There are many clichés in the training and development world. Hard to believe, I know, but it's true. While many of them are misquotes of the last person we heard mangling the original quote, or snippets of doggerel that would shame an 'inspirations' calendar from a well-known high street card shop, I'm personally not overly offended by clichés (hard to believe, I know, but it's true). And even though I may get unnecessarily intellectually sniffy about some of it, much of that reaction is probably just sour grapes that I haven't managed to capture folks' attention so effectively myself.
But there's one such phrase that often provokes a strong reaction from me, and it's usually used in connection with confidence; the words are "fake it until you make it". Yuck, yuck, yuck. Still, to be fair, I think it's worth looking at the words there, once the nausea has settled, so we can see if there's anything worth hearing in it.
The 'fake it' bit bothers me because the last thing anyone developing their confidence needs is some cheery calendar telling them that what they're doing is fake;
"Well done on facing that crippling dread of public speaking by addressing the General Council of the UN, but that was all fake...you old fraud". OK, so maybe I'm exaggerating a little but you get the sense of it.
But there is no faking it, because doing it is doing it. You can not fake public speaking, for example (or if you did, I can't see that it would fool many). No, doing that unnerving thing is the very apex, doing it despite the fear is the single greatest act of courage. As someone in an episode of the intellectually heavyweight documentary, 'Game of Thrones' said,
"I can't show courage without fear".
And that is rather the point, there is no faking it, there is just taking the risk despite it all, and if that risk diminishes through repeated practice, then there is even less faking it.
Then there is 'it'. What is the 'it', that we are to make? It may be confidence, but if we are busy faking it, then we won't be achieving it, and if it is not achievable, is it even a thing worth bothering with? I'm not keen on setting meaningless or unachievable goals...not good for the confidence, you see.
Still more confusing is that if 'it' is confidence, what is confidence? I think most people's sense of it is founded in a desire to not feel those butterflies in the stomach, or the usual trappings of fear. For illustration, point at someone whom you perceive as confident and describe them (metaphorical pointing that is, it might surprise a few people if they find themselves the recipient of some unprovoked pointing in public places...worse still, unprovoked pointing in private places). The description might include calm, together, cool and other expressions for 'not at immediate risk of an increased laundry bill'. And that seems to be the gold standard. .. to be as apparently calm and confident as I think that person over there is. Of course, on the inside, that person might be thinking,
"Gosh, despite my outward veneer of calm sophistication, I really am in immediate danger of an increased laundry bill, and much more than that person over there might suspect...and why are they pointing at me?"
So, confidence is usually an impression of someone else whom we are quite likely to be misreading. Not much to go on, really.
Then there is the idea of making it. Really, do we think that fear will evaporate entirely? Or will we just find it somewhere else? The world is full of seasoned performers who still get very nervous before going on. And very few people, I think, would say that they are free of fear. But if they do, simply present them with a boxed set of Eastenders Weddings Specials and that bravado will collapse into utter desolation pretty darned quickly, let me tell you.
So, the idea of making it is tricky too. But, take heart! So far, the word 'until' is doing OK. Mind you, it has little to add to the debate and doesn't sound like much of a maxim on its own, so I think we can distil the cliche down to the reliable parts as follows,
There, that just about sums it up. That's my helpful quote about developing confidence, " ". Good, eh? Perhaps it would be better with a few unintelligible emoticons alongside it?
" " :) or ;) if you prefer.
OK, so it won't sell so many calendars, but it's more useful than where we started. Mind you, I may be wrong...think of how many greetings cards with no printed text are sold each year. Gosh, I could be on to something here. I wonder if I could sue the card people for infringement of my copyright?
Anyhow, back to reality for a moment. There is one redeeming feature of that quote, and that is the recognition that we will feel fear and nerves while we are busy leading life. So, we would benefit from sparing some compassion for ourselves. And, perhaps, we may as well get used to it and stop tormenting ourselves with the idea of confidence and 'making it'.
Certainly we could drop the phrase 'I should be confident', which seems to be a really effective way of undermining ourselves. If we manage those things, I suspect our natural confidence will emerge, which is to say, we will simply be ourselves, however we are.
Perhaps, for guidance, our watchword could be,
Says it all, I think.