My War On Confidence
Life is nothing if not a series of surprises. And I am always somewhat humbled before the universe when something I mutter resonates in a way that I never imagined with so many people.
A few weeks ago, I was profiled in the December issue of Kiplinger’s magazine. I was honored to be featured as a small business success story and as part of the interview I made a remark that continues to gather responses from near and far. (If you missed the article online, here’s a link – https://www.kiplinger.com/article/business/T049-C000-S002-small-business-success-story-battleaxe.html ) Based on the feedback, I must really be on to something that is worth taking a harder look.
I mentioned that I am often asked to help people gain confidence (mostly in leadership and public speaking domains) and I tell them they are chasing the wrong rabbit. Confidence, I believe, is itself an unworthy pursuit. In fact, I reject it outright. I believe that the correct target should always be competence. This seemed to strike a note for many people who believed that to be true as well.
The confidence that many folks seek is defined as “a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities”. Oh brother, what a set up. If we know anything about the human condition, it is this – We are terrible at judging ourselves accurately. Research across every industry and discipline reveals the same conclusion. We are brimming with undeserved confidence; routinely over-estimate ourselves while everyone around us knows the truth. Feeling good about ourselves feels good. But the more noble pursuit is to BE good, that is, to be competent.
Competence is not cheap. Watch a toddler learn to walk or a little kid learn to ride a bike. They don’t ask for or seek confidence, like self-conscious ego driven adults. They keep trying and bruising and re-adjusting until they get it right. They take the licks required to build competence. Then, they look at what they can do, and confidence is put in its rightful place, as a lagging indicator of competence.
Compare that to the confidence seeker, who wants to feel good about what they do based on their own self-appreciative, internal gauge. Yikes, based on the feedback I received, there are a lot of self-confident knuckleheads out there. Let’s try a new way of looking at this and lose the confidence gauge altogether. So, I declare war on the notion that anyone should pursue confidence in itself. It’s a seductive and unreliable self-generated feeling that can delude us into thinking we are better than we really are and rob us of the genuine joy of mastery. It is not a necessary ingredient for success.
Replace the confidence gauge with an internal syllabus instead. Ask any expert in any field and they will tell you that they are always seeking competence. They pay the price in training, study, nervousness, uncertainty, self-doubt, trial and error, practice, evaluation, failure …you know, the “un-fun, does-not-feel-good” stuff. When done well, confidence shows up later. And yep, it feels good, but doesn’t seem to matter that much anymore.
Checking the gauges,