By Krista Goral
The real secret to success is one that folks rarely talk about, either because they don't think they have to point it out or they don't realize it's the first real step.
The first thing to worry about, the thing that matters first, before all others? Your confidence. If you're not confident, "networking" and "baby steps" won't take you very far. You'll go to events and flail about. As you interact with people, you'll convey your own self-doubt. Your words may say one thing, but your body language will say, "I don't believe in myself, and neither should you."
If you first build your confidence -- and do it in a way that is both sincere and natural (a way that works for you, not someone else) -- then you can take just about any step you want. If you exude confidence, people will be drawn to you -- not the other way around.
And when you put yourself out there with confidence, each of your efforts is multitudes more effective, because your aura says, "Hey, I'm worth something. I mean business here. I'm worth listening to. And you should."
Failing to emphasize the importance of confidence does a real disservice to up-and-comers. Some people feel ineffective doing what they need to do to succeed. They'll attend networking events without much success, and we just tell them to go to more. "Just get yourself out there," we say. "The more people you meet, the more comfortable you'll feel."
But if you're uncomfortable in these situations, forcing yourself to attend networking events will exacerbate the problem. You'll stand in the room with an aura of insecurity, and your presence will have a limited effect on those around you. Your confidence at events may improve over time, but it's a slow-going and largely ineffective approach. Instead, take the time to build your confidence beforehand.
Here are three ways that work for me. You don't need to pursue all three; you can focus your energies on one, and you'll still likely benefit. Build all three, and you have a winning combination.
1. Think yourself into a positive attitude.
Uh, yeah, I mean mantras. Dismiss them if you want, but at least hear me out. If you say only uplifting things to yourself, uplifting things are eventually what you'll believe. It protects you from the self-doubt and self-hate that sometimes creeps into your psyche. If you busy yourself thinking one thing, there's no room for weeds to take root.
For a good starting place, try Napoleon Hill's self-confidence formula. Or, if Hill isn't your style, use whatever works for you. Make up your own mantras.
The point is: you are what you think and believe. If your thoughts aren't constructive and exuberant, you won't be, either.
2. Take baby steps.
Just make sure to pursue baby steps that make you feel awesome. Here are two approaches:
Pursue what comes naturally, even if it doesn't seem related to your goal. If you're a talented illustrator, draw for 20 minutes. If you're a crossword puzzle whiz, do one. Do whatever you're good at for 15-20 minutes prior to something scary as a confidence booster. And after you rock out at it, remind yourself, "Damn, I am good." Hold on to that emotion as you transition to whatever it is that scares you.
I use writing as my confidence booster because I write quickly. Every morning, I write for 30 minutes. I also write whenever I need a boost so I can work through any emotions that are holding me back. Feeling myself move through words helps build my certainty. This is actually how the article you're reading originally started. I was building myself up to write documentation for work. And though both are writing, you can see this is definitely not documentation.
The baby steps do not have to be in the direction of what you're actually trying to accomplish. Your steps just have to make you feel good and re-establish your belief in yourself.
Or tackle something scary. Getting my wisdom teeth pulled terrified me. I put the appointment off for years. This was during a time when I worked a job I hated and knew I needed to quit, but I was scared to do that, too.
Months later than I should have, I finally put in my notice, and since my health insurance was expiring, I also had to have the teeth removed. I scheduled the appointment for the last day of work and, as I drove there, high on the realization I was leaving the office for the last time, it dawned on me: after finally quitting, the wisdom teeth felt like a joke. Tackle one fear, and other things feel suddenly easier.
3. Once you tackle something successfully, hold onto that little surge of confidence.
A body in motion stays in motion! Dwell on the self-esteem and energy boost that you feel and quickly find something else to apply yourself to. If you can find something either a little scarier or a little more in line with your real goal (e.g., the networking event or the job application), then do it.
Keep at the little things to keep building confidence. I write every day, waiting for other opportunities, just so that I can preserve the momentum I've built with this habit. Do whatever you need to keep this momentum. Don't let it dwindle at any cost. Get into a silly routine if you have to. Persevere and try to build on the boost by applying yourself to more and more challenging tasks.
Because the real step one, before you can be effective at taking any of the other steps toward success, is to build up your confidence. Confidence is everything.
Krista Goral is an IT consultant by day and doubles down as a writer, blogger, philosopher/doer by night. She explores the everyday human experience on her two blogs, Response Crafting and Moments in Notes.