Confidence isn’t something I was born with, it’s something that continuously grows.
I wasn’t always one to get in front of an audience and speak, let alone ask to be judged, but that’s exactly what I did at speech and debate tournaments.
The fear of public speaking is one we share as an entire country. I think it’s pretty safe to assume that most students take the dreaded public speaking course for general education requirements — me included.
The first time I got in front of the class to speak, I hated the idea of being the center of attention.
I was extremely nervous and when it came time to deliver my first real speech, I wanted to get it over with. Wanting to pull the Band-Aid off, I volunteered to go first. I stood in front of the class and retold an experience I’d had with racism.
At 18, I wouldn’t have been so courageous. I might not have been so vulnerable with my choice of story. At 28, I have so much more to say.
I returned to my seat feeling exhilarated. It was an adrenaline rush. I liked it. I didn’t care if I was good at it — in fact, I knew I wasn’t good at it.
I was sweaty. I was shaky. I was stumbling over my words. I was terrified. It was after that first speech that I realized just how much I’d grown in the five minutes it had taken me to deliver my speech and sit down. I was now someone who could volunteer to speak in front of a class for three to four minutes and survive.
Initially, I just wanted to pass the class, but now I wanted to gain more than just a grade from it.
For the rest of the semester, my goal was to keep growing. I learned so much about myself and the art of public speaking. I learned how to control my nerves, how to be calmer, how to discern whose opinions were valuable and whose weren’t.
I learned to trust myself. I had to actively maintain a growth mindset rather than an accomplishment mindset, which is so hard in a society that focuses on accomplishments. I started to see my mistakes weren’t shameful. My feelings and reactions were simply information and not facts.
I began to use my fear as a compass, and I joined the speech team. After 11 weeks of being on the team, I’m finding that confidence is a fickle thing.
The first time I went to a speech and debate tournament, I was the perfect mixture of nervous, excited and clueless. The crowd of students participating in the tournament was pretty diverse, but the event was designed for a certain type of person.
People love to tell you to just be confident or trust yourself, as if it’s the easiest thing in the world. Poof, confidence. Poof, the trust of self. But there is something to be noticed about confidence and who it is reserved for.
As a marginalized person, white supremacy makes confidence an act of rebellion.
Shame keeps people trapped in purgatory. White supremacy feeds on this and people feel shame around so many things — perceived low education, poverty, non-whiteness, body image, disabilities, sexual orientation, clothing, neighborhoods, living spaces, and so on.
Marginalized people are shamed and ignored and it silences them. How can someone instantly trust themselves or be confident when they’ve been determined undesirable in society?
Confidence can grow when a person feels seen. Confidence can grow when a person feels heard. Self-doubt is perpetuated when a person feels as though what they have to say will not be listened to.
Silencing doesn’t necessarily mean a verbal shutdown. Silencing can look like busy parents who work more than one job and can’t give their kids attention. It can look like social media and the influencer culture. It can look like assuming someone who works at a restaurant must be going to school to get out of the industry. It can look and sound just like the punchline of a joke.
Confidence growth is hindered unless you benefit from white supremacy.
As a brown, queer, non-binary person, I have to keep reminding myself that I am worth listening to. Even when external validation is non-existent, I can continue to practice the art because I’m committed to myself — not anyone else. I’ve had to learn that growth is so much more important than my accomplishments.
I’ve had to do a lot of internal work to push myself out of my own comfort zone, to remind myself that I have thoughts and ideas worth listening to, even when not everyone is willing to listen. I actively try to take up space and use my voice.
Confidence is a fickle thing, one day I have it, the next it’s slipping from my grasp. I know there are so many who would benefit from me giving into my self-doubt, but as I said, it’s an act of rebellion.