As I work on raising happy children, one of the things I keep doing is looking at myself. What makes me happy? What qualities or skill sets have I developed that help me most? And I think one of the biggest is the ability to be self-confident. Specifically, the ability to be able to ignore what other people think I should be doing (or wearing or thinking or saying) to instead have confidence that what I am doing is good for me.
(There’s the flip side of this, of course, which is dangerous: being unwilling to acknowledge that what I’m doing is harmful to myself or others. Balance in all things, but today’s post is on developing self-confidence.)
There are two big things that come to mind when I think of how I’ve become self-confident. The first is a small 6 second clip from The Jerk. In the movie, Steve Martin’s character has become fantastically wealthy. He has all the money he’ll ever need. And what does he do with it? He spends it on trying to become the “cool” people he sees in the media. This is best summed up in this clip, where he’s been trying to recreate a drink he’s seen in commercials, because he wants to “Be Somebody.”
For me, this represents just how shallow and useless trying to “be somebody” is. You can do whatever you want to try and look cooler or fit in. You can follow the herd, but in the end, you’re still the same person you were before, just with a stupid drink and a tiny umbrella in it. Once you can realize that having something or wearing something doesn’t actually change anything, you can break outside the constant drive to conform.
The second big thing is a broader concept that I don’t, unfortunately, have any short movie clips of. It’s a principle I’ve heard years ago, and it’s stuck with me: Avoid the need for external validation. I’ll call it the “Who’s a Good Boy” principle, because it always reminds me of dogs. Dogs are all about the external validation. They want to be told what a good boy they are. So they’ll eagerly do what you ask, so they can be rewarded. Cats, on the other hand, embody internal validation. They know just how awesome they (think they) are, and so they don’t care what in the world you do or say. They just go on doing what they want.
In people, of course, this looks a little different. External validation for people (in my opinion) means you get an actual “thing” that shows you you’ve succeeded. It’s different from the first “Be Somebody” concept because the thing in this case is something you need to earn. You can’t just buy it. So it might be getting a promotion at work. It could be winning a prize in a contest. For a lot of writers, it’s getting that fabled book deal.
Don’t get me wrong. Getting promoted or having your book published is lovely. But it can’t be the main reason you’re working or writing. Or at least, it’s really better if it isn’t. Because external validation is almost always out of your control. You can write the best book you can, and things might not pan out in your favor. You can work as hard as possible, and someone else might get that promotion. And then what are you left with? No validation at all, and that’s a crummy place to be in (especially when you’re downtown and need someone to pay your parking).
It’s much better to be doing something because you want to do it. Because you enjoy doing it. Down that path, you’re happy because you’re doing what you want, not because someone gave you a Scooby Snack. External validation also seems to be the root of peer pressure. You want the praise of your friends, so you do things you wouldn’t necessarily do otherwise.
How do I try to avoid that trap? I ask myself if I’m enjoying what I’m doing, whatever it may be. If I’m not, then I ask myself why I’m doing it. Sometimes you do things you don’t like because you have to. That’s life. But if the only reason I’m doing something is so I can get something else, it’s a good idea to examine that “something else” and see how worthwhile and necessary it is.
If my kids could all grow up to know they don’t need to fit a mold to be successful or happy, and they don’t need someone coming and giving them something to be happy either, then I think they’d be well on their way to becoming happy people.
How about you? What techniques, approaches, or gems of wisdom do you use as you do your best to raise self confident kids?