People think I’m confident. They almost always have, but I started to notice it when I was in middle school and had just entered foster care. During this time, I moved around a lot. I quickly made friends with foster siblings in new foster homes and with kids at school. I did this by introducing myself to other kids and asking them questions about themselves. After that, I tried to bond with them based on shared interests. If I didn’t have anything in common with these potential new friends, I’d do something to change that — like joining the basketball team when I was in eighth grade. Luckily, I went to a small school and was able to make the team, even though I was a terrible basketball player.
When I did things like this, adults around me would call me brave. They applauded me for my go-getter attitude and confidence. Confident? Me? I almost laughed at the thought. In fact, I couldn’t think of anything further from the truth. But few people knew about my insecurity, especially after I realized when people perceived me as being confident, they treated me better.
I’m about to tell you how acting confident helped me become confident, but first I need to say this: These tips are in no way a substitute for seeking professional help if you are depressed or dealing with severe emotional issues. For that, you need to talk to someone who can prescribe a course of action that will help you out, and a therapist is a great place to start. But if you are looking to step up your confidence game and think you can learn from my life experiences, here are a few ways faking being confident increased my self-esteem.
Act confident and people will think you are confident
Like I said, I didn’t mean to act confident. Doing so became a survival mechanism for me. In addition to learning how to make new friends by putting myself out there, I also learned how to make people notice me. As a foster kid, I learned the hard way that when I didn’t speak up for myself to caseworkers and other adults in my life, I would be the one who suffered. If a foster parent was treating me poorly, no one would know unless I said something. Sometimes people didn’t believe me, so I tried harder, spoke louder (metaphorically and probably literally, too). If my caseworker didn’t help me, I’d wait until it was time to go to court and I’d tell the judge. After a while, these adults stopped ignoring me and started listening.
Getting adults to respect what I had to say and making new friends have one major thing in common: I had to make these things happen. So I tried. Simply trying to get what you want often makes you stand out from other people who are too timid to do the same thing, even if you are scared, too.
I brought this mentality into college and adulthood. I applied for internships I thought I’d never get, and then I accepted them when they were offered. I saw talented people who came from “normal” families with much different backgrounds from mine succeeding in journalism. At my first few internships, I had little experience or reason for being there, other than I applied myself and wanted to be. I felt like a fish out of water. But I tried to show I deserved to be there, and I acted like I belonged by doing my best to mirror the actions of the experienced journalists around me. When I behaved this way, many people thought I belonged, too. And even if they didn’t think so, simply showing up with a smile on my face, asking questions and trying new things made these people think I was confident.
When people think you are confident, they treat you like you are competent
As a reporter intern first in Washington, D.C. and then at a newspaper in Southern California, I was scared to interview lawmakers and other prominent people in these communities. But I did. What if I said something stupid or made an error in a story? I did on occasion, but I owned up to my mistakes and tried my best to learn from them. Whenever someone gave me an opportunity, I tried to take it. This made me seem confident to others. Suddenly, I was getting complimented by my superiors and offered more opportunities to write stories. I eventually landed a full-time job as a reporter for the newspaper in Southern California. When people perceived me as confident, they thought I knew what I was doing, even if I didn’t. But, when given an opportunity, I would figure out whatever was needed to get it done.
When people think you are confident and competent, you may start to believe it, too
It’s a cycle: You act like you are whatever it is you are trying to be, people think you are and they start to treat you like you are — it’s the fake it until you make it mentality. As a child, once people started to listen to me, I began to believe I was worth being heard. As an adult, once employers started treating me like I knew what I was doing, I started to believe it, too. It took time, but eventually I gained more self-esteem.
To be clear, I don’t advocate for filling yourself up solely on praise from others—that’s dangerous and, in my opinion, unhealthy. But I recognize it took others encouraging me for some time before I started to realize that some of the positive things people thought about me were true. By putting myself out there—standing up for myself, taking risks, trying new things and going for what I wanted—I radiated confidence. Eventually, I realized I am brave. I am a risk-taker. I am confident.
What I learned from my journey of becoming more confident is that surrounding myself with people who believe in me has been instrumental to my success. So, if nothing else, hang around people who make you feel good about yourself. Focus on the positive and what you can do to make a situation better. And one day, you might find yourself a more confident person, too.
(Image via MGM Studios)