Thursday, April 28, 2011


This is my second running in a program mentoring shy and quiet teenage girls in the realm of self-confidence and standing up for yourself (something, goodness knows, I pretty much sucked at when I was eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen...etc), using rock climbing as a tool to teach about both success, failure, and expressing your boundaries.

Confidence is a crucial skill for a teenage girl, faced with peer pressure and all too often growing up in a culture of sex and violence.  The sponsor of the program is the local rape crisis shelter, and the underlying goal of the program is rape prevention, by grabbing the people considered most vulnerable to future harm and trying to give them a set of skills and experiences that might help them later in life--and for some of these girls, it's not even later that we're worried about.

But it's the little things, too, where voice and confidence to use it is not an optional skill if one wants to succeed.  The girl who shakes her in fear when she is called on to speak, the one who shrugs and says "I don't know" in a quiet little voice when she does know and we call her on it, I wish I could tell her how crucial confidence is to everyday life, how even as someone who is supposed to be an example of confidence, I struggle with it, and so do most of the adult women I know.

Confidence is the difference between the person people contact to get their question answered and the person they pass by who may know the answer too but only quietly seethes that they didn't ask her. Between the salesperson who closes and the one who doesn't.  Yes, between the woman who says "no" and follows through with "I said no!" and the woman who says "no" and then allows her refusal to be washed away in a sea of self-doubt, as well as between the woman who goes after her desires and one who only waits, dissapointed.  For that matter between a woman who says "I can do that" and tries, maybe fails, maybe succeeds, and a woman who says wistfully "I could never do that" yet always wonders. 

Confidence is how job interviews are won, mistakes are learned from, how knowledge becomes application and application becomes experience.  It is how friends are made and kept, and relationships are sustained, it is how opportunities are seized and successful endeavors are realized.  It is how not knowing turns into finding out--by having the assurance to ask the right questions of the right people without assuming that having to ask implies a deficiency beyond simple newness to the information.  It is not confusing newness to information with intellectual deficiency.    It is how successful communication bridges interpretation gaps without being caught up in defensiveness or fear of provocation.

Confidence is how people who can see their own shortcomings can look past those shortcomings and onto what they can do to lesson them, grow, and apply their strengths.  Confidence is how people who know their talents keep themselves grounded in the human aspect of their journey through the world.

On some level, you really can't make it up.  Confidence informs every interaction.  It is easier to have confidence where we have some experience and some success, but confidence is most essential in situations where we have neither yet still hope to grow.

Teenage girls deserve to be taught confidence.  All people do, but I have seen adult women kill their lives with all-consuming self-doubt.  I have seen adult women devalue themselves in a world that fairly often devalues us anyway---and I have been such a woman myself.  But I am not one of those women now.  I know my strengths and I am empowered to better my weaknesses.

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