Have You got the Confidence to go M.A.D.?

Going MAD is about Making A Difference. Growing in self-confidence will clearly benefit you personally, but wouldn’t it be great if it could also benefit others?

I once stayed in a hotel that overlooked Hong Kong harbor. The views were spectacular. The experience was great. Except for one thing. I had no one to share it with. Likewise, life is not simply about your journey, but also about how it interplays and influence the journeys of others.

As you already know, anxiety occurs when you become overly concerned and sensitive about how you come across to other people. It’s possible to obsess about people’s opinions of you and to see life as a play where you always have to be center stage. This constant inward focus becomes unhealthy – and your emotional development is stunted.

Of course, you play the lead role in the drama of your life but even the star of the show spends some time in the wings. You see, when you turn the spotlight onto others and look to help them, you also develop in the process.

The truth is…In helping others, we help ourselves.

Let’s explore in more detail how contribution creates confidence.

Let me tell you about Beth. She’s the daughter of one of my best friends. And to me she’s an inspiration.

It all started when she watched a video about the work of Operation Christmas Child (www.operationchristmaschild.org.uk). The charity wants Christmas to be a special and exciting time for every child throughout the world, and not just for those who can afford it. In a nutshell, Operation Christmas Child helps ordinary people to make a simple but extraordinary difference to children’s lives.

How? The idea is a simple one. Get a shoe box and fill it with some small gifts that are appropriate for either a boy or a girl. There are stipulations on what can and can’t be included, but it won’t cost much to fill a shoe box.

It means that some children wake up at least one day of the year with something very exciting to look forward to. A tangible expression of love, if you like.

Operation Christmas Child provides the ideas, guidance, and organizational know­how to make this happen. But that’s not enough. The charity also needs people: people to galvanize and inspire others to find and fill those shoe boxes.

And that’s where Beth comes in. Beth told her teachers at school about the shoe box campaign. And what did her teachers do? Told Beth to get on and do it. They would support her, but as it was her idea she also needed to be the figurehead. They reasoned that a pupil encouraging other pupils to take action was likely to meet with more success than a teacher trying to achieve the same outcome.

Beth was ten years old at the time. Her primary school mates bought into the idea and the project was a great success. But it didn’t stop there. Beth was so inspired by the simplicity of the idea and the effect it had on children that she wanted to continue the project. She was then 11 and inspired her secondary school to embrace the idea.  “I started small initially,” she says. “Just putting up posters around the school and leaflets in class registers. I did a five­minute talk to a year assembly. I was terrified, but Dad gave me some help in what to say.”

And the idea grew. As did Beth’s confidence. “My biggest challenge was when I was asked to take the whole school assembly. We showed a video and I talked more about the project.” There were over 900 kids in assembly.

A ten year-­old Beth never envisaged that her idea would one day see her taking an assembly at secondary school. She simply took the first step. She didn’t start with the confidence to do such a thing – the confidence developed as she took the first step. Maybe that’s the key. Don’t look at the size of the mountain. Simply focus on the next part of your journey. Start climbing molehills.

In 2003, I went to Tanzania with an organization called Act4Africa. It is a charity that through education and drama helps people in Africa understand and fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS (www.act4africa.org.uk).

The founders of the charity are Martin and Kathy Smedley. Martin’s a part­time actor and engineer and Kathy’s a teacher. They have teenage kids and a mortgage and seem just like any normal couple. In fact they are. Except for one thing. They have an over­whelming desire to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa. That’s a tall order. For an ordinary couple. But they had a belief in themselves that together they could make a difference.

Did they possess unshakeable confidence and belief in themselves that they could do something? “Absolutely not,” replied Martin. “We often feel so out of our depth. But if we’d waited until we felt totally confident in our abilities, we’d still be waiting. The crucial thing is just deciding to do something – to take action. Don’t let the scale of the problem or your own self­doubt distract you.”

Martin and Kathy moved out of their comfortable and safe world in a suburb of Manchester into a world of bureaucracy, red tape, and unchartered territory in Africa. They started with no money and no staff, but a belief that together they could do something. It’s been quite a journey. They once found themselves in the Prime Minister’s office in Tanzania and have discovered skills they never thought they had: marketing, PR, fund raising, and now being seen by others as health experts in the area of HIV/AIDS.

They battle constantly with a need for finances to fund their work, and sometimes wonder if they’re really making a difference to such a huge problem. The facts would suggest they are. So far one million people in Africa have been educated through the Act4Africa program working in schools, churches, and with local community leaders. Their creative approach to tackling the problem is beginning to make a difference.

