“You can join the conversation if you’d like,” the French woman told me as we walked the streets of Toulouse, France. I’d been silent for awhile, smiling and nodding and hoping for my dear life that no one would ask me a question in French. I felt defeated and discouraged. I hated speaking in French because it seemed that every time I would embarrass myself or misunderstand. I would’ve rather not spoken at all than to put myself out there.
I’d never had this feeling before. With an attorney for a dad, I was taught to speak up and loudly to achieve what I’d set out to accomplish. With an English teacher for a mom, I was taught to put my thoughts into words—and not just “thing,” “stuff” or “that.”
I’ve never been described as quiet. I scored the lead role in my sixth grade musical. I won my school’s spelling bee in seventh grade in front of an audience numbering over 100. (As you can see, I peaked in middle school…) Let’s just say that I loved the spotlight even from a young age. I’m a girl with a lot to say, and I will say it—and I can spell it!
Fast forward to this warm evening in the south of France where I proceed to tell this French woman that I never want to speak French again. I felt so ashamed of my accent and mistakes. The anxiety I got when I ordered coffee was unlike anything I’d felt, and the shame from getting anxious over a dang cup of joe crept in closely behind.
The bottom line is confidence is relative. Even if you haven’t had a cross-cultural experience, this idea is relatable. You may start your day confident whether that comes from being productive or spending time with gal pals. But the moment you see your crush? The confidence plummets as you begin to sweat and forget how to say those things called words. The moment you stumble over your words in a speech? Blood rushes to your face as you wish with all your heart that you were somewhere else.
Holding your head high is hard. We may never be a public speaker or CEO, but confidence can be learned by understanding our value isn’t determined by others’ opinions. Here are several ways to choose confidence:
We choose to be confident even in our weakness.
I have an American accent, and I’m not ashamed. I was at first, but I learned to embrace it for several reasons. On a practical note, it’s impossible to learn French without practicing—duh! And while I’m aiming to sound like a native, I’m still learning. Our weakness also humbles us and makes us more relatable. As I stood in line at Starbucks, I ordered in French as always and even asked several vocabulary questions. A woman behind me in line heard my accent, struck up a conversation and invited me to sit with her for awhile. Weakness isn’t necessarily bad; it’s human. And it’s a great conversation starter.
We choose to accept the process.
The process isn’t always fun; truth be told, it’s usually isn’t. But in the process, we learn humility. And the rough path makes us appreciate the end result; it makes us more empathetic and understanding. A hard journey doesn’t discount its purpose; it often defines and refines.
By the end of the summer, I’d mastered a proficiency in French and enjoyed speaking this gorgeous language. Back in America, I realize how much I miss it and try to use it anywhere I can. I recently met a Lebanese friend with whom I speak and text in French most of the time. I continue to communicate in French with the friends I made in France.
Confidence doesn’t depend on your circumstances, and that should be a comfort. Take a deep breath. Smell the roses. And most importantly, chin up.
Challenge: Do something on your own this week.