I’ve had a lot of conversations with a lot of people recently about confidence, pushing yourself, and also about taking care of yourself and not burning out. I wrote a post about taking care of your health a few weeks ago, which I think is hugely important, and a forerunner to anything about pushing yourself. Pushing yourself is great, but doing it without taking care of yourself can be very unhealthy, and I urge you not to do that.
That said, it is important to push at the limits of your comfort zone and take risks, especially at the start of a career, as long as you do it with an attitude which is of taking opportunities when they arise, and making the most of them, without taking every failed attempt or rejected application personally. In my post on how to get a producing internship, I suggested emailing companies which don’t necessarily want interns like you (e.g. they usually only take interns for whom a placement is a course requirement, or they don’t currently take interns, only school aged work experience placements…). Obviously, the odds are that they won’t want to take you, but as long as you’re polite, recognise that you may be ineligible for their position, and apologise for wasting their time if so, you have very little to lose, and potentially a lot to gain from emailing anyway. I was offered advice from one such theatre, reassurance from another that I was doing the right things… I invested the time into looking up their companies and theatres, which is useful information to know anyway, because the more you know about the industry and who’s who and what they’re doing at the moment, the better off you’ll be, put some effort into composing an email that showed me in my best light and put myself out there.
In some ways, yes, that takes confidence, but I think it’s even more about attitude. It’s about knowing that rejection is rarely personal (a good way to do this, because rejection stings even when you were expecting it, is having a strong support system of friends and family around you, who have confidence in you, and remembering everything that you have achieved when something doesn’t work out), and it’s about hoping for the best and keeping at it. Recently, I applied for a placement, which I figured I was probably quite under-qualified for, and would never get. But I might have been long-listed, which would have meant being invited to a workshop, which, obviously would have meant meeting more people in the industry and learning from them. So I applied, and I wasn’t long-listed; I just got the ‘Thank you for applying, but this time around we will not be taking your application any further’ email. Which stung a little, but in the end, I lost nothing, gained the practice of writing an application and, because the company offering the placement were generous, a discount code to get tickets from them. And I’ll apply again next year, if the placement exists again, and the following year, if it doesn’t work out next year…
(One quick caveat here: there is a difference between applying for things/contacting people for things which you are under-qualified for, but think you could do and applying for things you’re unqualified for and know you couldn’t manage. The first is an important thing to be able to do to grow your career, the second is wasting people’s time, which will not get you in anyone’s good books.)
Most importantly, what I’m trying to say is that failure will happen. Sometimes you’ll have been expecting it, sometimes it will come as a shock. But confidence isn’t about never failing, or appearing to everyone around you never to fail and just walking from opportunity to opportunity. It’s about pushing yourself to apply just a step beyond what you’re comfortable doing. It’s about going to talk to that person who might be able to help you, even if that’s difficult (and I find it very difficult! For advice on how to do it, see how to network as an introvert). And it’s about accepting the setbacks, and the opportunities you aren’t offered with grace, knowing that they don’t mean you aren’t capable, or even that everyone else is more capable (or more qualified) than you. They just mean that this wasn’t your time, and maybe next time will be, assuming you have the confidence to trust your own abilities and apply again.
Thanks as always for reading, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. How do you define confidence? What do you do to stay confident? And how do you deal with setbacks?