49 – February 18
“Do not attempt to do a thing unless you are sure of yourself, but do not relinquish it simply because someone else is not sure of you.”—Stewart E. White
When I was in high school, just beginning to be interested in a career in the theater, I tried out for the school musical. The year before, I had been in my first musical in a small dancing role. This time I wanted a speaking part, but to get one, you had to sing a song at the audition. It took place in front of the teacher and all the other students—my entire peer group!—who were trying out for parts. Although I had been singing in the church choir for years, I had never sung a solo in front of anyone before. I decided to sing “Tonight” from West Side Story, which sounded pretty good when I rehearsed it at home in the shower. But in front of all my friends that day, I was so nervous, my poor voice just wavered tremulously and I barely squeaked out the last high note. Finally relieved to be finished, I smiled at the applause as I returned to my chair. Then the teacher said, “That’s all right, Chellie, you just keep dancing until you learn how to sing!” and the entire room erupted in laughter. I was devastated.
I never sang again in high school. I felt the humiliation of that day too intensely to brave its like again. But I kept practicing and improving. When I went to college, I tried again, and won some small parts, but always the fear of ridicule was with me. It all changed when I got into a summer theater program at the University of Oregon at Eugene. I flew there scared but excited. I had determined that I was going for broke with the audition the next day. After all, I reasoned, I wouldn’t ever see any of these people again, so if I made a fool of myself, so what? I had to sing full and strong and joyously, without the crippling fear that strangled the notes in my throat.
It worked! I sang “I Can’t Say No” from Oklahoma, a funny character piece that suited me perfectly. I had fun with it and the audience had fun with me. When I finished, one of the directors ran up on stage, took my hand, handed me a script—and cast me as the lead in their first show, Celebration. I was elated, triumphant, vindicated! I could sing.
Confidence ebbed and flowed over the years as I wrestled with my fear demons whenever I took on new challenges. But I never forgot this one shining moment of triumph and how I achieved it: I sang for myself because I thought it was good and did not dwell on how it would be received. And that is the lesson of confidence: Work and improve until you think you’re good. Your People will think you’re good, too! The others don’t matter.
“I have confidence in me!”
I always enjoy watching American Idol, even though Simon Cowell with his famous cutting critiques left years ago, and the other judges have changed a couple of times. They are all clearly looking not only for great singers, but those with the “It” factor. Even if they are really talented singers, they aren’t going to make it if they don’t have charisma. “You have to have the likeability factor if you’re going to be a star!” they warn them.
I can see the confusion on the kids’ faces. I know they must be thinking “How do I do likeable?”
But you can tell who has “It”, too, can’t you? It’s written on their faces, in their body language, and in their energy. You can feel it.
I’d like to get all those kids in a room for 2 hours and coach them how to do it. The judges just know it when they see it – they don’t know how to teach them to do it. “Go for it!” and “Don’t be nervous” are useless instructions to people who are afraid of the moment instead of enjoying the moment.
Now, you may not be a singer or ever want to be on “American Idol”. But wouldn’t you like to be a star in your field? How would your life change if your personal presence was so magnetic that people were clamoring to work with you?
It’s a technique that can be learned.
Marilyn Monroe knew it. She and her friend, Susan Strasberg, were walking down a New York Street one afternoon and no one was paying them any attention at all. Susan remarked how strange it was that no one noticed the famous movie star Marilyn Monroe was right in their midst. Marilyn turned to her and said, “Oh, you want to see me be her?”
Marilyn straightened up, threw her head back, smiled, and lit up the street with charisma. Suddenly, heads started turning, people pointed and the crowd rushed to surround the star!
Now, I’m not saying you should try to be Marilyn Monroe. Trying to copy someone else is the biggest mistake you can make. But you can turn heads with your own brand of charisma, and attract the people who need, want, and can benefit from what you have to offer. And get paid—really well paid!—for doing what you love!
Not to brag, but in my own circle of influence, I’ve been doing it for years. My AV guy, Rich, was editing one of my audio sessions and told me his associate kept coming into the room saying, “Who is that? She’s great!”
That’s wonderful for me to hear – especially considering how terrible I was at presenting myself when I started out…I was one of the fearful ones who’s acting teacher yelled “Don’t be nervous!” at me. (Not a very helpful instruction). My knees and hands shook when I got up in front of people.
And then, that day on the Oregon summer stock stage, I got it. I had to enjoy performing for myself, or no one else was going to enjoy it. And to really love it full tilt, I had to stop caring what other people thought of me. Seems like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?
Here’s how it works:
- Start with Talent. Find something you have a natural talent for and work to perfect that. Don’t try out for a singing contest if you can’t carry a tune. If you want to play professional basketball you should be tall, coordinated, and nimble with a ball. You were born talented at something, but often it seems so natural to you that you might not recognize it. When I became a bookkeeper and business manager, I thought it was so simple that everyone could do it. It took me a long time to see it was a innate talent that not everyone had.
- Practice Being Confident: You must have confidence in yourself and your ability in order to succeed. A few people are born with confidence or develop it early. For most of us, though, it takes hiring a coach, taking lessons, and lots of practice. Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers estimates it take 10,000 hours or 10 years to become great at anything. So don’t give up before you get there. Gradually, you become proficient at your talent, and appreciate what you can do. With that comes more and more enjoyment as you do it, and then you trust yourself to do it well. It follows naturally that you expect other people will like it, too.
- Share Your Talent with Love: This is “It”. When your love and joy at what you’re doing shows on your face and in your body language. Yet being alone with it isn’t enough. You want to communicate and share your joy with others. The key is to love your audience and invite them in to enjoy your talent with you. The audience wants you to do well. They want to enjoy the ride with you. Trust them and take them with you. Have fun!
This is true whether you’re a singer, a teacher, an author, an insurance salesperson, a doctor, a chiropractor, a hair stylist, or anyone who works with other people. This will help you have a great conversation at a party or give a 30-second commercial at a networking event.
And that’s what brings in the cash, too!