Confidence. Girl practicing karate


We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.

~Eleanor Roosevelt

No one will listen to us until we listen to ourselves.

~Marianne Williamson

Where does confidence come from?

Why do some people have great confidence while others don’t?

Confidence can be complicated, as it is related to so many other emotions. Courage, happiness, excitement, and other positive emotions can feed confidence, while negative emotions can negate, or decrease confidence.

Confidence is a critical factor in many aspects of our lives. In our professional lives, every time we have the opportunity to advance or take on something that is new to us, we have to feel that we can handle it. We have to have the confidence in our romantic lives to believe that we are a person who is worthy of affection and that we can complement our spouse and make her or him happy.

When I was in my 20s, I had the kind of confidence that comes with youth (read: arrogance). This kind of confidence might actually be a defense mechanism when we don’t have confidence. I think this was probably true with me, especially in my job. When I started as an environmental economist, I didn’t have any experience, so I didn’t know what my strengths were. I was sometimes timid about specific parts of my job (like public speaking). Eventually, I discovered my strengths and learned to play to those strengths with confidence.

In this way, confidence is very similar to faith. It is the need to believe in something without any evidence. When we are faced with something particularly challenging or new, confidence is the belief that we can succeed. We have to believe we can do something we’ve never done before. Eventually, we’ll have the experience to know we can handle it.

So why do some people have confidence while others don’t? There can be a lot of reasons why we might doubt ourselves.

We may not have received encouragement growing up. No matter how smart or talented we are, if we are getting negative vibes from our parents, we might buy in to that message and start to believe it.

Failure can also impact our confidence. For some, a failure can make us doubt our ability to succeed. It can be hard to stand up, dust ourselves off, and try again. It can be hard to believe that we can succeed in the future when we have failed in the past.

For failure to be useful, we have to be open to the lessons that failure teaches us, including a better understanding of our strengths and weaknesses. In this way, failure can actually contribute to our confidence, as we learn to play to our strengths and avoid our weaknesses.

But what if we just aren’t confident? It’s easy to talk about confidence, but if we don’t have it, it’s all academic, right?

Absolutely not.

Confidence is not something that is born into us, but something that can be nurtured, built up, and maintained. For example, preparation can go a long way toward building our confidence. With hard work, good planning, and solid preparation, we can create confidence, in the knowledge that we have done everything we can to succeed. Then, with each success, our confidence will build and evolve so that it is increasingly based on our self and on our abilities.

No one is born a brain surgeon. Confidence, coupled with the wisdom of experience, can make us believe that we can achieve any goal we have—even those that appear, at first glance, to be beyond our abilities.

Confidence also means being open to change. We might have the confidence to go down a certain path, but lack the confidence to change that path if we find it’s not for us. As we move through our lives, it can take a great deal of confidence (and courage) to make drastic changes.

Although there are people who follow a specific goal from a very early age, most of us will spend time working toward several different goals. No matter how long we stay on a particular path, we may find there are more desirable directions. We may find that we don’t want to be a rock star or baseball player after all. We have to have confidence to give up on one long-term dream and start to follow a different one.

It’s also important to remember that confidence is not only for astronauts and mountain climbers. A healthy dose of confidence can help anyone who wants to live a life that is bold, exciting, and meaningful. Someone that does something very “ordinary” can do it in a very extraordinary and meaningful way. It just takes confidence.

Confidence is nothing more than believing in yourself. To live a meaningful and fulfilling life, we all have to start there.

There is greatness in all of us. But unless we believe it’s there, it won’t be.

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