I have always been a pretty confident person, probably due in large part to all of my experience performing for people on stage as a musician and actor from an early age. But I will never forget the day I called one of my best friends from New York telling him I was going to drop out of my masters degree program.
My confidence was at an all time low. In fact, I had hit the no-confidence rock bottom. I had no idea why I had even come to New York in the first place and I felt exposed as a fraud and someone with no talent whatsoever.
To give you some backstory, I had just finished my bachelor of arts degree in music in a small city in the midwest. I had the incredible privilege of working with two artists and mentors who gave me incredible access to conducting opportunities with both choirs and orchestras. I had also been given a full ride scholarship to the local university to begin a masters degree in choral conducting and my new conducting teacher was full of praise and my head was full of pride.
Earlier that summer, I was invited to participate in an orchestral conducting program in New York. This was the first time I had every truly conducted a full symphonic orchestra and while I was as green as they come, something ignited within me and I knew I had found my passion and my life trajectory.
I returned home pouring myself into conducting and learning as much as I could about the orchestra and orchestral conducting. I soon realized I was a big fish in a small pond (I was really overconfident and needed none of today’s lessons) and knew I needed to get back to New York if the world was ever going to discover my talent and greatness. I sold everything I owned that wouldn’t fit into my Honda Civic and that summer hit the road for New York to try and win my way into the orchestral conducting program at Bard Conservatory of Music.
By what can only be called a supernatural miracle of God, Maestro Harold Farberman invited me to become the sixth and final participant in the orchestral conducting masters program that year following the summer conducting program. I was overjoyed and thinking way to highly of myself, especially for what was about to come.
Have you ever heard the Proverb, “Pride comes before the fall?”
On with the story.
The summer conducting program was finished and the six graduate students found ourselves months into the grueling school year. Day after day we stood before the firing squad of a verbal arsenal of berating and reprimanding detailing our every weakness, fault, and failure. I was sure when these classes began that after a short time I would begin to grow and improve. I was wrong. So very wrong. Four months in I was still a mess, but at least I was standing on common ground with the rest of the students. But I had decided it was enough.
I was a failure. How dare I even call myself a musician, let alone a conductor. The final straw had been broken and I called a dear friend to vent and let him know of my decision. Thankfully, my friend was a good friend and got me to laugh a bit, encouraged me that I had to have some talent to be selected, and reminded me that I’d never have an opportunity like this ever again to work on becoming a much better conductor with this teacher.
I thanked him and hung up the phone. Two weeks later I became so sick I was bedridden for a week with what still no doctor can explain. In that down time I began to think about all that Maestro Farberman had been teaching me and I reflected on the words of my dear friend. Something in that moment clicked. Five months later I was standing before an orchestra conducting my heart out and making one of the great influences in my life, my teacher, very proud.
So here are my three takeaways from my phone call to my friend that kept me in the saddle and gave me confidence to stay the course.
- Smile. I have yet to meet someone who smiles a lot who was lacking in confidence. Think about it. The people who enter the meeting with the frown on their face or the look of trepidation, yeah, not a lot of confidence going on. That’s why we are always upset by the guy who saunters in, smile on his face, whistling a tune, carefree to the stresses all around him. Is that guy stressed or worried? Maybe, but he’s doing the only thing left to do at the start of an important event, put a smile on your face and enjoy the moment. So take time to laugh and smile today. You won’t be sorry you did.
- Remind yourself of your strengths. We live in such a self-help, always learning but rarely applying world that many of us simply forget our strengths as we live so consumed with correcting our weaknesses. We should be learning and maturing but when was the last time you took stock of the strengths that God has given you? Be encouraged. You have been given skills and abilities so quit spending the majority of your time neglecting these things and instead, reflect on your strengths and begin to put them to use. Nothing builds confidence like reminding yourself that you have been created with skills and a purpose.
- Work on a weakness. This might sound contrary to what I just told you but sometimes you’ve smiled and then you’ve reminded yourself of your strengths and you’re still not feeling confident about your road ahead. Sometimes the road ahead will call you to develop one of the areas that’s not quite a strength of yours yet. This is why we should be mindful of our strengths and our weaknesses but live out of our strengths while slowly developing our weaknesses. What are you weak in? Why not ask a close friend and see if they have a quick tip to help you in that area.
Today, I’m going to try to make it a point to smile more often, even when I’m by myself in my office working on projects. Yep, I’ll be that guy who’s smiling and laughing by himself. Don’t judge, just enjoy.
I’m also going to remind myself of my strengths. One of them is I’m a pretty good eater. It’s rare that I can’t finish a plate. So, I know that when it comes time to finish my daily meals of chicken and broccoli (working on my weakness of eating the wrong things too much) I know that I’m going to have no problem finishing those plates.
Finally, today I’m going to work on a weakness I’ve had for quite a while. I really stink at vocally encouraging people. It’s not because I don’t enjoy encouraging people, as I do. It’s just more likely that I haven’t been in a vocally encouraging environment that has driven home the habit (think back to my New York story). My encouragement is usually constructive feedback so today, when I run into people, I’m going to make it a point to find something to vocally encourage them about and begin a new habit.
How about you? What are you going to do today to boost your confidence?