Confidence for good

I recently did this thing. I co-founded and am now chairing a graduate program. And I did it by taking a considerable leap from a career as a designer that I’d been growing for more than a decade. Sure, my first job out of college was an educator, and I’ve been an educator on the side ever since. But suddenly I’d made it the focus of my everyday.

I’d stepped away from something familiar into territory with new colleagues, new landscape, new tempo. Because I believed, with everything, in founding a new program.

What’s astonishing to me is that people continue to ask me the same questions: Aren’t you afraid to be so young and be chair of a program? Aren’t you afraid of the responsibility? Aren’t you afraid to be shifting careers? Aren’t you afraid?

And the answer is yes: yes, I’m afraid. I’m afraid every day just like I’m afraid that the products I design with clients are not going to succeed, or that I’ll get run over on the streets of Manhattan. Even when you choose the thing that inspires you, the thing you believe in, work with colleagues you learn from, do good work, there’s going to be a level of fear involved. People will have opinions and negative reactions. But that fear means it’s worth it.

Clay Shirky on self-promotion of women:

I’m not concerned that women don’t engage in enough building of self-confidence or self-esteem. I’m worried about something much simpler: not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks.

Clay uses the example of “my drafting’s fine,” something that I 100 percent encourage. Whether you consider it a lie or a promise to yourself, it can move one forward:

I sat in the office of someone I admired and feared, someone who was the gatekeeper for something I wanted, and I lied to his face. We talked some more and then he said “Ok, you can take my class.” And I ran to the local art supply place and bought a drafting board, since I had to start practicing.

Each career change I’ve made has been based on this premise. Leaping from a known to an unknown is a way to stay relevant, moving, and continue learning.

Clay again:

Citizens of the developed world have an unprecedented amount of freedom to choose how we live, which means we experience life as a giant distributed discovery problem: What should I do? Where should I work? Who should I spend my time with?

What you actively spend time on, and (far more difficult) what you choose not to do, who you choose not to spend time with, and who and what you decide to say no to — what you choose, then — is how you mark time, I believe. We, unlike so many, have the ability to choose. Moment by moment, we can choose who and how we want to be in the world. But we should never do so at the expense of good.

A brilliant synthesis and response by Tom Coates:

It should be unacceptable for us to say that lying about one’s abilities is something that everyone has to do to get ahead. It should be unacceptable for us to say that arrogance and aggression are to be aspired to.

So instead:

[W]e should be demonstrating that great projects, like the ones Apple produces, are at least in part based upon trying to produce the best thing possible, feeling the integrity in the product you’re making. …. Good projects come from good people, good vision, good execution, good collaboration, good insight. And it’s these traits — and the ability to spot them — that we should be encouraging in our colleagues.

People, both women and men, should be so fiercely passionate about good ideas that self-promotion is a natural extension. Otherwise, why is it worth doing in the first place? It’s when confidence and self-promotion are obfuscated from passion that the claims become flimsy and empty. Confidence can bridge the gap between desire and outcome as long as the integrity for what we believe and the authenticity of what we create remain in place. We have the ability to both do good work and to recognize it — the choice is ours to make. Confidence is good’s natural extension.