GUY RAZ, HOST:
On the show today, ideas on how to be better and even more confident.
BRITTANY PACKNETT: Confidence has been an essential element of the fuel for everything else.
RAZ: This is Brittany Packnett. She's devoted her life to social justice.
PACKNETT: Confidence made me brave enough to be a teacher. Confidence helped me be brave enough to step out on the streets of Ferguson. Confidence helped me be brave enough to sit next to President Obama and talk about issues of policing. And I think that I am obsessed with confidence, in part, because I know what it is to live a life without confidence - that I absolutely grew up as a young woman of color in a country where people like me are socialized not to be confident - that either we are not deserving of confidence or that our confidence is intimidating or threatening.
RAZ: You might know Brittany's voice from the podcast "Pod Save The People," where she tackles some of the biggest issues around race and social justice each week.
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PACKNETT: Hey, y'all. It's Brittany Packnett. I'm @MsPackyetti on all social media.
RAZ: But before all that, Brittany was a teacher in St. Louis. And she noticed that her students never felt like they had permission to feel and to be confident, as she described on the TED stage.
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PACKNETT: When I was a teacher, all of my students were black or brown. All of them were growing up in a low-income circumstance. Some of them were immigrants. Some of them were disabled. But all of them were the very last people this world invites to be confident. That's why it was so important that my classroom be a place where my students could build the muscle of confidence, where they could learn to face each day with the confidence you need to redesign the world in the image of your own dreams.
Not everyone lacks confidence. We make it easier in this society for some people to gain confidence because they fit our preferred archetype of leadership. We reward confidence in some people, and we punish confidence in others. And all the while, far too many people are walking around every single day without it. For some of us, confidence is a revolutionary choice, and it would be our greatest shame to see our best ideas go unrealized and our brightest dreams go unreached all because we lacked the engine of confidence. That's not a risk I'm willing to take.
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RAZ: So what do you do when you get a kid who's - you know, who's sort of looking around, saying, you know, this country or this society or this community wasn't made to give me opportunities? Like...
RAZ: ...What do you do when a kid like that says, you know, what do I have to be confident about? Like, how do you make the case?
PACKNETT: It's so interesting because young people don't start out that way. The world teaches them to lack confidence. That's not how they begin. You know, sociologists would talk about a cycle of socialization where you're born into a family. And if you're fortunate - right? - that family is encouraging you. They're showering you with love. They're giving you all of the reasons to believe in yourself.
But as you start to interact with the world more and more, for reasons of identity, for reasons of economics, for reasons of geography, for reasons of gender and gender identity, the world will start to teach you that either who you are will be punished, or it will be celebrated.
PACKNETT: And that socialization moves young people, especially young people on the margins, to a place where they start to lose that confidence. We see girls tapping out on confidence in middle school. These are the times when they're being told, well, actually, you shouldn't be in this advanced math class, or, maybe you should move out of this science section, right?
So the world is actually teaching young people not to be confident in who they are. It has nothing to do with who young people intrinsically are. And so, in answer to your question, it's about helping young people recognize the assets that they already have in them.
RAZ: Yeah. So how do you do that? How do you teach confidence to someone?
PACKNETT: Yeah. You know, really, confidence is built in community. We learn to be our most confident selves or our least confident selves by the folks that we model ourselves after and by the people that give us permission to be curious about ourselves and the world around us. And those really are things that are essential to building confidence in all people, but certainly young people, because, you know, the earlier we can get to young people to help them build their most confident selves, the better.
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PACKNETT: My family used to do everything together, including the mundane things like buying a new car. And every time we did this, I'd watch my parents put on the exact same performance. We'd enter the dealership, and my dad would sit while my mom shopped. When my mom found a car that she liked, they'd go in and meet with the dealer. And inevitably, every time the dealer would turn his attention and his body to my dad, assuming that he controlled the purse strings and therefore this negotiation.
