The middle-aged woman whose children are grown and who wants a career but is afraid of re-entering the workplace. . . .
The businessman who is a commanding figure in meetings at work, but who is unable to communicate in a sensitive way with his family. . . .
The precocious young professional who, despite early success, believes that he or she is not really as talented as others think. . . .
These are just some of the ways that people in today's high-tech, high-stress, hurry-up environment show their lack of confidence, according to Pamela Osborn, who teaches self-confidence workshops at colleges throughout the state.
"All people lack confidence at some point in their lives," she said, although nearly everyone feels confident at some time too.
She defines confidence as "being certain, feeling certain." Confident people tend to be spontaneous, open to change, fluid in their speech and willing to take risks, she said. "Their attitude is to go for it."
People who lack confidence tend to be shy, reserved and self-protective. "They tend to worry and are apprehensive," she said. "They assume negative outcomes."
A lack of confidence may sprout from a number of underlying causes. Women in the business world may experience a lack of confidence stemming from confusion over their cultural roles.
"At times, they are encouraged to assert themselves," Osborn said. "Other times, they feel their bosses want them to be sweet and compliant."
The glamour-struck, youth-worshiping, aerobicised 1980s have helped sap the confidence of people who think that they are unattractive. One of Osborn's students was a woman who lacked confidence because she thought her nose was too big.
"She had a nose job, and her whole life changed," Osborn said. "Her worries about her nose had been holding her back."
Still other people are afflicted with what Osborn calls "worthiness unconfidence." These are people who have experienced success in their lives, but believe that they have been lucky and that failure lurks just around the corner.
"People in the workplace often doubt their ability to cope," she said. One of her students was a well-paid, well-regarded professional who believed that every new project she received would expose her incompetence.
A lot of people who lack confidence set unreasonably high goals for themselves, Osborn said. "Maybe their parents had very high expectations of them and showed their disappointment when their children didn't perform up to those expectations."
Those high expectations often become internalized, and unconfident people become their own worst critics. "They scold themselves. They punish themselves," Osborn said. "They wind up sapping all the positive energy they need to succeed."
Unconfident people tend to "compare themselves not to their peers but with the most beautiful, most intelligent person they know," she said. "And they come up short."
Osborn offers her seminar students a six-point plan for building self-confidence:
1. Value yourself. "Everyone has good qualities," she said. "Write out what they are, and remind yourself of those good qualities daily."
2. Believe in yourself. "Whenever you feel afraid, think: 'How can I accomplish this?' " she said. "Tell yourself, 'There must be a way that this can be done.' "
3. Be positive. "Instead of dwelling on what might go wrong, dwell on what can go right," she said.
4. Be your own friend. Osborn advises the person who lacks self-confidence to "stop criticizing yourself. Learn to take mistakes in stride, and don't take yourself too seriously."
5. Set goals. "People need to get a clear picture of whom they want to be and what they want to accomplish," she said. "Write out a list of what it would take for you to feel fulfilled. Then picture yourself accomplishing those goals."
6. Go to work on yourself. "Set a realistic program for strengthening those areas where you have a weakness," Osborn said. "If you are shy and want to be confident with people, there are classes on how to meet people."
The final act of improving your self-confidence is to actually do the things you have set out to do. Repetition, Osborn said, makes most things easier: "Once you've done something 20 times, 40 times, it is you."