The quest for confidence can be a lifelong pursuit for many, but author Lydia Fenet pinpoints shortcuts in her latest project.
The main message of her new book is to cull confidence from within. An auctioneer, art industry insider, CAA speaker, podcast launcher and writer, she should know. Juggling such professional endeavors, while raising three children and fully recovering from a horrific car accident only adds another exclamation point to Fenet’s résumé. Never mind how affable, easygoing and funny she was about all of the above during a recent interview in New York.
The Southern-born Fenet made a name and a life for herself in the city with good ole gumption. As the title of her second book, “Claim Your Confidence: Unlock Your Superpower and Create the Life You Want,” suggests, she insists that readers can do the same.
On Tuesday she will celebrate the March 21 launch of the Gallery Books-published tome with high-powered pals like Huma Abedin, Brandice Daniel, Meredith Melling, Nili Lotan, Rebecca Minkoff, CeCe Thompson and others at L’Avenue at Saks. The way Fenet sees things, “Confidence is inside of all of us. It doesn’t take outside forces. Once you learn to be confident it doesn’t matter what happens through the course of your life, because you believe in yourself and know that you are strong enough to handle anything,” she said.
Her 20-plus years in the art world included a long run at Christie’s, where she rose up through the ranks to global head of strategic partnerships. Although she no longer works full time for the auction house, Fenet serves as an ambassador specializing in auctions. “The art world seems to hold its value no matter what.”
Sitting in a Rockefeller Center café, Fenet mentioned that her months-old “Claim Your Confidence” podcast is produced with Newsstand Studios nearby and her first book, “The Most Powerful Woman in the Room Is You,” is being developed into a Netflix series with actress Kiernan Shipka.
As for where her own resolve stems from, Fenet said, “I’ve always known that inside I was strong. A lot of that has to do with putting myself in situations that a lot of people wouldn’t put themselves in. They would opt out early on. Time and time again in my life, I always try the harder route. I might say, ‘Let’s run up to the top’ and someone would say, ‘Why? There’s an elevator?’”
Raised in Lake Charles, Louisiana, far from Manhattan’s buzzy art scene, Fenet did not grow up in a family that collected art. She first became captivated by Christie’s in college after reading a Vanity Fair article about an auction there of Princess Diana’s dresses. After discovering the auction house employed young people, “who got to travel around the world, dress up and wear pearls or whatever,” Fenet said, “I thought, ‘This is the place for me.’” After “stalking” the company’s longstanding internship coordinator Mary Libby by calling daily and eventually wearing her down, that foot-in-the-door led to a full-time job a year later.
In childhood, her confidence was strengthened through basketball, cheerleading and other after-school pursuits. “My enthusiasm masked my mediocrity in sports. But I always expected to win. And it was always fun,” she explained.
Over time she recognized that fear of embarrassment or success often inhibits people from new ventures. Fenet advocates risk-taking, regardless if things turn out well or poorly. “Either way I learn and then I’m not scared to try it again.”
That was the case with her foray into charity auctions at the age of 24. “I didn’t look like anyone else out there. All of the guys were 20, 30, 40 years older than me. Most of them were British,” said the slim, 6-foot Fenet. “I got on stage and just bombed night after night. But I kept going up there for years. And I kept getting better at it, and learned my own style and became confident in that style.”
So much so that the sight of the well-dressed auctioneer and the sound of her signature three-gavel-strike start can send a hide-your-wallets feel among New York City’s well-heeled gala goers.
Indubitably, a conversation with Fenet can lead to a what-doesn’t-she-do conclusion but her awe for other peaks-seeking professionals is evident. LearnVest founder Alexa von Tobel (who sold her company for an estimated $280 million) and ultramarathoner Courtney Dauwalter, who won the 240-mile Moab Endurance Run with nearly zero sleep, are among the overachievers Fenet has interviewed for her podcast.
Referring to Dauwalter, she said, “My jaw was on the ground. I love pulling back the curtain on all these people who are perceived to have everything, because so often there’s been something that has challenged them. Everybody has a story. Once you understand what they went through to get there, you realize they are a lot tougher than people ever give them credit for.”
She churned out her first book “The Most Powerful Woman in the Room Is You” in three and a half months, while working full time and doing charity auctions at night. Add to that, the mother of three’s youngest of three children had not yet turned one. Fenet has inadvertently sold that page-turner by mentioning in a New York Times day-in-the-life profile that at night post-auctions she either read a book or worked on one that she was writing. A writer friend insisted she get a proposal ready because publishers would come knocking. She vowed to write solely on airplanes and penned the first chapter inflight. Published shortly after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, the profile of Fenet sparked a bidding war for the book.
The second book was a six-month venture.
The final chapter of “Claim Your Confidence” was one Fenet never would have envisioned — the Halloween 2021 car crash that hospitalized Fenet, her husband Christopher Delaney and their children. The irony that her daughter was wearing a Supergirl costume was not lost on the good-humored Fenet, nor was an emergency room nurse’s “Karate Kid” costume. Despite being incapacitated with a severe spinal injury, broken ribs and various other injuries, she determined immediately that she would not “wallow in self-pity” and needed to mentally prepare herself for what would come next. “Half-delirious” from her first surgery on the night of the accident, Fenet emailed her Christie’s team to let them know she wouldn’t be in the office the following day. The reality was that she wouldn’t return for months, but from the start, Fenet had the confidence to realize a full recovery. “I crawled to physical therapy on my first day. It was so painful walking even half a block. It felt like you had a brick in your back that just gets heavier and heavier. You black out from the pain,” she said.
When the physical therapist asked what her goal was in late November 2021, she said, “’I want to be playing tennis by June.’ He said, ‘You can’t even twist or lift.’ I said, ‘I know, but I need a goal to know that this is all going back to normal.’ That to me is what confidence is.” Sure enough, Fenet was back on the tennis court as targeted.