Reverend Packnett, they'd say, how do we get you into this car today? My dad would inevitably respond the same way. He'd slowly and silently gesture toward my mother and then put his hands right back in his lap. It might have been the complete shock of negotiating finances with a black woman in the '80s, but whatever it was, I'd watch my mother work these car dealers over until they were basically giving the car away for free.
PACKNETT: She would never crack a smile. She would never be afraid to walk away. I know my mom just thought she was getting a good deal on a minivan, but what she was actually doing was giving me permission to defy expectations and to show up confidently in my skill, no matter who doubts me.
RAZ: You know, there's - it's interesting to me because there's this idea that came into vogue, like, in the last 10 years, which was fake it till you become it.
RAZ: And a part of me - I have to admit, like, a part of me really loves that. Like, I'm going to fake being confident until I start believing that I am. But then there's a part of that which is - you know, which is fraudulent, you know?
RAZ: It's like the Silicon Valley model, like the woman who wanted to, you know, take a pinprick of blood from your finger and transform the world who was a total fraud, right? But, I mean, is there an argument that you can fake confidence or that you should fake confidence at least to give you a - you know, like, a jumpstart?
PACKNETT: You know, I don't think it's about faking confidence as much is it's about understanding your worth. I'll never forget the first meeting of President Obama's 21st-century policing task force. I was one of the youngest people on a task force. And I walk into the room, and there's Connie Rice, who has spent her entire career dealing with police violence issues dating back and beyond Rodney King in Los Angeles. There's, you know, professors and lifelong activists and people who are running their own nonprofits. There's Bryan Stevenson, who is a personal hero of mine. And I'm trying to focus on the paper in front of me and not fangirl...
PACKNETT: ...About the fact that he's sitting across from me. And in that moment, I had this terrible feeling of imposter syndrome - that I actually just didn't belong.
RAZ: You thought, what am I doing here?
PACKNETT: Right, I'm...
PACKNETT: How in the world am I qualified to be at this table of people handpicked by the president of the United States to have this conversation for and across the entire country, right? And I had to remind myself that I have expertise, too - that I have a responsibility in a community that I'm representing here too.
That wasn't about faking confidence. That was about understanding my fundamental worth as a human being and as an activist and someone with real expertise because I was on the frontlines of this thing, right? And I am worth sitting here. I'm worth learning. I'm worth growing, and I'm worth contributing my voice. I didn't have to fake that when I got real with myself.
RAZ: Yeah. But that's the thing, right? Like, you almost have to be your own coach.
RAZ: You almost have to kind of - you kind of have to quiet the voices of doubt...
RAZ: ...Because we're all susceptible to that, right? We're all susceptible to, like, doubt...
RAZ: ...Negative thoughts, like, you suck. What are you doing here?
PACKNETT: And this is part of the reason why I am hopeful that we reach a day sooner rather than later where mental health care is free and accessible to everyone. Because my ability to engage in positive self-talk has everything to do with the therapy (laughter) that I've been through over the last few years. And the first thing I had to change was how I talked about and to myself. That was the most fundamental shift in my ability to be a confident person.
And literally, to this day, when I hear myself thinking, you can't do that - no one is going to care - having to counteract that with a different conversation with myself and saying, what is this fear coming from? What has led you to believe this? What are the things that you did just last week that you thought you couldn't do the week before? And who are the people you can contact or the passages that you can read that can bring you back to yourself?
These are the kinds of exercises that we have to be intentional about in order to do the constant work of confidence because it is a lifelong battle. And self-doubt will inevitably come. But we have the power to change that if we change it.
RAZ: That's Brittany Packnett. She's an activist and the co-host of the podcast "Pod Save The People." Brittany's upcoming book is called "We Are Like Those Who Dream." You can see her full talk at TED.com. On the show today, ideas about how to be better. Stay with us. I'm Guy Raz, and you're listening to the TED RADIO HOUR from NPR.
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