You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. Eleanor Roosevelt
In 1999, the Gallup Poll listed Eleanor Roosevelt as one of the 20 most admired people of the 20th Century. President Truman called her “First Lady of the World” for her achievements in areas such as human rights and women’s issues (National Park Service). Unlike more recent First Lady’s, Eleanor Roosevelt held press conferences and regularly wrote articles for magazines and newspapers. She shaped public opinion and actively worked to support the causes she embraced.
Her early life would certainly not suggest the strength and achievement she demonstrated over her lifetime. Her mother died from diphtheria when Eleanor was eight years old. Her father, who died less than two years after his wife, was an alcoholic and confined to a sanitarium. Her brother also died of diphtheria (Goodwin, 1994). One biographer described her as “insecure and starved for affection (Lash, 1971).”
Eleanor considered herself “ugly,” and by conventional standards, she was not physically attractive. Her mother-in-law was opposed to Eleanor’s marriage to Franklin, and the elder Mrs. Roosevelt continued to play a dominant role in their lives for her lifetime. Eleanor learned of her husband’s extramarital affair with her social secretary in 1918 (McGrath, 2008), but she continued to be his wife and political partner.
In spite of personal tragedy and sometimes-venomous criticism, Eleanor Roosevelt showed the necessary confidence to overcome adversity and make extraordinary contributions in a very difficult time in our nation's history. Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as saying, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent (Quote Investigator, 2011).”
Occasionally, when working with clients who have experienced personal or professional setbacks, we discuss how they can gain or regain confidence they believe is lacking. This search for confidence can be a tremendous challenge, but the story of Eleanor Roosevelt shows that it is possible to overcome enormous odds and insecurities to achieve remarkable results.
Below are some strategies I have discussed with clients to help them boost their confidence and overcome adversity:
- Start with a clear mission - Being fully aware of goals and enlisting wildest dreams of what could be possible removes uncertainty and indecision. A clear mission that embraces passion provides a sense of contribution.
- Focus on other people - As Eleanor Roosevelt demonstrated, the focus on others provides the impetus to succeed.
- Play worst-case scenario – When one considers the worst possible outcome(s) and how to deal with them, risky or frightening action comes into perspective.
- Find a peer or coach – Working with someone else to share ideas and concerns often lends the support necessary to take steps to overcome fear or resistance.
- Just do it – To use the Nike slogan, sometimes, simply acting without over-thinking a decision or course of action can minimize a lack of confidence.
- Look at previous accomplishments – Focusing on previous success, particularly when one has triumphed over adversity, gives the confidence to succeed again.
- Minimize self-defeating language- Words have power. Using words and a forceful voice that express success rather than possible failure leads to greater achievement.
- Take on the body of confidence – The mind, body, emotion and language are inextricably connected. Changing the body to fit the desired outcome can change the emotions and mental attitude.
- Analyze strengths- What are your strengths? What have you already overcome? Some say, “Your wounds are your assets.” What are your wounds? How are they assets?
- Choose role models – Consider other people who show tremendous confidence or conviction. What would they do in a similar situation?
The list is by no means complete, but following some of these suggestions helps to reduce fear or intimidation that prevents productive action.
What are other strategies to overcome lack of confidence?
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- Goodwin, D. K. (1994). No Ordinary time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: the Home Front in World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster.
- Lash, J. P. (1971). Eleanor and Franklin: The Story of Their Relationship, based on Eleanor Roosevelt's Private Papers. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
- McGrath, C. (2008, April 20). No End of the Affair. Retrieved from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/weekinreview/20mcgrath.html?pagewanted=all
- National Park Service. (n.d.). First Lady of the World: Eleanor Roosevelt at Val-Kill. Retrieved from National Park Service: http://www.nps.gov/history/NR/twhp/wwwlps/lessons/26roosevelt/26roosevelt.htm
- Quote Investigator. (2011, March 30). Retrieved from No One Can Make You Feel Inferior Without Your Consent: http://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/03/30/not-inferior/