“You leaving by yourself?” He called to me as I descended the steps past him and landed on the snow crusted grey street below.
“Yeah, why?” I asked, looking back up as a couple other guys joined him.
I was 20 years old and working with gang-affiliated young men in Roxbury, Massachusetts. My day had just ended and I was heading towards my rental car, then my borrowed apartment.
“Is that safe?’ He asked, looking around, his eyes scanning the graffiti-lined walls of his neighborhood.
And just as I was about to answer that I didn’t feel like I was in danger, another young man on the stoop filled the air with his observation.
“Man, have you seen how that girl walks? A’int nobody going to take her for a fool.”
A little smile spread on my lips, even though I wasn’t sure what it was about the way that I walked that “protected” me. Later that night, I considered it as I journaled and what I realized is that I walked with an awareness and what projected that awareness was the eye contact I made with whomever I passed. I never looked at my feet when I walked. I looked people in the eye. I said hello or good morning or commented on the weather. I engaged every person I passed and most would engage back. In being willing to look people in the eye and greet them, something that I did because I thought that every person deserved to be seen and acknowledged, I came across as confident.
That comment that day taught me one of many valuable lessons I learned working with gang-affiliated young men. Being engaged and aware opens up a world of possibilities but projecting that confidence doesn’t have to start with knowing everything about a situation or being the best at something. It can simply start by making eye contact and relaying that someone is worth seeing and that we are worth being seen ourselves.
This is actually why one of my very favorite rituals comes at the end of a yoga class when the class bows together and says Namaste and then everyone looks around the room at their practice partners for that time, looks each one in the eye, bows to them and repeats Namaste over and over again. It is a celebration of really seeing a person and, every time, it moves me.
One of the best ways to project confidence is through your eyes. When you refuse to make eye contact with someone else, you might be sending one of two messages: that you wish to be invisible or that you don’t think the other person is worthy of being seen. Making eye contact is a great place to “fake it until you make it” in terms of confidence. Begin maintaining eye contact in all of your interactions and, soon, you’ll see that people will interpret you as being confident (which makes you more confident!).
Today: Make eye contact today with everyone that you pass and with whom you interact. Make eye contact as you walk down the street or hall at work. Make eye contact with the grocery store clerk, the sales girl, the people you pass on your walking or running route. A great test for yourself while building this skill? Walk away from each more close-up interaction and see if you can name the person’s eye color.
1. Who did you make eye contact with today? How did it feel? Do you remember anyone’s eye color? How did people react?
2. What did you learn from this challenge?
Remember your comment sharing your experience with today’s challenge enters you in the giveaway drawings!
Excited about this journey? Want more? Pick up Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance for a year long plan and guidance.