Inspiration and a crisis of confidence

Inspired? Encouraged? Dispirited? At the moment, I’m all of the above.

I was at the BlogOn conference in Winchester last weekend, where Sarah from The Unmumsy Mum’s Guide to Motherhood gave a fantastic, honest talk about her (highly successful) approach to blogging, an approach which defies received wisdom about how to be successful in blogging. By her own admission, her site design is a bit of a mess, she’s not a social media guru and she sometimes goes weeks without writing a post. All no-nos according to many experts.

I love that. It’s a delightful antidote to the myth that there is a proven ‘formula’ that must be followed to turn yourself into a super-blogger. You know, the sort who wears their (brightly primary-coloured) underpants outside their (equally brightly primary-coloured) figure-hugging costume with a distinctive symbol emblazoned on their chest. (Cape optional.)

Sarah isn’t a ‘pro’ blogger in the usual sense of the term. What she is, however, is a fantastic writer who really connects with her audience and has built a vast community of fans. She registers something like 87 gazillion (that’s a word, right?) views per month and, at the time of writing, her Facebook page has close to 300,000 likes – the kind of numbers the rest of us can only dream of.

Having listened and had the chance to talk to her more informally, I left the day feeling inspired, encouraged and, I realised with a bit of a jolt afterwards, rather dispirited, as it has tipped me into a minor crisis of confidence.

This is no reflection on Sarah or her talk. She is as down-to-earth, easy to relate to and genuinely un-show-offy a person as you could ever meet – much like she is on her blog. But when you see someone achieve deserved success so effortlessly, it can bring home how far you are yourself from achieving that same level. And if, like me, you’re not the most confident of people to begin with, it’s easy to get knocked out of your stride.

And that’s where I am as I write this post. I’m not seeking reassurance, but I do keep asking myself what I need to do to up my game as a writer, not being able to come up with any answers and then wondering whether I’ve already reached my limit.

Accepting that there are better/funnier/more creative/more successful writers than me is not the problem. I’ve never been under any illusions about what I am: I’m a decent writer in a sea of good and occasionally outstanding writers. I’m okay with that. I don’t have great stats. I’m okay with that too. I’m a terrible, socially awkward networker. I’m less okay with that, but that’s just how I am.

The real problem is this: is my lack of confidence as a writer a fair reflection of my own limitations, or does it constrain my ability to be the best writer I can possibly be? Is confidence a function of competence? Is it the other way round? Or is it one of those self-fulfilling cycles where each begets the other?

It’s an issue I’ve wrestled with for a long time. In many aspects of my life I’m extremely capable, which instills a certain level of confidence. But that confidence is brittle: when faced with someone better or simply even more self-assured in their ability than me, my self-belief can dissolve faster than gossamer in a vat of acid. There have been many times when I have been the most knowledgeable person in the room and yet felt unable to say anything.

I simply don’t have that unshakeable confidence of, say, a top-level sportsperson, or a corporate CEO, or the average Apprentice candidate. In some respects that can be a positive thing, as I’m rarely overconfident. In others, it’s not so helpful.

The reality is that, being the wrong side of 40, I am what I am. I’m not going to transform myself overnight into Mr Confident with a self-help manual or by simply willing myself to do so. I’m having a bit of a wobble as a blogger, but that will soon pass. I won’t ever set the blogging world alight and be asked to deliver keynotes at blogging conferences but, as long as I’m steadily improving, that’s fine.

What does concern me more is ensuring that our kids don’t follow in their father’s footsteps and are better able to find a suitable point on the spectrum that enables them to be confident without becoming arrogant. That’s a trickier one.

It’s often said that confidence is about believing in yourself. I prefer to think of it more as being comfortable with being yourself. It has taken me too long in life to feel at home in my own skin. I hope I can teach our kids to find and embrace confidence in a positive way that enables them to be everything they can be, whatever that turns out to be.

Am I alone in feeling like this, or does anyone else also wrestle with confidence issues?


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