How to build your self-confidence rather than your arrogance
Action is a high road to self-confidence and self-esteem.
~ Bruce Lee
Have you ever watched a show like Madmen or Suits where a character presents an attitude of absolute certainty?
These characters seem to always know exactly what they want and what to do.
They have an unwavering conviction in their abilities, and demolish obstacles in their way. They constantly outmaneuver their opponents. They always win.
Yes, they can be assholes. Yes, they can be hurtful and selfish egomaniacs. But that just comes with the territory, doesn’t it?
Sure, there are times when you probably hate them, but isn’t there a small part of you that also admires and respects them for their audaciousness?
Maybe you’ve thought, my gawd, that’s a confident person! I want to be just like that!
Maybe you’ve fantasized about the day when that would be you.
I mean, who wouldn’t want to act and feel invincible? Who wouldn’t want to have all the answers and always get their way? Who wouldn’t want to be looked upon with awe?
So, we try to mimic the behaviors of these characters, hoping that this will lead to our success, just like it has seemingly led to theirs.
But, not only do these characters often represent deeply flawed and antisocial humans, they also fail to represent a confident person, despite what we might think.
Thankfully, you don’t have to act like Don Draper or Harvey Specter to be confident.
What is confidence?
Do you know what confidence is?
Does it mean always having the answers? Does it mean knowing you will always win? Does it mean having an unwavering belief you in yourself?
The fact is, most of us have no clue and we often confuse confidence and arrogance.
Arrogance results from an exaggerated assessment of oneself. But, it isn’t just that. There is also a blindness to this assessment, because no amount of evidence to the contrary seems to matter.
Arrogant people reject reality, favoring the stories they tell themselves about how important and great they are. They believe in their abilities without enough proof. They believe in their rightness without enough doubt (see here).
Now, it’s certainly true that some arrogant people have done great things. But, as Ryan Holiday puts it in Ego is the Enemy, they achieve great things in spite of their arrogance, not because of it. They achieve greatness when they are able to put aside their ego and do the work required of them.
Because if there’s one thing that arrogance hates most of all, it’s working hard to achieve a goal. Arrogance believes success should come easily.
If arrogance rejects reality, confidence sees reality as it is.
Confident people are able to judge their strengths and weaknesses accurately (see here). And, crucially, they are able to also accept their judgments.
Confident people are not embarrassed by their lack of understanding. They are not ashamed of needing to ask for help. They are not afraid to say, “I do not know.”
Confident people use the tools available to them to the best of their ability to serve the greater goal.
Confident people know that improvement comes slowly over time, and that pretending to be something they are not only delays improvement.
They do not need to exaggerate their abilities in order to impress or receive external validation. They know performing their best is all the validation they need.
It is important to remember that confidence does not require the absence of fear or doubt. Confidence is a willingness to act regardless of the emotions that might be holding us back.
Too often we’re so stuck in our own heads — so overly concerned about our thoughts and feelings — that we forget to actually participate in life. Yet, participating authentically is a key component of confidence (see here).
Acting authentically removes the distraction of thinking you need to be like someone else, and allows you to see more clearly the direction in which you actually want to change.
But, how can we build confidence?
We fail our way to confidence
Most of us believe that confidence is built by success.
It is not.
You’ve probably heard Michael Jordan’s famous quote about failing: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
He is one of the most successful players in basketball history, and he attributes this to his failures. He understands that it is in failing that the most important lessons are learned.
Out of the hottest fire comes the strongest steel, they say. Yet, when we come to face to face with the flames we tend to frantically look for ways to avoid it, and perhaps don’t even consider jumping right in.
It’s a shame that we rarely hear about people’s journeys to success. We gloss over the self-doubt, the fear, the uncertainty, the failed start-ups, the lost contracts, the bombed interviews, and we focus on the results: the fame, the glory, the money, the ability.
We forget, or never learn, that Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
Can you believe that?
Many people would have taken this as a sign that they’re not pursuing the right thing. Many people would have quit and never looked back.
You know what Jordan did? He used that failure as motivation to become even better. He recognized that this failure was not an end, and he pushed forward through the fire, not around it.
True, the fire can be terrifying. And it can feel like we have much to lose by jumping in.
Unlike Jordan, we tend to define ourselves based on the outcomes of our actions.
This is why the flames often feel hotter than they really are. By risking failure in the flames we believe we are also risking shattering what little “confidence” we have in ourselves.
But the flames don’t shatter confidence, they shatter arrogance and ego by forcing us to see reality through our pain.
In fact, confidence is not lost in the flames but gained.
When we choose to step into the fire despite our fear, when we move through the flames and come out alive on the other side, win or lose, we finally realize our potential for growth.
Our confidence doesn’t come from our wins and our losses, per se: it comes from realizing we’re not stuck where we are. Confidence comes from breaking out of our comfort zones and experiencing for ourselves that change and improvement are possible (see here).
Through fire and failure, we humbly learn that if we give our best effort today, we will do a little bit better tomorrow. It is step by step, not mile by mile, that we build our lives and our confidence.
So, don’t get ahead of yourself. See reality as it is, not how you wish it would be.
Live in the steps. Walk into the fire. And one day you will find yourself to be made of stronger stuff than you ever thought possible.