replace both things and said he’d help. But before he could come over, I did both on my own.

The way I saw it was that I could watch the videos and try. If I didn’t succeed, I could always ask for help but at least I’d learn something. And I did learn something – how to do both!

At this point in the story, Scott laughed at me because he thought I was leaving out the most obvious sign of confidence – that I’d had two kids as a single parent by choice. Right – there’s that. 😊

But what really got me thinking about this topic was that not long after I fixed my garage door and replaced my car mirror, my daughter who was then just 4 ½ years old had her pre-school graduation and the comments left for her from the other parents/teachers were things like:

I love your confidence and I appreciate how friendly you are to everyone!

I love your stories and your art and how confident you are sharing your ideas with the whole class.

I love how determined and confident you are. You are also so empathetic and such a kind and helpful friend to many.

As I was mulling over how confidence seemed to have been passed to my daughter, I heard an adult joke sarcastically about my daughter when she said she could do something, “Girl, you really need to work on your confidence.”

At that point, I knew I needed to understand confidence and if/how it’s passed from one generation to the next (because I’d say my parents were very confident people and my instinct is that I got the courage to try from my dad). More than anything what I really want to know is how to foster confidence in a child in a way that healthy, realistic and humble.

Writing for Psychology Today in an article called The Secret of Self-Esteem author and psychiatrist Neel Burton defines as being confident as to trust and have faith in the world. Merriam-Webster adds one more flavor to this with a kids definition of confident as having or showing sureness or optimism. Dr. Burton distinguishes confidence from similar concepts by explaining confidence is feeling “I can,” self-esteem is feeling “I am” and pride is the feeling of “I did.”

That resonates with me because what I often think is that I can try something and even without an expectation of victory, I have the belief it will get me to the next clue in the puzzle. I can try has a very different flavor than I will succeed.

It also matches what I learned from my dad. He taught me many of my house project skills and though we had to blunder and troubleshoot our ways through some projects there was no question that we would eventually get it done. Like the time we unknowingly bought bathroom drywall instead of regular drywall and then wondered why it was so heavy and had to figure out how to marry it with what was there. His attitude was always one of “we can.” Probably most influentially, he never told me that there was something that I couldn’t do.

When I was talking with Scott about confidence, I asked him where he thought he got his. He didn’t hesitate a moment before saying that it was from his dad. But I’ve heard other answers too – teachers, coaches, librarians – anyone influential that told us by word or by action, “You can!”

 I’m still working out many of my questions about confidence as I read through a pile of well-researched and thought out materials so I have many posts on this subject to come: what happens to confidence as we age, how to help a child build healthy confidence and what role does faith play in confidence?

Tell me how you think of confidence. Does “I can” resonate with you? Was there someone in your life that gave you confidence?

(featured photo from Pexels)