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Confidence comes from a series of small victories

Tony Alessandra 12-17

While growing up in New York City in an Italian family, I rarely left the three-square-block area that was my neighborhood. My father was a cab driver, my mother was a classic ('raise 'em on respect') Italian housewife, and I was a cocky, tough kid. You had to be tough to survive in the projects on the lower West Side of Manhattan. I remember my initiation into the neighborhood at age five or six. A bigger boy had beaten me up on the way home from school. I ran up to our apartment, crying to my Dad and expecting sympathy. Instead, his response was to remove his belt, brandish it in front of me, and tell me sternly, "Anthony, you've got to learn not to run away from bullies. So, here are your choices. Go back outside and face this boy who just beat you up, or face my belt." I went back outside (my Dad followed me), found the boy, and fought him again (this time I won). I never lost another one-on-one fight (and believe me, I went on to fight in many more...!).

You may think my Dad's behavior was over the top, but he wisely understood a universal rule for developing self-esteem and confidence: Confidence in yourself gets built up gradually, one success at a time. You can fake confidence, and you may need to at first, but real self-confidence comes from a history of small victories and accomplishments that add up to a sense that you can handle yourself well in most every situation. In his many books on self-esteem, Dr. Nathaniel Branden agrees as much. For him, self-confidence is knowing that you have the wherewithal to function reasonably well in the world. In other words, you can't be confident if you're fearful or easily intimidated.

The day I beat up that bigger kid was the small victory I needed to prove to myself that I could accomplish nearly anything. Who knows if I would have been half as fearless, half as driven in life if I chose to face my father's belt instead?

Here's an exercise: I suggest you take an inventory of the major accomplishments you've achieved over the past few years. Then remind yourself of the minor ones too. What about the computer course you completed? Have you built anything that's still standing? What about those kids you're raising? That's an accomplishment! Don't be modest. Tell the truth about how hard you worked, what sacrifices you've made. If you can't think of any, then begin by congratulating yourself for living as long as you have. Sheer survival is an accomplishment these days! What's unique about you? What skills do you bring to an organization or project that you can count on?

Seriously, it pays to take the time to know your strengths and appreciate them. That's the only path to developing self-confidence.



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