A few weeks ago Jay-Z came to Vancouver to perform for his new album 4:44. I’ve never really listened to his music, but my husband is a fan, and so off we went for my first stadium concert experience.
As I was sitting in the audience trying to figure out what was going on (despite trying my hardest I just could not decipher any of the songs), what came to mind was appointments I’ve had with students to prepare for interviews. Often the students I see have researched the company they are applying to and have read tips on how to conduct a good interview, but when we practice questions like “why are you the best person for the job?” or “why are you special?”, a lot of people freeze up. It doesn’t feel natural to claim that they are better than other candidates or that they are unique. They themselves aren’t sure whether they are the best person for that job. This feeling or conviction makes it difficult to answer the question with confidence.
With my students in mind, I looked at Jay-Z more closely. It was just him and an open stage. He didn’t seem unsure of what he was doing, he didn’t seem nervous that he wouldn’t have our attention, rather he showed up and commanded everyone’s attention. He owned the stage. And although he spoke about how he isn’t perfect, he was clearly confident in who he is and what he was doing – reminding the audience every so often “I’m Jay-Z!”
Where does such confidence come from? I think it comes from self-affirmations yes, but more than that, I think it comes from practice and from knowing your craft well. There is a confidence that comes in having put in the time and the effort in daily meaningful practice, and learning over time about how to connect with your audience and perform with presence. The result of that investment is that even if you have someone in the audience like me who has never heard your songs before, that person cannot help but sit up and pay attention. That practice can be painful and requires a mindset that is patient and geared towards growth, feedback and improvement, but it is easier to be confident when you can clearly demonstrate the value you bring to the table.
I looked up Jay-Z’s career after the show. More than any other artist, he has 14 solo albums, and he has been performing and making music for more than twenty years alongside personal challenges and family challenges. The confidence I saw was the confidence of excellence and mastery, and intentional self-belief. There are no shortcuts.