This young lawyer froze in his first case before a judge. Rather than speak, he sprinted out of the courtroom. Humiliating.
“My head was reeling and I felt as though the whole court was doing likewise,” he later said. “I could think of no question to ask.”
It turns out, it wasn’t the first time this happened. In fact, it took something far less intimidating to set off his fear. At a meeting of the local vegetarian society, he couldn’t even speak.
“My vision became blurred and I trembled.” He couldn’t speak publicly at friendly dinner parties either.
Hardly a recipe for success.
But, those who knew this young lawyer as a child wouldn’t have been surprised. In his early years, he didn’t make friends easily.
He arrived at school on time every morning, and ran home immediately at the end of each day. He didn’t spend any time afterwards mingling with other children.
His only friend was someone his society forbade him to associate with. This made no sense to the shy young boy.
He did absolutely nothing to stand out in the classroom. While diligent in his studies, he was completely unremarkable in nearly every way. But that didn’t bother him.
He came from a reasonably affluent family. That gave him access to college, where he became a lawyer.
Though riddled with fear and insecurity throughout his young years, he became one of the greatest and wisest of all leaders in history.
Know who it is yet?
If You Struggle with Self-Confidence, His Life Will Inspire You
Yes. It was Mohandas K. Gandhi. And he was so shy and unconfident as a youngster that succeeding in the world in his time didn’t look likely. And he lived in arguably a far harsher world than you do today.
But, despite doing nothing to stand out early on, he boldly led India to independence in 1947. Without inciting widespread violence and bloodshed. And died just a few months later when shot by a gunman.
If you struggle with self-confidence, it’s easy to think you have no hope. Your life will always be miserable and difficult. You’ll never find a nice flow where success comes with ease.
But you can succeed. You may not lead a nation to freedom after two centuries of oppressive rule like Gandhi. But you can certainly learn a few things from the tentative man that make your success inevitable.
Take a look at a few:
1. Find What Ignites Your Spirit
Initially in India, Gandhi failed as a lawyer. His fear caused him to leave his first professional legal experience – a law practice he had opened.
As he stood to cross-examine a witness, he recalled: “My heart sank into my boots. My head was reeling and I felt as though the whole court was doing likewise.”
This led to him sailing to South Africa in 1893. At first, he represented Muslim Indian traders.
But when he was forcibly tossed off a train because a white man didn’t want him seated in first class (even though Gandhi had such a ticket), his mindset shifted. When he left South Africa for India in 1915, he had the confidence to speak publicly for two hours, and sometimes longer:
Your first key to confidence: What bothers you most in your daily life? That’s a glaring sign the issue matters to you. You’ll feel far more confident when you dedicate yourself to something you deeply care about (instead of simply collecting a paycheck).
2. Never Bend on What You Believe
Gandhi held opinions that irked both British and Indian leadership. But he didn’t change the ones he held dearest.
He opposed the Indian “caste system” that sharply divided the various classes of society (it may be 2000 years old). He believed all Indians were humans, regardless of caste. With the British, he railed against the way they treated their mainland people well, compared to their sub-human treatment of those in colonies.
Your second key to confidence: What views matter to you enough to hold onto, regardless of the opposition? You’ll gain confidence from identifying, and holding onto them with unwavering strength. Defend yourself, even when under criticism.
3. Accept Everyone – Even People Everyone Else Hates
While he initially held mixed views about the various races present in South Africa, Gandhi eventually came to believe in the equality of all: white, Indian, and African. It took great confidence on his part to accept and respect others, including his British oppressors.
He didn’t want to seize power from the ruling elite and place them under his thumb (like many Indian revolutionaries at the time). He merely wanted equal treatment.
In fact, he joined a campaign to get Indians to volunteer for the British army during World War I. He also wrote an appeal for peace to Hitler, denouncing his acts as “monstrous,” but also addressing the letter “Dear Friend” and later saying “…[N]or do we believe that you are the monster described by your opponents.”
Your third key to confidence: Who irks your anger like none other? A family member? Neighbor? Political figure?
Work on treating them with the greatest love and tolerance possible (while still standing up for yourself). A tremendous confidence builder.
4. Hold A Level of Integrity No One Else Does
Gandhi wasn’t perfect. He held racist views towards various African tribes while in South Africa. That even included when he fought fiercely for Indians’ rights.
Nonetheless, he eventually overcame those beliefs. He later witnessed extreme cruelty against the Zulus and considered them among his great friends. Famous South African leader Nelson Mandela later drew inspiration from Gandhi.
Gandhi didn’t just have a high standard of integrity. He continued to challenge himself throughout his life.
“Let us turn the searchlight inward,” he famously said.
Even when Reginal Dyer’s orders led to his troops killing 379 – 1000 peacefully protesting Indian civilians and wounding another 1,200, Gandhi stayed true to non-violent resistance. And he held onto this even after five unsuccessful assassination attempts on his life.
When riding in trains, he took the worst seats, even after becoming a renowned political figure. He refused to move to a better seat when asked.
Your fourth key to confidence: Integrity’s been called “doing the right thing when no one’s looking.” Hold yourself to an impeccably high standard, rather than accepting what everyone else does, to shoot your confidence through the roof.
5. Have a Nearly Insane Desire to Serve Others
Gandhi took serving others to whole new heights. A path few others treaded before. As he boarded a train, one of his shoes fell off.
The train took off, leaving Gandhi no time to get his shoe. Rather than keep his other shoe, he removed it. Then he hurled it back in the direction of the other.
Not because he was angry or hopeless, either.
Confused, another passenger asked him why he did it. Gandhi calmly replied,”The poor man who finds the shoe lying on the track will now have a pair he can use.”
But that’s not where Gandhi’s desire for service ends. He even took on the lowest job in India: cleaning the toilets. And this, even well after he became a revered leader.
Your fifth key to confidence: What can you do for someone else…right now? You don’t have to clean their toilet. But, how can you make serving others a way of living? Serving others gives you emotional rewards of happiness, peace, and…confidence.
If you’re an anxious, fearful person like Gandhi was, you can find your confidence by following his path.
You don’t need to become Gandhi himself. You can gain your confidence right where you are.
Take small actions in the moment. Your confidence will grow with each attempt. Even if you don’t get the outcome you want.
Apply these principles, and you’re well on your way to becoming the confident, successful person you envision.