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3 Ways to Keep Your Confidence Alive All the Days of Your Life

Recently, while having lunch with a long-time friend, she confided in me that age had drained her confidence to create, change, and inspire. She felt that she had ‘expired’. Anything she’d had the capacity to do was already done. The days of having an impact in the world were behind her. What’s more, she said that time–and age–had left me in similar condition and wanted me to know it was over for me too. I sat there unable to digest her words or for that matter any of my lunch.

You may have heard something similar along the way from someone with whom you’ve once shared your dreams, hearing their reasons why it couldn’t work; saying that someone else had a similar idea, why it would take too long, how barriers would stand in the way, or some other reason why you should stop. I am used to hearing this, just not from someone I’ve shared hopes and dreams with and have known for decades. Her message came after we exchanged the usual topics of how our families are doing, then what each was doing, to what we two were up to. I shared the joy and excitement of getting GravityGames going for STEM students to work on a project for astronauts on the International Space Station, as a speaker on learning to fly at mid-life only to find it’s not just about flying an airplane, and working on a new and maybe really effective way for astronauts to buffer the isolation they feel on long-duration space flights. There was a pause, then she waved it away. It was too bad, she said tiredly, that it was happening so late.

So late? Confused, I thought she meant too late for the projects to be useful. No, she meant too late in life. My life. I hadn’t realized that midlife was supposed to be the stopping point to living.

“But, I’m just getting started,” I quietly replied. Her comment was a stopper, alright. I couldn’t hear the rest of her conversation about what her husband was doing, thinking about how whether or not she thought he was too old to run a new company? Was it about me? Her view on what it means to be female? Or her personal philosophy about life and its limits on doing and not doing?

Our conversation reminded me of several questions that I had previously already answered for myself. When is it time to stop? How young is too young or how old is too old? How do I see my life as I age? Does confidence in the prospect of what is possible drain away with time because it should, because it does, or because we let it?

What is living if we stop engaging in life and doing what’s meaningful? Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May were in their fifties when each was appointed Prime Minister of England. Rosa Parks stood up to injustice when she was in her forties. Marie Curie won her Nobel Prize in her thirties. I’m glad they hadn’t stopped because they thought time had run out or thought it was unseemly for their gender, leaving their life’s work up for someone else to accomplish.

Being fully alive requires confidence to do what may at times seem improbable. Confidence in what can be accomplished is not for some particular age in life – it is available to anyone, regardless of age.

Here are three things you can do to build and strengthen a lifetime of confidence:

1) Figure out what makes you afraid and learn how to manage it. Getting rid of fear is not the goal, it’s not letting fear rule your life and stop you from what you have the ability to achieve. Backing down from doing new things is usually based on fear of failure, embarrassment, discomfort, not fitting in, giving up something else, or believing that it’s too late to be effective. Don’t want to fly because it’s too scary? Find out why an airplane stays aloft and your confidence will rise higher. Can you fly it yourself? I know it’s learnable and exhilarating–even at midlife–because I was able to do just that.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” — Marie Curie

2) Find something to do that is greater than yourself and surround yourself with other people who also believe in doing bold new things. They are the ones who encourage you and celebrate with you even if they do other things. Most of the time my friends think I’m the one in space myself doing the work. As much as I would love to be there, I tell them I’m not there but helping others get there with their projects or to get there and be supported. Be part of humanity that is creating to make more possible for others.

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” — Anne Frank

3) Persist persist persist. Feel the fear, the bumps, and follow through. Remember that what you do may become part of other things, things even bigger than you can imagine. Make mistakes, then keep going.

“Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.” — Amelia Earhart

Here’s a way for you to measure the strength of your self-confidence, or more specifically, your belief in your ability to do things whatever your age. I’m not a sponsor or endorser of this site called Mindtools, but share it with you because I found it useful for me:

“How Self-Confident Are You? Improving Self-Confidence by Building Self-Efficacy”

Finally, one of my recent developments and my gratitude to those who encouraged a bold endeavor to study isolation in space and to pursue a study at USC to work on my dissertation:

“A Countermeasure to Minimize Feelings of Separation Between Astronauts and Their Families and Friends During Long-During Space Expeditions: An Innovation Study”.

It is not easy to go back to school and be a student again. But the study and developing an innovative solution to the problem has been so meaningful to me. For all those friends and family who encouraged, put up with, and celebrated the victories with me, I give my heartfelt thanks. You helped keep my confidence aloft.

Yoda, the wise, short, green mentor of Star Wars heroes, said:
“Do or do not, there is no try.”
I thought I could — and then I did. And I’m just getting started.

University of Southern California 2019
Ed.D. Organizational Change and Leadership
Applied Research for Practical Applications of Technologies to Solve Problems