Confidence isn’t a secret, no matter how many secrets to confidence self-help entities you follow or read. Confidence however, is often misunderstood because we have a narrow understanding of what it is and how to obtain it.
What is your definition of a confident person? Someone who ‘can work a room?’ A good public speaker? Or perhaps you don’t have a definition but when you see a confident person, you just know. And of the numerous ways people claim to go about acquiring confidence, at the top is the idea of faking it till you make it.
I’m not convinced of two things: Firstly, that confidence looks a specific way and only does specific things. And secondly, that faking it till you make it actually works in the long-term. The former I disagree with because there are a plethora of diverse confident human beings available to us as examples. And the latter, from observation, has rarely seemed to be self-evident. That is to say, anyone paying attention can still see if you’re faking it. (The saving grace to this notion however, is many people don’t pay attention.)
So what is confidence and how does one obtain it if these popular culture notions are likely flawed? Here’s my wager: Confidence is experience, and you get a whole lot of it from failure. A personal example may illustrate this point clearly.
I’m a runner. And I’m either running as part of my workout regimen or I’m training for a race. When asked if I enjoy running, I often reply, “I enjoy the feeling from accomplishing a run.” Because here’s the other other truth: I’m not a natural-born distance runner, if there is such a thing.
Every physician, physical therapist, coach, gym instructor, etc. who has ever seen my femurs, has informed me that my body was made for sprinting – and indeed for a time it was. But sprinting, though I continue to do it as part of my workouts, isn’t something you compete in after a certain period of your life unless you’re a professional. Distance running however, is something you can continue to do for many years.
But distance running takes practice, patience, discipline, and surprisingly, failure. Yes, failure is part of the process. The failure might come when your pace is slower than you want, or it might come when you cut your distance shorter one day because you feel like you can’t make it. Or best or worst of all, it might come when you’re at mile 10 in a half marathon and your legs feel like jelly and you’ve forgotten about your PR and you’re just trying to complete the race – some of which you are reduced to barely jogging.
I have experienced all these things and more in something I don’t consider myself naturally good at. And you know what was on the other side of these failures? Confidence.
When you’ve failed at something, the next time you try it, you get better at it. And you keep getting better if you keep trying.
But shouldn’t you do things you’re good at? Well, of course. But the confidence you have in the things you excel at, is already much higher than the things you consider weaknesses. Both things however, still require experience. The difference is your limits are greater in your weaknesses than in your strengths. But surprisingly or perhaps not so surprisingly, you’ll gain more confidence from excelling at your weaknesses than your strengths, because you already expect to excel at the latter.
I’m a big proponent of working on your strengths and talents in order to enhance what you’re already good at. There is a natural confidence that comes from this practice. But I’m also a big proponent of making your weaknesses a part of your life that you regularly confront. Because those experiences of showing your weakness, failing, getting up and getting on, make you grow. The confidence that comes from overcoming these fears and failures is a triumph that already being the best at something cannot offer you.
So the next time you don’t want to do something because you’re scared or because you’re not naturally good at it. Remember: practice, patience, discipline, and failure. And if you still suck at it, that’s okay too. You don’t need to be good at everything. But perhaps one way to get the best out of life and funny enough, to get more confidence in it, is to try as many things as you can.
So what is the truth about confidence? It’s a simple truth: Confidence is the effort of experience.