Wikipedia defines self-confidence as “a state of being clear . . . that . . . a chosen course of action is the best or most effective. Confidence comes from a Latin word fidere, which means ‘to trust’; therefore, having self-confidence is having trust in one’s self.” Sums it up nicely. But the source of that trust is the truth—about yourself, the situation, and the people involved.
Internal peace—that calming, desirable frame of mind—comes from knowing the truth. It’s also the basis of the best decisions.
If you know the truth about yourself, the situation, and the people involved, your course of action is clear.
So the question is, how can you know the truth about these three factors?
Self-confidence factor #1: Knowing the truth about yourself
When it comes to self-evaluation, we often err too far on one side or the other. We either think too poorly of ourselves, or we think more highly of ourselves than the situation warrants.
When we think poorly of ourselves, we beat ourselves up. “I always do this. I will never get this right. I’m such an idiot!”
When we think too highly of ourselves, we rationalize by excusing ourselves for what we know we could do better; we ignore the issue altogether; or we actually take pride in what we know isn’t really the best behavior.
These thought patterns, on one side of the spectrum or the other, shield us from the truth, and cause us to make decisions that don’t sync up with the reality of the situation.
We take action, yes, but that action doesn’t actually address the problem.
In fact, all this side-stepping causes more problems, because now the original problem is still there and getting worse (problems hardly ever get better over time), and the action that has been taken will only add more confusion and stress to the problem.
If you aspire to be a good manager, or even just a responsible and respected person, you will need to start by being realistic with yourself.
Face the fact that you are not perfect and never will be. That’s ok. Learn to start treating yourself as you would a child you love—with patience, caring, and a sense of humor. See every challenge as a new opportunity to learn and grow.
Don’t waste time beating yourself up or trying to puff yourself up. When you’re a manager, you don’t have time for either one, and it will only distract you from the task at hand. The “all bad” and “all good” thoughts are not real. They only exist in your head.
Self-confidence factor #2: Knowing the truth about the situation
When you’re trying to learn the truth about something, you have to watch out for agendas. The person telling you what happened is telling the story from their perspective. Their perspective will usually include some element of “how can I say this so it makes me (or my team) look good?” And certainly any articles that you read on a subject always start with the writer having a point of view, and presenting the facts in a way that supports that point of view.
So you always need to make sure you get both sides of the story, or at least as many facts as you can gather from a variety of sources. Do as much of your own research as you can.
Also make sure that you don’t let your own agenda taint your perspective on the situation. It is so easy to ignore things that shouldn’t be ignored, because you’re not comfortable dealing with them. In these situations, it’s best to jump in, but with an attitude of humility.
Assume that you can get better at this type of thing, as long as you are open to getting help and learning. If you are humble, you will be open to asking questions, and you will learn faster.
By the way, being a know-it-all is a sure way to lose trust in yourself. If you feel the need to be the smartest person in the room, you will not be in sync with the reality of the situation. Your agenda will be at odds with the truth of the matter.
Anyone can “know” something now, in a few seconds, thanks to Google and YouTube videos. But being able to cut through the confusion and get to the heart of the matter comes with experience.
Experience you gain because you were willing to learn is the most useful experience.
Self-confidence factor #3: Knowing the truth about the people involved
As I mentioned in the situation section, everyone has an agenda. Now, if the person’s agenda is to always be truthful, you are in luck. That person is going to be someone you’ll want to work with for as long as possible.
On the other hand, if their agenda is “all about me” and “how much power I can yield in this situation,” things are going to be messy. Self-centered people are never in sync with the reality of a situation, because the world never revolves around a single person. Outside of that “me” bubble are all sorts of people and situations at work that have nothing to do with all those “me” thoughts.
One way to accurately assess the reality of a situation is to figure out what the other person’s agenda is. I have found that each person has a unique agenda. There is one driving force that matters to them, such as always being the smartest person in the room, or worrying that others will “find out” what the person is really thinking in their private thoughts, or the fear of failure. These are examples of the all-too-common fear-based agendas.
Every so often, you will find someone whose agenda is not based on fear. Those folks tend to fall into two categories: power-hungry or make-a-difference hungry. The power-hungry people will stop at nothing to elevate themselves to a position they think they deserve. They are seldom obvious about it; they often hide behind a cloak of deception, hoping to look like an “I want to make a difference” person. They spend a lot of time talking about their aspirations, rather than “living” their aspirations.
In these cases, you need to watch more carefully what they do, rather than what they say. They are like the person who is saying “yes” with their lips, while shaking their heads, as in “no.” Their unconscious body language often betrays them. Watch how they treat others, especially those who are “lower” than them. If they are dismissive and haughty, they are not who they pretend to be.
The “I want to make a difference” people, the ones who honestly do care about others, will treat everyone nicely, regardless of where those people fall on the status spectrum. Their actions and their words will be in harmony. In all situations, they will do the honest and honorable thing.
Now, there is one other aspect of this to be careful of. If the area or cause where they’ve chosen to “make a difference” is somehow harmful to others, then they will obviously pose a danger to anyone who falls in step with them. It’s easy for this to happen; when someone comes along who is passionate about their cause and willing to sacrifice for that cause, their dedication is infectious.
But before you join up, it’s very wise to back up and ask yourself some serious questions. The most important question is, “Would this hurt others?” The other questions include: “Is this cause rooted in hate? Is this cause something that I might be ashamed of later—or if those who loved me found out? Is there anything dishonest or dishonorable about this cause?”
The most powerful and honorable people, no matter what they do for a living, are those who are dedicated to helping others. That’s just the truth. If that is what gets the person up in the morning, and you work for or with that person, it will be a pleasant experience. And they will strengthen, not reduce, your self-confidence.
Self-confidence is something you build yourself
My last thought here is that self-confidence doesn’t come from outside you. No matter how many people pat you on the back or reward you for your accomplishments, the only lasting self-confidence is something that comes from “doing the right thing” over and over, until you can trust yourself to always do the right thing. You know you will always do the right thing no matter how tempted you are to do the wrong thing; no matter how afraid you might be to do the right thing; and no matter what everyone else around you is thinking or saying.
Being truthful with yourself about yourself, the situation, and the people involved takes courage. Then deciding to take the right next step takes even more courage.
The more you exercise your courage muscle, the more courageous you get. You come to know that you are a capable, trustworthy person who has earned respect the hard way. You come to trust yourself.
Honestly, this is how self-confidence and “a wonderful life” is built.