The Curious Case of Confidence – Who’s the Dumbo Now?

In my time as a senior executive, the three words that scared me the most were Gravitas, Confidence and Authenticity. They were scary because others had them in spades, but these words didn’t reflect who I was.

Any success I’d achieved was through a mixture of luck and fluke. I hung on to every role by my fingernails, waiting to be seen for the fraud I was. The funny thing one that I was the only one who could see it – certainly to begin with. 

“You’re so accomplished,” someone once said. “Inspirational” said another. “You’ve got so much experience”, “you’re so talented”. Who were these people? Clearly, they didn’t know the real me! Sure, I managed to blag it through the interview, but just you wait. I’ll show you just how useless I really am and then you’ll see that I was right all along! And I did.

All day, every day, I had an inner voice that ridiculed me and reminded me just what a fraud I was. He was my circus Ringmaster from the movie Dumbo. The Ringmaster started off pleasant enough and then turned bad, locking Mrs Dumbo away. Perhaps my personal Ringmaster had taken my confidence and thrown away the key?

I needed help from an expert and so I called in Detective Inspector Walter Ego. A seasoned veteran of the “been there, done that” brigade. Inspector Ego had all the skills I needed: the ability to plan and investigate effectively; analyse and evaluate clues from a range of sources; and excellent communication skills that effectively presents the evidence clearly and concisely. At our first meeting, Ego told me that most lost things are found reasonably quickly and that it wouldn’t take long to crack this case.

First thing he discovered: there was no conspiracy. It was clear that there was no-one involved other than the alleged “victim”, he observed. There was no ransom note. He challenged me to find the evidence to back up my assertion that I was not at least as good as people perceived me to be. There was none. No evidence, just assumption. Just an inner monologue. The voice of negative self-talk. The evil Ringmaster that I chose to allow inside my head and to whisper evil words of self-doubt. How can I beat him, I asked? “No-one will change you for you” Walter said before adding mysteriously “doubt killed more dreams than failure ever will.”

I chased after him – begging for answers.

Ego looked at me and said: “Confidence is the outcome of the thoughts we think and the actions we take.” I stared back, puzzled. “The brain can’t differentiate between a real memory and an imagined one. When you tell yourself that you’re not worthy, the brain believes you and finds the evidence accordingly. If there’s none to see, it creates its own evidence. Perception really is reality.” He concluded. As he walked away, I realised that Walter was right. I was both the victim and the villain.

I called to Ego who looked at me wearily. “Confidence can be re-discovered. It’s a skill. But a skill that needs to be practised! You don’t enrol at a linguistics college, skill lessons and then expect to be fluent in that language”, he said. “You need to re-discover how good you are, for yourself. That will take courage and it will take practice.”

I realised that I needed to replace my Ringmaster with someone positive like Timothy Q Mouse. Someone to give me an optimistic inner voice. Someone to coach me to do my best. Someone to remind me that: “The very things that held ya down, are gonna carry you up, up and up.”

Ego coughed and brought me back to reality. “Practice, practice, practice,” he said. “Dare to see yourself as others see you. Dare to be something amazing! Dare to fail and dare to get up again. Dare to learn and dare to keep on learning.”

I recalled Casey Junior, the train in the movie. Full of optimism at the start of the journey, Casey Junior soon faces the challenge of how to get to the top of the mountain but he has determination and self-belief.

“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” he keeps repeating. Even as things get harder and harder, her carries on. Eventually Casey gets to the top. He realises that he’s made it. “I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could” he yells, before letting out a whoop of joy and continuing on his way. Optimism, self-belief, determination and sheer doggedness to ensure the effort pays off. That would be my strategy moving forward.

“I am the sum of all the things that make me who I am” I said aloud. “I’ll catch myself when I fall, but make sure I catch myself when I’m good too. I’ll replace my negative self-talk with a sense of the possible. I’ll continue to practice that self-belief. I’ll re-discover my gravitas, my confidence and my authenticity. And I’ll allow myself to be human. I might even learn to fly- in my own way.”

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