September 19, 2011

Don't let the confidence-suckers get you down

At the Emmys last night, there was a similar thread running through several of the winners' speeches.

Jim Parsons, upon winning his award for "Big Bang Theory," said, "I was assured by many people in my life that this wasn't happening."

Julian Fellowes, recipient of the award for Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or Dramatic Special, for his series "Downton Abbey," opened his speech:

"When we were in the hotel a bit earlier, my wife said to me, 'I think we should relax and enjoy the evening because I don't think we're going to win.'"

There was at least one other speech that started this way, but I don't remember whose it was. If you know, please remind me.

There are a lot of people in the entertainment industry who are superstitious and won't write speeches when nominated, for fear of "jinxing" their chances. If you watched the Emmys, you saw several of those last night, who then fumbled through their words, forgetting who to acknowledge and generally giving messy speeches.

But there's also another kind of "jinxing." It's when your colleagues, family or friends don't give you the credit you deserve. Every performer, director, writer, musician or other contributor to a TV show who was nominated last night deserved it. Is there any doubt? Out of all the episodes of all the shows and movies on TV, only five or so get chosen as the top nominees in each category. So why would Julian Fellowes' wife and the people surrounding Jim Parsons try to convince them otherwise? I'm sure the thought process goes something like this: "We're up against a lot of good contenders, veteran Emmy winners (and so forth), so why get our hopes up? Let's just have a good time and see what happens."

The truth is, being nervous on the night of the Emmys, for everyone except those who host and perform during the evening, is a bit of a luxury. Nominees aren't required to DO anything but sit in their seat. If they win, there's a short speech to give. So if friends and family have knocked them down a peg, it's not like their performance is going to suffer as it might if they were being asked to put on a show themselves.

But those negative attitudes wear on a person. And the more other people tell you you don't deserve to win, or you won't do a good job, or there are so many others who are better than you, the more you start to believe it. The confidence you do have starts to trickle away. You begin to doubt yourself.

Most of us won't win awards for our speaking. We are in the trenches, aiming to persuade colleagues and coworkers, trying to sell products, promoting a cause, teaching students, or giving important information someone needs to do a job or improve their life. We are not hoping for or expecting prizes for what we do.

The prize is being asked back, getting the promotion, acquiring the client, or on a more mundane level, just knowing we did a good job and that someone's life or work is going to be a touch better because of what we said.

The last thing we need is someone telling us we're not good enough and we won't succeed.

Don't be the person who plays this role in others' lives. Be supportive. Give feedback that's helpful and constructive, but not discouraging or mean. Tell your friends and family members they can do it, whatever "it" may be.

And don't listen to these people in your life! Don't let them drain you of your enthusiasm. Don't let them suck out your self-confidence. They may tell you they "only want to help," but they are not helping. They are making themselves feel better by making you feel bad. They are preying on your confidence and positive energy because they don't have any.

To Jim Parsons and Julian Fellowes, and anyone else last night who doubted their win: You deserve it! And to my readers who doubt their abilities every day: You can do it!

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