In-house Interpersonal: Assertiveness Aerobics

Self Confidence Is A Muscle

by Ilise Benun


The last post on self confidence seemed to touch a nerve and I detected a common thread in most of the comments: that things are really tough out there right now and the problem isn’t a lack of self confidence but that the risks are just too great right now to use that self confidence to take action, propose creative ideas or stand up for what you need or believe in.


One commenter wrote: “The sad and ironic thing is the bad atmosphere continues to chip away at my confidence. I have to think of some way to build that back up by the time the economy recovers or I won’t be able to job-search effectively.”

Let’s help this person (and ourselves) by brainstorming ideas here for what to do to build that confidence back up.

The comment suggests that confidence is like a muscle that, when unused, can atrophy. How do you prevent that from happening? How do you sustain your drive in the face of all types of discouraging news and responses?

“Be in this world but not of it.” That’s the aphorism that comes to my mind. It suggests separating yourself from this “bad atmosphere” as much as possible, at least within your own mind.

Then, to keep that muscle strong, I suggest exercising your self confidence in other areas. Maybe freelancing on the side where you can have more freedom? What about your personal work that doesn’t get judged according to corporate interests and doesn’t carry the pressure of having to please anyone except yourself? Or even doing something that you would never have done in your local community, getting involved politically or with local charities that need all the help they can get now too. Those are perfect environments in which to build skills and talents.

What else? And would this help? Anyone already trying it?

6 thoughts on “In-house Interpersonal: Assertiveness Aerobics

  1. Cathy

    All those thing you mentioned are great suggestions. I got into the design field in the late 80s and it was tough then. But I just keep plugging along. Because doing graphic design is awesome work and has so many rewards.

    Keep learning. If you don’t know css, now is the perfect time to learn and make your website stand out. Improve your typography skills and knowledge. Master Indesign style sheets and best practices. Play in illustrator and photoshop. Start experimenting with video. Learn how to market yourself. Really market yourself. There are so many free resources available online, there is so much to learn.

    Mostly just love what you do. The opportunities will come.

  2. yvettehuntdesigns

    I think the best advice is already in your article … “Be in this world but not of it.”
    It is very hard to stand by your principles if you don’t understand this message. Having gone through some tough times and deciding to leave an agency job then, after twelve very successful years, leave a corporate job, I find myself leaning on teachings such as these.
    I also volunteer a lot, network with like-minded folks, and do freelance and contract work.
    Next, I need to start painting again! 🙂
    Thanks for this post.

  3. Kevin

    Your advice of “Be in this world but not of it” echoes the sentiment of Gordon Mackenzie’s great book “Orbiting the Giant Hairball” which is a must read for any corporate creative.

    Like everyone, I’ve suffered a few cracks in my confidence during my career. The thing that is always lifts me up is to just start a project for myself: a card design or a poster for something that I care about. A project like this allows me freedom to explore artistically and try new things that I might otherwise be hesitant about. I always discover something new and that always makes me feel a little more powerful as a designer.

  4. Jen

    I agree with this article and these comments. I think that in the given environment, it will be important to get back “in-the-game” quickly once things start to turn around.

    Personal projects, or freelance and nonprofit work is a good way to experiment in new design techniques and flex your creative muscle, while your “pay-the-bills” job is holding you back.

    It can be frustrating to fit it all in, but in the end you’ll be successful and confident.

  5. Jason Graham

    Oh yes, I work in education so I’m constantly having to look outside of work for satisfying my creative hunger. Creatively, I feel like I’m trying to swim laps in a straight jacket. So to battle that, I dabble in all sorts of things. I’ve designed bicycles, audio speakers, furniture and other crazy entrepreneurial ideas. I do some freelance design work and photography when I can, and it is very satisfying when you have a successful project which gives you that little boost of confidence. I think it’s the only thing that keeps me sane. I would love to find a job that would capitalize on my talents, but starting my own business may be the best option. People tend to have a negative feeling towards people that work in education so it’s tough finding an employer that sees where you want to go instead of where you’ve been.

  6. Ilise Benun

    Excellent additions to my initial response, thanks everyone for contributing so far.

    And I just want to echo Jason’s hint at starting his own business. As a self employed person, I have no choice but to keep my confidence muscle strong at all times. My livelihood depends on it and it is addictive!