They have twenty staff – the majority Africans, working long term with their communities. Over 200 people have so far worked with the charity on a short term basis lasting anywhere from two weeks to a year. This is not rhetoric. It’s reality.

Martin and Kathy’s goal was never about how they personally could gain from the experience. It wasn’t a strategy to raise their self­-esteem and boost their self­-confidence. They simply saw a need and decided to do something about it. “It’s made me realize just how much people are capable of,” said Martin. “I’d never have dreamt I could do all the things we’ve done. Both of us have moved way out of our comfort zone – and yet we’re still standing. I guess our confidence and belief have grown through this whole experience.”

So too have the people working with them on a short­term basis. Martin elaborated, “I think it’s fair to say we’ve had some interesting characters join up – and I’m not just thinking of you, Paul! We’ve had a couple of people with deep psychological problems who’d heard of our work. We took a risk with them. But it’s not like we were giving them a full­time job. They’ve had to raise their own funds to come out and join us on a short­term basis. And they have.

“What’s more, the work has provided these people with an outward focus. Rather than always looking inward at their own issues, they’ve been confronted with other people’s problems. We’ve put some trust in [these] people, given them responsibility, and it’s paid off.”

One girl who’d been on the team recently qualified as a nurse. She had all sorts of issues when she went out to Tanzania with Martin, and was unemployed at the time. “I guess Act4Africa played some part in her recovery,” commented Martin.

What triggered this amazing work? Desire was definitely at the top of the list. Martin and Kathy felt almost a calling to do something. But did confidence play a part? Absolutely. Without some degree of self belief, nothing would ever have happened. They knew they had some abilities. They knew they were a good team together. And they knew that the biggest obstacle to overcome was simply to start the work.

Martin and Kathy are remarkable people who continue to face many challenging situations. They’ve opted out of the kingdom of comfort and decided to make a difference. And that’s exactly what they’ve done. Not just to a million people in Africa. Not just to 200 people in the UK. But also to themselves.

The truth is, when we make a difference to others, we also make a difference to ourselves.

Over to you

So you’ve heard Beth’s, Martin’s, and Kathy’s story, and how they’re seeking to make a difference. The question is, what’s your story going to be? Do something where you’re not the focus, but someone or something else is. The goal is not to broadcast how wonderful you are, but simply to offer your services or implement an idea that will help others.

If you Google “volunteering” you will discover countless websites that can  inspire you with ideas on how you can make a difference. The chances are that when you do this you’ll be doing something that takes you out of your comfort zone.

The picture could look like this:


It’s a big stretch. You’re way out of your comfort zone. For Beth, that would have meant starting secondary school and within a matter of weeks taking the whole school assembly. For Martin and Kathy that would have meant starting a charity and then visiting the Prime Minister’s office in Tanzania within a few weeks.

But that didn’t happen straight away. It might for some people; but not for Beth, Kathy, and Martin. Moving out of their comfort zone looked more like this:


Notice that the first step they took was still the biggest. It’s usually the hardest one to take. What follows can often be a series of small steps taken over time. Each step sees the expanding of their comfort zone. It’s not a dramatic leap – that’s often not required. But like building a wall, confidence can take time.  It’s built gradually, one brick at a time. You see small actions over time can bring about big results. A 10 percent change can make a big difference.

The truth is…Gaining confidence is not always the goal. It’s simply the by-product of the actions you take.

And remember, taking action is rarely done in isolation. Martin and Kathy had each other; Beth found support from her mum and dad and a couple of teachers.

A Dreamer or a Doer?

Anyone can dream. Anyone can have ideas. But the value of dreams and ideas is when you turn them into actions. It’s when you take the first step.

Martin Luther King had a dream – but he also had a strategy. He had people alongside him who worked tirelessly to make the dream a reality.

Dreams are the sexy stuff. They’re what inspire people. But it’s the non-sexy stuff like the phone calls, the planning, the traveling, the printing, and the organizing that makes the dreams come true.

Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign slogan was “Yes We Can.” Interestingly, in a land that worships individualism, he didn’t choose “Yes You Can.” Working together, collectively, for the benefit of others is what his vision is about.

That’s a lesson for us all. May you have the confidence to go and make a difference. And if you feel nervous, anxious or even terrified at the prospect, may you have the courage to take the first step. Feel the fear and go for it anyway.

And here’s the remarkable truth. I promise you that a small change, over time, can and will make a difference – not just to you, but to others as well.

Let me know how you get on. I wish you success.


This article “Have you got the confidence to go M.A.D?” by Paul McGee was first published in the March-April 2013 issue of Eagles VantagePoint magazine (www.vantagepoint.com.sg). Used with permission.