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Tracie Fellers: Quash the confidence killers

June 10, 2014 

Almost 18 years ago at Durham Regional Hospital, in the aftermath of Hurricane Fran, a beautiful baby girl was born to one of my closest childhood friends, Diane, and her husband Todd. They named her Gabrielle.

That baby girl since has grown into a tall young woman, an A/B student who is as academically focused and lovely to be around as she is beautiful. And on Wednesday, Gabrielle – who now goes by Gaby – graduated from Jordan High School, with a proud contingent of family and friends cheering her on, including her “Aunt” Tracie.

She’ll leave Durham for Cincinnati’s Xavier University in August, a first step toward her goal of attending medical school and pursuing a career in the sciences, whether in a research lab or in some yet unknown area she’ll discover in the years to come.

Now that Gabrielle is entering this exciting phase of her life, when her opportunities and possibilities should seem unlimited, one of my hopes is that she’ll be empowered by having so many options and choices. But even more, I hope she’ll be as confident about her future, whatever her choices, as I am.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what confidence is and how it works – what it means to have it, how having or lacking it affects our lives, and about my own experience with both building it up and seeing it falter.

Some of that thinking was sparked by my catching a late-night rebroadcast of Katie Couric’s talk show last month, focused on exploring the “confidence gap” between men and women. The idea that, generally speaking, men tend to be more confident than women – and that they definitely project confidence far more often than women do.

Broadcast journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of a new book called “The Confidence Code,” also were part of that discussion which drew me in, even as I was on my way to bed that night.

Before tuning in to the conversation, I hadn’t really thought about confidence along gender lines. At least not directly. But I was intrigued enough to get a copy of the book a couple of weeks later. I’m still reading it, but I’m finding a lot in it that resonates with me – including the following few lines:

“Confidence, we believe, is our missing link. It’s what can propel us out of our overworked minds toward the liberating terrain of action. ...Confidence, ultimately, is the characteristic that distinguishes those who imagine from those who do.”

I see so much of myself reflected in those words – both my most confident self and the person I tend to be at those times when I have crises of confidence.

So in thinking about what I’d most like to give Gaby and young women like her, as they enter one of the most important, dynamic, and yes, wonderful times of their lives, I decided to call one of the most confident women I know.

I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Louise Jones-Gooche as a member of my church family at St. Joseph A.M.E. At 71, the former director of nursing at Durham Tech and former charge nurse at both Duke Hospital and Durham’s VA Hospital is still going strong as a health education consultant, entertainer and motivational speaker.

She too appreciates the way that Kay and Shipman link action – as in doing – with confidence. That doesn’t surprise me, since among a number of other things, Louise is definitely a doer and an encourager. In fact, she believes offering encouragement is key to fostering confidence. That’s how it worked for her, as a little girl growing up on a farm in Henderson, she recalled.

“Both of my grandparents instilled in me at a very, very early age that I could just do anything and somehow or another I believed them. ... It’s the positive reinforcement that helps your ability to do.”

And when it comes to narrowing that confidence gap, which she believes does exist, “we as women need to be more supportive of each other,” Jones-Gooche said. “If you keep saying that enough to people – ‘you can’t’ – then they won’t. I think sometimes we do not encourage each other like men do.”

I know that the young woman who once was my little Gaby has an abundance of encouragement in her life. She’s blessed in that way, and in so many others. But for her, and for all the girls and women who don’t get the encouragement that they should, I say: dare not only to dream, but to do. That’s how you quash that fear of failure.

And when you fail, because that’s an inevitable part of life, shake it off. That’s what men do, Kay and Shipman contend in “The Confidence Code.”

Better yet, that’s what confident women do. Women like Jones-Gooche, who offered these provocatively wise words: “The success of anything generally stems from a failure of something.”

Contact Tracie Fellers at traciefellers@gmail.com

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