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How I Think About Confidence

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We hear it all the time – “be confident,” “speak up,” “don’t be afraid,” “don’t be shy.” Confidence is complicated. We talk about the fine line between confidence and arrogance. We talk about the confidence to competence ratio. The ability to be confident is important in all aspects of life, career included. Everything from speaking up at meetings, asking questions at a conference, and public speaking, to asking for a promotion, giving and receiving feedback, and most certainly, asking for a raise – these require a little bit of gut, if you will. But how do you gain confidence? How do you build confidence after it has been shattered? How do you get the courage? How do you become brave?

For the last 2 years, I have thought about what living a confident life looks like to me. I came up with 5 key domains that I believe, when they are exactly where I want them to be, lead to living confidently. That is when I feel unstoppable. When I write out my goals every year, I put them under one of the 5 categories and remind myself to not have tunnel vision as to not miss out on unexpected opportunities (for people who ski, if you focus on the trees, you miss the spaces).

Here are my 5 key domains to living confidently:

  1. Health

When we exercise and eat right, we feel good and confident. When we are happy with how we look in the mirror every morning, we feel confident. When we feel our best, we are more confident. We should not chase unrealistic ideals (cue, Instagram models). We just must feel comfortable with how WE look. I know when I am eating right and exercising, I feel my best. Exercise has all the physiologic benefits we all hear and read about, but it is also free therapy. That rush of endorphins when you exercise, knowing you are nourishing your body like you should be, and taking care of your most precious gift, makes you feel confident. Find an activity (or 2) you like and incorporate it into your daily routine. I personally prefer group classes for the socializing and accountability they provide.

  1. Spirituality

I do not mean religion here. I believe religion is something very private. I mean whatever it is that we use to disconnect from the world. Whether it is prayer, meditation, fasting, mindfulness exercises, or other ways people disconnect. When we have something that allows us to connect to the universe outside of us, and reminds us that the world is bigger than the bubbles we each live in, we feel a sense of security. I remember chuckling when my leadership coach told me to try meditating – I was not a believer because I could not fathom sitting still, “doing nothing.” I tried it reluctantly and made it a daily habit and it changed my life. It helped me sleep better and focus more. I meditate every morning and sometimes during the day when I am feeling overwhelmed. Learning how to disconnect and to calm my mind helps me feel confident.

  1. Life’s Purpose

This is a tough one, especially early in your career. I am constantly having early career crises where I think – “what am I doing with my life?’, “is this where I want to be?”, “is this what I want to do?”, “am I helping enough people?”. Trust me, I get it. But when we know what we are here for and what our life’s goals are, we feel more confident. The sense of being lost and not knowing who you are and what legacy you want to leave behind provokes anxiety and lack of confidence. When we are living a life of purpose according to our own rules, we feel confident.

  1. Financial Security

Money is anxiety provoking. When we know we have a steady paycheck, a safety net plan, are investing, and have a plan for retirement – we feel more confident. When we understand things about money making and money growth, we feel good. Whether you are single, partnered, married, with or without kids – having control over your finances brings a sense of security. Having a plan to pay back your medical school loans and the freedom to blow your money on a luxury vacation or a Chanel purse when you want to, gives you confidence. When we have the knowledge we need to control our finances, we feel confident. Having a plan for how you want to handle your money gives you a sense of security.

  1. Human Connections

Human connections are the most important thing in this world, in my opinion. The connections we have with our family, friends, colleagues, patients, neighbors, and people we meet in chance encounters – this is what matters. When we have our “squad,” we feel confident. When we know how to network and how to make the right connections. When we have people we can vent to, people we can be vulnerable with, people that can be brutally honest with us, and people who have our back in life and career, we feel confident. We feel confident when we know we have a circle we can count on for different aspects of our life.

 

This is how I view confidence, and these are the domains I work on to continue living a confident and fulfilled life. Being true to yourself in how you want to live your life is important. For me, when I am exercising and eating right, meditating regularly, making a difference in patients’ lives, handling my finances appropriately, and connecting with my family, friends, and colleagues – I feel the most confident.

What I have also learned is that a big part of being confident includes learning to be okay with failing. If we work on ourselves and the goals we set for ourselves and are living the version of our lives we are most comfortable with, the losses do not sting as much. We realize that they are required for our continued growth. Picking ourselves up after we have fallen helps build our confidence even further.

We must believe that we are just as good, just as smart, and just as worthy of being in the spaces we occupy. In a sense, we need to get out of our own head to crush the anxiety and Imposter Syndrome that creeps in to shatter our confidence. Getting to our most confident selves is a growth process and not something that happens instantaneously. Confidence is something we have to continuously nourish. So go ahead and live your most confident life. Decide which domains you want to work on or create your own! Your future self will love you for it.

Author: Nasrien Ibrahim, MD

Nasrien Ibrahim, MD

Dr. Ibrahim is a cardiologist, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and the Associate Director of the Resynchronization & Advanced Cardiac Therapeutics Program at Massachusetts General Hospital.


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