By Katy Epling
“I love her shoes,” I whispered to my husband. We were enjoying a rare kid-free lunch date, and the woman at the table next to us was dressed to impress.
“Well, tell her!” he said.
“Yeah, right.” I rolled my eyes. As if I could ever just say something like that to a stranger. I love my husband’s friendly nature, but I was certain I could never be so bold.
I’m a bit of a contradiction. I love being in front of a crowd. Hire me to speak, and I will dance my way onto the stage. Ask me to sing at a wedding, and I will serenade your guests all day long. But throw me into the middle of a disorganized, unscripted group of any size, and the torture begins. The lack of clearly defined roles acts as a breeding ground for my insecurities. Am I cool enough to talk to these people? Was that a pity laugh at my joke? Do I have something stuck in my teeth? Am I talking too much? Not enough? Can everyone here tell what a dork I am?
If I’m this insecure at a gathering of friends, it only stands to reason I would be too intimidated to approach a stranger with any measure of confidence. For years I accepted my place as a closet encourager, wishing I possessed the poise to voice my words.
This year, though, I got tired of looking at the confident, friendly, and poised people around me and thinking, “I wish I could be like them.” This year I decided to be my own fairy godmother and grant my own wish. Unfortunately, chanting “bibbidi-bobbidi-boo” didn’t seem to help, so I went with Plan B. It worked so well that I’d love to share my secret with you.
You don’t have to be confident to act confident.
I’ve spent so much of my time wishing for someone else’s inner strength, thinking it was a gift bestowed on only a lucky few. I’ve realized, though, that I don’t have to feel confident or even peaceful to approach someone with a smile and say something nice. Many of those people I’ve labeled as confident over the years may even have had inner turmoil over every handshake and introduction.
Armed with this revelation, I began to act confident. I made it my goal to be friendly and bold, refusing to let fear prohibit me from being kind. I complimented cashiers, introduced myself to new people at church, and asked questions of the mom next to me at Chick-fil-A.
I soon learned an important lesson: people like to be told nice things about themselves. Who knew? I used to fear saying things like, “What cute shoes!” or “You’re doing a great job!” to strangers, worried they would roll their eyes behind my back. But let’s get real. We all like to be complimented. We like knowing other people see us and appreciate us, even strangers. Kind words speak life.
On a recent trip to Punta Cana, my husband and I slowly made our way through the customs line. Three planes had landed in succession—one on time, one early, and one late—creating long lines and short tempers. As we sidled up to the booth, the customs officer nodded curtly as she held out her hand for our passports, showing off beautifully painted nails. Though her scowl almost scared me silent, I meekly said, “I love your nails!” Her face glowed. She began to chat with us as she scanned and stamped our documents, then wished us a happy vacation. I watched as she called up the next customers with a smile and friendly wave, her demeanor changed, if only for a few minutes.
I picked up one more unexpected tidbit along the way. That “inner strength” I used to wish for works much the same way as physical strength—it grows as you exercise it. The more I act confidently, the more confident I become. From deep words of truth for a close friend in need to a compliment delivered to a stranger, I love speaking life with conviction instead of trepidation. My wish came true, granted by my own inner fairy godmother…and a little determination.
Now I just need a magic wand, a pumpkin, and some field mice.
Katy Epling is a writer, speaker, and “masterpiece in progress” (Ephesians 2:10) from Akron, Ohio. She and her husband Jon have three beautiful children who provide her with multitudes of material—both dramatic and comedic. Learn more about her heart and ministry at katyepling.com.
Photograph © Michael Dam, used with permission