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4 great lessons on confidence from Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling, Professionally Confident Human, at BookCon in New York City.
Mindy Kaling, Professionally Confident Human, at BookCon in New York City.
John Lamparski/WireImage

When you're a gorgeous, famous, successful actress/author/showrunner with 4.3 million Twitter followers, having confidence should be like breathing — right? Not so, according to Mindy Kaling. In an excerpt of her new book, Why Not Me?, published in Glamour, the Mindy Project star reflects on how she's developed and harnessed that magical quality to help her achieve her astonishing professional successes, including being the first Indian-American woman ever to star in a network TV series — which she also happened to create.

Here are four lessons she's learned about having confidence, as explained in her upcoming book.

1) You have to earn it...

While some might advocate a "fake it 'til you make it" approach, Kaling's view is different: She sees confidence as stemming from a genuine belief that you deserve what you have and what you're striving for. And that takes time to build. As she said of her early days on The Office:

When I started at The Office, I had zero confidence. Whenever Greg Daniels came into the room to talk to our small group of writers, I was so nervous that I would raise and lower my chair involuntarily, like a tic. Finally, weeks in, writer Mike Schur put his hand on my arm and said, gently, "You have to stop." Years later I realized that the way I had felt during those first few months was correct. I didn't deserve to be confident yet. I happen to believe that no one inherently deserves anything, except basic human rights, and not to have to watch an ad before you watch a trailer on YouTube.

Her Office co-writer Mike Schur remembers things a bit differently, though. As he told New York magazine in a 2012 profile of Kaling, "What was sort of remarkable about Mindy ... was that she was the first one who started acting confidently, like she knew what was going on. ... "I think that she just decides she can do something and then does it."

2) ...which means you have to work for it

Perhaps surprisingly, Kaling equates confidence with entitlement, a word she points out "has gotten a bad rap because it's used almost exclusively for the useless children of the rich, reality TV stars, and Conrad Hilton Jr. ..." But to her, entitlement is, again, the belief that you deserve what you get. How do you arrive at that belief? By working your butt off:

I work a lot. Like, a lot a lot. I feel like I must have been watching TV as a kid and that cartoon parable about the industrious ants and the lazy grasshopper came on at a vital moment when my soft little brain was hardening, and the moral of it was imprinted on me. The result of which is that I'm usually hyper-prepared for whatever I set my mind to do, which makes me feel deserving of attention and professional success, when that's what I'm seeking.

3) People will tear you down out of fear...

Kaling is no stranger to criticism — she's mentioned in several interviews that she's been called not "attractive or funny enough" to have her own show, and Gawker's Rich Juzwiak memorably referred to her as the "human equivalent of a retweeted compliment." But while no one is immune to feeling hurt or discouraged by negative comments, she seems to have achieved some measure of Zen about it:

People get scared when you try to do something, especially when it looks like you're succeeding. People do not get scared when you're failing. It calms them. That's why the show Intervention is a hit and everyone loves "worrying about" Amanda Bynes. But when you're winning, it makes them feel like they're losing or, worse yet, that maybe they should've tried to do something too, but now it's too late. And since they didn't, they want to stop you. You can't let them.

4) ...so don't let anyone make you a victim

She also calls bullshit on the subtler message behind the whole concept of teaching women to be confident: namely, that nobody is doing the same for men because for men, it seems, confidence is expected to come naturally:

We just assume boys will be confident, like how your parents assume you will brush your teeth every morning without checking in on you in the bathroom. With girls, that assumption flies out the window. Suddenly, your parents are standing in the bathroom with you, watching you brush your teeth with encouraging, worried expressions on their faces. Sweetheart, you can do it! We know it's hard to brush your teeth! We love you! Which must make girls think, Yikes. Is brushing your teeth a really hard and scary thing to do? I thought it was just putting toothpaste on a toothbrush.

Why Not Me? comes out September 17. In the meantime, you can read a longer excerpt from the book at Glamour.

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