"I can't do this!"
These are the words I said to my husband as we both sat at our dining room table, with my revised book materials in front of me. I was half in tears, half in anger, half in despair. (Yes, the math is wrong but the emotional math is accurate to how I felt.)
Actually, I said a lot more than those words. I said that I feel like a fraud, that I have no idea why anyone would want to read what I have to write, that I have no business writing a book like this, that I don't have enough experience with teenagers, that I should just quit it all and go get some quiet job somewhere where no one can notice me.
Together with my agent, we had made some radical decisions to shift some of the core parts of the book -- to talk to families and teenagers as the main audience. And now I was sitting here, reading some of the revisions, and firmly believing that I couldn't do it. I couldn't do a good job with this book, which is so much more than a book, but a piece of me and my life purpose that I'm trying to put in a format of a book.
Have you ever felt this way, like you were standing in this complete void of confidence, fully believing that you can't do what you need to do, your mind filled with brilliant explanations for why you can't and shouldn't?
This is a crisis of confidence.
It's really scary, to be honest. To be facing something you want / need to do and feel that you can't / shouldn't do it. To hear one voice in your head tell you to keep at it and the other, much louder and obnoxious one, yell that you can't.
I was in tears when I sat in front of my computer, trying to distract myself from my book work with other work. When I opened my email, the first one at the top of my inbox was from someone I didn't recognize. I read it.
And then I really started crying, but with completely different tears.
The email was from a 12 year-old girl. She told me she felt stressed and overwhelmed with school, and that her parents were pushing her to do well in her studies. She said she was in this cycle of getting so stressed that she can't do anything well, and yet felt the constant pressure to do better. She asked for any advice I might have for her to feel happy again.
I was still crying but then I smiled. This huge big smile, from my heart. Because what this email said to me was: "GET BACK TO THE BOOK. DO YOUR WORK. KEEP GOING. SOMEONE NEEDS IT."
And this is how you survive a crisis of confidence: You remind yourself WHY you are doing what you are doing.
Because when you focus on the big, real WHY, you remember that what you are doing:
- Could help someone
- Is true to what is important to you
- May be important to get you to the next place you need to be
- Is meaningful to you and maybe others.
Amy Cuddy, whose TED talk on the power of body language (power pose!) has been seen more than 30 million times, writes in her book, Presence, that people who write down values that are important to them before they enter a stressful, high-pressure situation, perform significantly better. They feel more confident, more present, more connected to their real selves.
Research has even shown that this simple self-affirmation exercise helps to reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
Our answers to the question "Why?" when we're in a crisis of confidence touch on our core values, on why this is something important to us. And from that awareness, we gain strength to keep going, even if our confidence lags behind.
The email from that 12 year-old girl reminded me about my WHY for my book and my work. I am so grateful to her for writing it and so hopeful that what I wrote back can help. After I read it I felt this literal jolt inside. By the end of the day I had about a bajillion new ideas to make the book better, launched a survey for teens which has since blown my mind and heart open -- and re-affirmed the need for what I share in the book, and was feverishly writing new material.
The way out of a crisis of confidence isn't to try and feel more confident, but to find your WHY and grab on to it like a lifeline. Because that's exactly what it is, your lifeline of emotional, mental, and physical fuel to keep going. A lifeline to help you get through crises of confidence, stressful situations, failures, disappointments, and whatever other obstacles are in your way.
Find your WHY.
The way out of a crisis of confidence is to find your WHY and grab on to it as if it were a lifeline. Because that's exactly what it is.