Yes, at times it can be hard to live confidently with hearing loss. However, there are ways to make it easier to do so!
Confidence isn’t something that just spontaneously appears. It’s an attribute that has to be built up over time, like skill levels in a roleplaying game. There are a few rules you can follow that will help you to proactively build your confidence, however!
1. Get out of your comfort zone
It can be really, really tempting to live small, to not take risks, and to limit yourself to what you know you can handle with your hearing.
That way lies stagnation, marginalization, and a path to becoming a bitter old hag reciting poetry to cats in a ditch, in sign language.
There are so many examples of how pushing the boundaries to help us grow. If you work out, in order to stimulate muscle growth, you need to push your limits. Just going through the same routine will keep you fit, sure, but if you really want to gain in strength, you must get close to the maximum you can lift, the fastest you can run, the longest you can endure before failure.
That’s not to say you should go and try scale Everest to conquer your fear of heights and be more confident near the edge of your local cliffs, though! Start small, just beyond what you normally handle, and build up from there.
“Start small, just beyond what you normally handle, and build up from there.”
Greet someone who you’d normally just walk past with your head down in the hopes that they don’t notice you. Assert yourself by asking someone to repeat themselves if you didn’t hear even if it’s the fifth time they said something. Explain, firmly, what they need to change for you to understand (speak louder, slower, don’t shout.) From there, work out how you can play to your strengths in that arena.
For example, if you’ve managed to get people to take you into account during meetings at work, offer to chair the next one if that’s an option because your requirements of people speaking one at a time is a natural requirement in meetings anyway. With you taking firm control and ensuring that people stay on topic and respect others by waiting for them to finish speaking, you ensure that you get what you need in that environment!
2. It’s OK to fail
Think for a second – if you fail in any given situation, what’s the worst that will happen? There are shockingly few everyday scenarios that will result in death, dismemberment, or disfiguration of yourself or anyone around you.
Failure is not something to be feared. On the contrary, it’s one of our greatest teachers. The example of Thomas Edison going through 99 failed attempts to create a working lightbulb before finally solving the problem is probably the one I’ve seen cited most often.
“Failure is not something to be feared.”
There are others, however. Numerous attempts were made to swim across the English Channel to the mainland before Matthew Webb made it across on his second attempt in 1875. Another 80 failed attempts by others followed before the feat was repeated in 1911. Those failures informed later attempts of what they needed to be wary of, let them know what worked and what didn’t, and the feat has since been repeated time and time again. We learn from our failures.
Don’t throw your hands in the air and give up when things go wrong! In fact, there’s a military maxim that rings true across much of life. “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” This applies to pretty much every plan you make. When we run into opposition or difficulty, things often don’t go exactly as we imagined they would. Roll with it, look for where you can make changes, whether on the fly or on your next try and learn from where things went wrong. Everything turns out OK in the end. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end!
3. Be yourself – don’t compromise your character to appear “confident”!
This one is important. Don’t follow what everyone else is doing just to make it seem like you’re confident. Don’t do things that your own ethics and morals scream out against for the sake of appearances. If it’s not going to build you up as a person and it doesn’t take you in the direction you want to go without costing you some part of your heart and soul, don’t do it!
Don’t put yourself into situations where you’ll be miserable just for the sake of appearing “confident”. There’s nothing that will break down your confidence faster than trying to be something you’re not and don’t want to be, and it takes quite a bit to come back from the kind of confidence knocks that this can give you.
4. Fake it ‘til you make it
OK, I know that this one looks counterintuitive after rule number three, but hear me out on this. Where rule three is about avoiding things that make you uncomfortable and compromise some part of who you are.
“Fake it ‘til you make it” is about acting as though you’re already where you want to be. The difference is that by roleplaying the kind of person you want to be, pretending you’re already doing the things that you aspire to, you will start to make that your reality. Act as you want to be, and you will grow to become that. I read an excellent piece from a roleplaying gamer the other day that highlights the power of roleplaying, which is literally doing exactly this.
Part of doing this is actively moving towards the things you want to do and the people who are involved in it, as the power of doing things socially, as part of a group sharing a passion or interest is certainly not something to be underestimated. Believe me, passion for a topic, a hobby, a field of work or science or whatever else it might be will be more than enough to overcome any obstacles hearing loss might put in your way.
“Believe me, passion for a topic, a hobby, a field of work or science or whatever else it might be will be more than enough to overcome any obstacles hearing loss might put in your way.”
Passion pushes us to find whatever means of communication we can. You may well find yourself scribbling down thoughts at a furious pace before handing your notepad over to someone who will scribble their thoughts back with equal fervor if that’s what it takes to connect. Heck, I had an entire conversation about an obscure Mechanima series with a group that was solely comprised of .gifs over WhatsApp this morning alone! (Yes, I’m weird. But I own it!)
Attitude gives us so much power over what happens in our lives. Even if you feel like you’re faking it, just changing the perception of others through a new approach will help you to grow and change.
There’s another part to this, though. So far, I’ve focused on the “fake it”, but “’til you make it” is probably the key here, you have to remain dedicated! Keep at it until you are comfortable and it doesn’t just happen overnight.
5. Let your passions and interests guide you
Again, this is something that follows on from the previous rule. The things that will really define who you are and which will provide you with the motivation you need to grow your confidence are the things that make you excited and keep you up at night in glorious anticipation.
Don’t waste your time on those who tell you that the things you enjoy are not worthwhile – instead, find your people. You’ll know them when they’re excited to share things with you rather than break down your interests.
There isn’t enough time in this world to waste the little we get on things that don’t make us the best people we can be. Yes, there will be things we don’t necessarily enjoy, but we can look to actively avoid those things that break us down and instead pursue those things that make us happy and fulfilled.
“There isn’t enough time in this world to waste the little we get on things that don’t make us the best people we can be.”
What’s funny is that these really are the same principles that anyone looking to grow their confidence could use – it’s not restricted to just those of us living with hearing loss, and I think there’s a lesson in that. When it comes to confidence, living with hearing loss can seem like a huge, daunting, almost insurmountable obstacle at times. When it’s faced by someone who has just a spark of determination and living by these five rules, however, it barely even registers anymore. JK Rowling had it absolutely right in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets:
“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities”
– Albus Dumbledore
Our hearing, or lack thereof, does not hold us back from growing to be who we were meant to be if we choose to break the mold. Choice really is the greatest gift we have. Use it.
Read more: Breaking the Box: Why I don’t let hearing loss stereotypes set limits on my life
Oh, and if you’ll indulge me with one final Dumbledore quote to encourage you to look beyond shrinking your world to being Deaf or hard of hearing and instead find friends and allies all around you:
“Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.” – Albus Dumbledore