Confidence Conundrum

Confidence Conundrum

Do you listen to those motivational speakers and wonder how the hell you are supposed to feel confident when you don’t have anything to feel confident about? It can be a big conundrum for many people. For example, how are you supposed to feel confident out at a club with your friends when you are new at it? Or how do you feel confidence at your next job interview when you just lost your last job? What about with your relationship, how confident do you feel there? Does reaching your future goals worry you a bit?  You are likely caught in a confidence conundrum.

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”                

  –Helen Keller

If you don’t give it much deep thought, confidence appears to be that thing that all those successful people use to get ahead and out compete people who don’t have any. They seem to get used to things working out and just expect it to always be that way. On the other hand, how to people who haven’t enjoyed social, work, or financial success expected to have any? Aren’t they the ones who, for lack of social skills, seem strangely clingy, lost in the room looking for some dock to tie up to? It works the same in your private life, if you don’t have some modicum of confidence; you are on the road to awkward phone calls and ultimately lots of time alone with take-out Chinese.

Really, how do they expect you, if this describes you, to ever realistically feel like you can win at life?  Let me relate to you another axiom of life, “if you never expect to be a winner, then you are going to act like a loser.” Despite what Disney said, that is the real “circle of life.” I wrote earlier that this whole issue could be a conundrum so let me clarify the conundrum: Most people think that to be successful, or loved, or happy, you first need to be confident. The conundrum is this, the first part is true, and yet to be confident, many people first need to be successful, loved and happy.

You can spend a lot of time searching for navel lint, or washing off your patio trying to sort all of this out, but like with lack of confidence, it become a circle, you end up right back where you began in the first place.  Sort of like my German Shepard Axle, chasing his tail… it makes us laugh, but doesn’t really get him anywhere.

In my coaching practice I work with lots of people about this very issue.  Let me lay out some of what I have seen:

Confidence isn’t always linked to any outside measurement. If you have been out and seen some of life, you may have noticed that just getting a promotion doesn’t make you confident about your work skills. Dating lots of people doesn’t always make you feel more confident about how handsome or pretty you are. You get my drift?

Just having something (Friends, money, relationship) doesn’t always mean that you are confident about it. There are rich people and fashion models galore that have almost no self-confidence in the very attributes that made them wealthy or famous.

Confidence is not necessarily attached to any external marker but rather in our perception of ourselves regardless of reality external reality. Confidence is a feeling, a state of mind, and a way of being in the world.  It is the thought that you lack nothing. You are already outfitted with everything you need. A socially confident person feels they lack nothing in social skills or social life.  When you encounter someone who lacks this and feels they aren’t cool or interesting enough, it is this very lacking something that makes them clingy, or mean, or both.

The self-help industry has made literally millions telling you that the solution to your problem is to just believe that there is nothing you lack. “Thinking makes it so.” If you think it, then you already have it…right?  I get it, for some people it works, but for the rest of it we fall flat on our faces. We just can’t make that part of us.

The reason is that reality is unforgiving and denying it bites you on the behind every time.  Believing you are already buff when you are a lazy slob, or believing you are a raving beauty when frumpy would be a better description, or maybe that you are a resounding success at your struggling business leads to a kind of excruciating narcissism that makes people think that they are perfect just as they are. No reason to improve, grow or change to gain more success in your life.  You made it by just thinking about it! Go ahead; write your name on the Washington Monument and wonder why the police come. (Just hide the selfie)

Not likely.

The explanation for the conundrum I speak of is not to delude yourself into thinking that you are perfect and already possess everything you could ever imagine inside. The thing to do is to learn to be ok with what you lack. And it’s really true; we all come up short somewhere. Learning to be ok with that is a million dollar adventure!  This mental Mt. Everest really doesn’t have much to do with the comfort or pleasure we feel when we reach a goal, but rather everything to do with how we feel when we don’t achieve our goals.

For example:

Confident business people have just as many failures as anyone else; they are simply more comfortable with failure. They accept the possibility and keep moving to their goal.

People who are confident in their social lives are secure because they are aware of the possibility of rejection and accept it with some level of comfort. They just move on to the next person and smile again.

It goes on and on, people who feel confident in relationships, feel that way because they are comfortable with the possibility of getting hurt. They get hurt, learn from it and ask, “who’s next?”

I’m sure that you have heard the phrase, “No pain, no gain”? You go to the gym to get stronger, and you leave sore and tired. But you go back because you know that each day you grow stronger. This is the same thing; you have to get to the positive, (confidence) by going through the negative (failing or getting hurt) to make any progress. Those who can, realize most of the rewards.

Like most conundrums, it seems counter intuitive. But it only appears that way because you have a mistaken assumption. You assume that only by being a success can you become confident enough to succeed. In fact, as I have shown it is only in that very gaining of comfort with your failures do you learn to engage in all of your activities with grace and confidence. Once you are there, you can act without judgment, love without conditions, work creatively knowing that from time to time you will indeed fail, but that doesn’t make you a failure.  Just because you accept failure as part of living doesn’t make you more open to it.  Rather, it lets you see things with a clarity not available to many people. (Now that’s worth a million bucks!)

Like Axle with his tail, it is a part of him and when he realizes it, he lets it go and gets back to being a proper dog. When you realize that what you lack is part of you then you can move on with more confidence that you can imagine.


Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.