In a world filled with confidence ‘how-tos’, Jennifer Romolini wants us to focus on some much more important C words.
Jennifer Romolini is not one for mincing her words. Even her book, Weird in a World That’s Not: A Career Guide for Misfits, F*ckups and Failures, gets straight to the point. As she took to the Inspirefest stage this year, she told the audience about her swanky career history.
With almost 20 years under her belt as a successful media professional, she casually mentioned having impressive-sounding job titles, working for major brands and meeting Michelle Obama. However, she also impressed upon the audience that in spite of all of this, she is still “nervous as hell” and was “not at all confident” to be on the stage.
Luckily, Romolini was about to take the Inspirefest audience on a journey about why that confidence wasn’t actually the important trait that she needed. “Everything we’ve been taught about confidence, all the Wonder Woman posing, all the ‘fake it ’til we make it’ tropes, all the bossed-up, boss bitch hashtags, all the confidence porn – it’s all bullshit,” she said.
“Step into any bookstore, and you will find dozens of books of how to boost your confidence, crack the confidence code,” she said, as if once we do indeed successfully obtain or unlock this magical confidence, the self-esteem party will finally start.
“In real life and for most of us, confidence is fleeting and fragile,” said Romolini. “Last year, I lost all of my confidence and I was forced to reckon with what happens when the cape gets ripped off.” She talked about how she got fired in a big, dramatic, TV-style way, complete with security guards and no time to check for personal files or send chirpy farewell emails.
Instead, she spiralled into the five stages of grief, starting with amusing anger that resonated with the laughing audience, but quickly plunged into a state of depression. Her well-meaning friends told her she just needed to get her confidence back and put herself out there. “But I couldn’t,” she said.
While she tried to crack her own confidence code, she instead spent a long time blaming herself and feeling like a loser. She soon realised that she didn’t need any inspiring confidence memes, because “picking ourselves up from failure requires something sturdy to hold on to”.
Instead of relying on confidence, Romolini spoke about a few far more important C words: competence, community, commitment and compassion.
“Competence, the ability to do a task and do it well, is one of the key indicators of happiness at work,” she said. “Confidence without competence is problematic.” In fact, Romolini pointed out that confidence without competence gives us Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos, Fyre Festival and Donald Trump.
When it came to community, Romolini hammered home the difference between community and networking. “Networking is small talk and niceties; it’s a check on your LinkedIn,” she said. “Community, real give-a-damn connection with other people, is harder. It requires us to be accountable and authentic.”
Commitment, she told the audience, means not simply forcing yourself to do something that you think you should do, but instead finding the things you are actually willing to commit to doing, because if you’re not committed to something it won’t work.
Finally, she implored the audience to always be compassionate – not just to others, but to themselves. “The desire and the temptation to put on a confidence costume, it springs from our deepest fears that we’re unworthy, that we’re imposters, that we’re the worst,” she said. “Instead of pressuring yourself to search for confidence you might not find, focus on these other far more important Cs.”