Does confidence lead us to take more chances? Or does taking chances build our confidence? I’d say both are true.
I crave adventure in my life, but I also know that I don’t always have gobs of confidence when my big dreams seem too far-fetched. But that doesn’t stop me from thinking about what first small step I can take in the direction of my intended adventure.
In my twenties, I was interested in motorcycles, but it wasn’t until I met my husband at age 31 that I finally threw my leg over a dirt bike. Sure, he was the catalyst for me and made entry to this sport easy – he already had a spare bike, gear, and an adventurous spirit. But I needed to muster up the confidence to take the first step in calling myself a biker – separate from that guy. After all, I’m a strong, confident, independent woman.
I’m of the school that, while some may have a more natural predisposition to confidence for a number of reasons (nature versus nurture), we can and should build our own confidence. We do it in small, incremental steps, and the effects are cumulative. Once confidence starts growing, adventures start knocking on your door.
Here’s what I suggest trying when you’re in a situation where you need to boost your own confidence:
Check your ego. Our egos make us unnecessarily hyper-vigilant about what other people might think about us. Ryan Holiday’s book Ego Is the Enemy describes in detail how our egos put a kibosh on our intentions, actions, attitudes, and relationships. When your ego is in check, you have time to focus on your own passion, purpose, and vitality.
Take responsibility of your own confidence, or lack thereof. Use the power of vulnerability and be brave enough to say, “I don’t know how to do that.” And then be willing to try anyway. No one else is responsible for your confidence; don’t play victim to other people’s poor intentions or bad attitudes.
Early in our relationship, my husband was educating me on how to ride a motorcycle. I had already told him that I had never ridden one and that I was afraid of hurting him if he fell off the back while teaching me to ride. But by god, I was willing to try after disclosing my own vulnerabilities, if he was still willing to be my teacher.
That KTM520 just about dumped his teacher-ass in the parking lot that day. Ah, the memories.
Put words to your confidence. We all know those people who proclaim confidence, like, “I’m a strong, confident, independent woman” (ahem, did I say that earlier?), but their actions don’t match their words. Confident in what? Do you even know? For everything you might be confident about, you’ll have just as many things that you’re not confident about. However, when you define those things and put words to them, you’re then forced to think about the small incremental steps you need to take in any one particular situation.
I’ve experimented with salespeople in bike shops over the years. When my husband and I are both there, I will separate myself from him – even go so far as to walk in separately – and observe the salespeople consistently dote over him and not give me the attention I deserve. My initial knee-jerk reaction is to say, “Jeez, what a bunch of sexist jerks! Typical.” Instead, I decided to take personal control of the situation rather than being a victim of it by identifying and putting words to the things in this situation that make me feel both unconfident and confident.
Because my bike knowledge is limited, I’m not confident in my ability to easily banter about farkles, pipes, or OEM anything, but I am confident in my ability to be assertive in communicating my needs and expressing my doubts and fears in a respectful manner. Putting those words into action now means I walk directly to a salesperson, respectfully state what I need, and what my intentions are for the visit. It might sound something like, “Hi, Hank. I’m Sarah. I’m new to the ADV world, and I know I’m looking for a DR650. What I need to do today is sit on some bikes and make sure the bike is a good fit. What do you have to show me?” ‘Tis much better than not getting what I want or need and spending more time complaining about jerks.
Create intentions instead of expectations. Intentions maintain a notion of continuous growth; expectations create an environment to experience failure if an expectation is not met. Thus, intend to do small, incremental things that you literally cannot fail.
At first, I lacked the confidence to ride without my husband. Well, that just didn’t sit well with me and was not going to last long, so I told myself, “Screw it,” and headed for the hills… the hills right behind our house about five miles away. But after that, I headed further and further each time. If I had instead expected myself to be training for a round-the-world adventure, I would have been setting myself up for failure because those small steps wouldn’t mean nearly as much in the grand scheme of such a massively sized goal.
Keep perspective. Calculated risks – not to be mistaken for reckless disregard – take you out of your comfort zone.
For our honeymoon, we decided to ride across Colorado’s gorgeous landscape for a week on our dirt bikes. It was only my second season riding, but I knew I had pretty decent skills, an excellent riding partner and resource, and a healthy willingness to gently nudge myself out of my comfort zone. While reviewing routes with my husband, I remember hearing him say words like “challenging,” “harder than you’re used to,” “are you sure you wanna do it,” and “really cool sheep.” Likely in a preoccupied stupor of wooing my handsome groom rather than paying real attention, I asked myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” While it’s true that my many years in emergency nursing have perhaps skewed this perspective, I nonetheless found myself summiting Engineer Pass in Colorado’s scenic San Juans. After a few bike drops and some shared expletives with the native sheep, I eventually found myself sitting atop Engineer sweaty, frustrated, sore, fatigued – and accomplished, beaming, satiated, and hungry for more all at the same time. Embrace your discomfort.
Stay humble. Authentic confidence is personal power, which involves the power to influence others through the ripple effect. Confident people empower, encourage, support, and consider others. Personally, I am disenchanted by those insecure folks who confuse their own preoccupations with personal gain, money and title with genuine confidence.
Define your own adventure. In Amy Cuddy’s book,Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges she discusses how she used to question whether she was a runner. Although she ran often, she wasn’t training for any competitions or winning medals… What makes anyone a runner?
What makes anyone an adventurer? Define that for yourself, and stick to it! If your adventure for the day is riding to the quilt shop instead of driving, romping through single track with your friends, or training for a hare scramble, no one else gets to tell you how to be an adventurer, how often you should do it, or how you should enjoy it. Just like no one gets to tell me how to be a ‘good’ feminist, a ‘decent’ mother, or a ‘real’ ADV’er. This life is YOUR adventure to do how YOU want.
And finally, stop saying “I’m sorry.” I don’t mean when you’ve actually done something wrong and need to issue a real apology. I’m talking about saying “I’m sorry” as a preface for stating your opinions, trying to be assertive, expressing your emotions, telling someone your needs and desires, or anything else that absolutely does not require an apology. Anytime you say “I’m sorry” in this manner, you are quite literally declaring yourself a sorry human being who doesn’t believe you warrant the same attention as someone who’s not as sorry as you. Don’t apologize for human needs, desires, emotions, or your opinions. Next time you catch yourself declaring “I am sorry,” stop in your tracks, eliminate that phrase, and begin with the real meat of your thoughts. Be unapologetically you.
Go forth, be kind, make conscious decisions, create intentions, and adventure on!
This article is part of the #adventureisattitude campaign: a multimedia project aimed at helping women boost their self-confidence through adventure, travel, and motorcycling.