A friend and I were recently chatting about her two, now grown daughters.  Both had grown up with a plethora of genetic gifts and enjoyed a stable, nurturing home environment.  Both were smart, capable, and easy to get along with.

All their lives, people had told them they were destined for great things.  But it was obvious one of the girls was having a much easier time shaping that destiny than the other.

It all came down to confidence.

The thing is, from the outside, both girls were both doing well.  They had great jobs and their supervisors were impressed with their work.  They had active, interesting social lives.

Only their mother knew the truth.  And the difference was striking.  

One girl seemed to relish challenge–she actually performed better when things didn’t go as planned.   She blew people away with her creative solutions to problems.

The other girl was often frustrated.  She saw what her sister was doing, but couldn’t replicate it.  She confided to her mother, “I can’t do that because…” There was always a reason.

She knew what she wanted, but everyday she was a little more uncertain she’d ever realize the potential she’d been promised as she grew up.  And she wasn’t happy about it.

I told my friend her daughter (her eldest as it turned out) was not necessarily doomed to disappointment.  It was possible to develop and nurture self confidence at any age.

And I had just the example to prove it.

Confidence is a habit, not a gift

When you sign up for the newsletter at Everyday Bright, you get access to GI Jen’s Everyday Courage Challenge, a series of emails that helps you boost your confidence and success.

Back in January, fellow luminary Denise Rago decided she wanted to grow and change, but found it difficult to do on her own.

The challenge series can be deceiving.  Individually, the challenges don’t look very hard.  But in combination, the results can be disproportionate to the effort.

The key is practice.  As the subtitle states, confidence is a habit, and you build it like any other: through repetition.  Most people quit before their confidence habit can really take hold.

I personally found Denise’s story of transformation inspiring, especially because you never see the big win coming.  Each moment by itself is innocuous, but behind the scenes, her confidence is growing until she can really capitalize on it.

More than halfway through the series, Denise says, “I really like the new me.”

If you are struggling to live up to your potential, if you know you could do more with your life if you only had the courage to act, read on.

Challenge #1: Talk to a stranger

Denise had been going to her local YMCA for years, and while she would offer a polite greeting to other members, she never spoke to them beyond that.  Shortly after receiving the first challenge, however, she recognized someone from the gym at the Barnes & Noble.  She waved, introductions were exchanged, and her new friend, undoubtedly feeling as awkward as she did, asked, “Are you here to buy some books?”

As it turns out, Denise is a self-published author and was there to try to sell books, not buy them.  This led to an animated discussion on self-publishing, and Denise boldly handed him her card.  He bought two books, and Denise was proud of herself for doing a small act of self-promotion.

Challenge #2: Ask for help

Fiction writers, even successful ones, often need to augment their income.  Denise was looking for a job.  She told everyone she knew that she was looking for job working with special needs children.  At the time of this post, she was pursuing an exciting opportunity that had come through a friend of a friend.

Challenge #3: Offer to help

At a Starbucks, Denise noticed a woman with a cast on her arm trying to juggle her wallet and her coffee.  Denise offered to assist with milk and sugar, but the woman said she didn’t need help.

Challenge #4: Be vulnerable

Initially Denise tried to tackle this challenge by asking questions about a subject she didn’t know that much about: social media.  However, in reading her response, I felt she wasn’t pushing herself hard enough.  I suggested she find another way to be vulnerable that required her to stretch a little more.

She soon found herself in an uncomfortable situation.  During a get together, a friend of a close friend revealed she was struggling.  Her son was physically disabled and her adopted daughter had battled with drug addiction, eventually dying of an overdose.  The woman was distraught.

In the past, Denise might have simply said, “I’m sorry.”  But with the challenge in mind, she revealed she too had felt the impact of a loved one’s drug addiction and the powerlessness to fix another person, though she could not relate to losing a child.

And just like that, the woman’s entire demeanor changed.  Denise realized that by sharing her own vulnerability, she provided a safe place for others to be vulnerable as well.

Challenge #5: Do something unexpected

This is where it all starts to come together.

Remember the man from the YMCA Denise introduced herself to at the Barnes and Noble?  Denise ran into him again, this time at the Y as he was on the treadmill.  While initally inclined to wave and move on to avoid interrupting him, she noticed he slowed down to chat.

They started talking, he mentioned how much he loved her book, and asked if he could purchase some signed copies.  Feeling some momentum from the other challenges, she went to the front desk, wrote down her information, and asked him to contact her.

Even though they were just talking books, the nervousness of putting herself out there reminded her of high school again.

Then, she got an email from a big name agent in New York.

It was in response to a query Denise had sent over a year ago, apologizing for the late reply but a rejection nonetheless.   The old Denise would have shrugged it off and moved on.  The new Denise wrote the agent back:

Despite the delay I appreciate the courtesy of your response. […]  My novel is also available as an e-book and despite the saturation in the vampire genre, my book is selling and the reviews have been wonderful. My second novel in this series comes out this fall. If you have a moment, please visit my website and FB author page. www.denisekrago.com www.facebook.com/dkrago

To her surprise, the big agent from New York went to her website … and loved it.  She wrote back that it was beautiful and Denise should contact her when she finished her next book.

Who knows where it all will lead.  But there’s an agent who wants to read her work and there’s no doubt the new Denise will continue creating amazing opportunities.

Are you the next Denise?

I believe in the power of serendipity, but only in the sense that Thomas Jefferson put it: I find the harder I work, the more luck I have.

From the outside, people might look at Denise’s story and see it as luck.  I hope this post demonstrates how working hard to build confidence is what allowed Denise to capitalize on that luck.  This is a crucial point that most people never grasp.

No matter what your age, job, financial situation, or social class, you can begin to catalyze your own success by building your confidence one step at a time.  As explained in the movie Three Kings (with a hat tip to The Positivity Blog):

Archie Gates: You’re scared, right?
Conrad Vig: Maybe.
Archie Gates: The way it works is, you do the thing you’re scared shitless of, and you get the courage AFTER you do it, not before you do it.
Conrad Vig: That’s a dumbass way to work. It should be the other way around.
Archie Gates: I know. That’s the way it works.

You don’t just find your courage, you make it.  You build courage and confidence one scary act at a time.

Need help getting started?  Sign up for the Everyday Courage Challenge and be the next Denise.

I promise, you’ll love the new you too.