How are you supposed to be confident about something when you have nothing to feel confident about?
Like, how are you supposed to be confident at your new job if you’ve never done this type of work before? Or how are you supposed to be confident in social situations when no one has ever liked you before? Or how are you supposed to be confident in your relationship when you’ve never been in a successful relationship before?
On the surface, confidence appears to be an area where the rich get richer and the poor stay the fucking losers they are. After all, if you’ve never experienced much social acceptance, and you lack confidence around new people, then that lack of confidence will make people think you’re clingy and weird and not accept you.
Same deal goes for relationships. No confidence in intimacy will lead to bad breakups and awkward phone calls and emergency Ben and Jerry’s runs at three in the morning.
And seriously, how are you supposed to be confident in your work experience when previous experience is required to even be considered for a job in the first place?
The Confidence Conundrum
If you’ve always lost in life, then how could you ever expect to be a winner? And if you never expect to be a winner, then you’re going to act like a loser. Thus the cycle of suckage continues.
So it seems like you’re stuck in one of two loops: either you’re already in a happy and confident loop, like this.
Or you’re in a loser loop, like this.
And if you’re in the loser loop, well it seems damn near impossible to get out.
It’s like a dog chasing its own tail. Or Domino’s ordering its own pizza. You can spend a lot of time cuticle-gazing trying to mentally sort everything out, but just like with your lack of confidence, you’re likely to end up right back where you started.
But maybe we’re going about this all wrong. Maybe the confidence conundrum isn’t really a conundrum at all.
If we pay close attention, we can learn a few things about confidence just by observing people. So before you run off and order that pizza, let’s break this down:
- Just because somebody has something (tons of friends, a million dollars, a bitchin’ beach body) doesn’t necessarily mean that this person is confident in it. There are business tycoons who totally lack confidence in their own wealth, models who lack confidence in their looks, and celebrities who lack confidence in their own popularity. So I think the first thing we can establish is that confidence is not necessarily linked to any external marker. Rather, our confidence is rooted in our perception of ourselves regardless of any tangible external reality.
- Because our confidence is not necessarily linked to any external, tangible measurement, we can conclude that improving the external, tangible aspects of our lives won’t necessarily build confidence. Chances are that if you’ve lived more than a couple of decades, you’ve experienced this in some form or another. Getting a promotion at your job doesn’t necessarily make you more confident in your professional abilities. In fact, it can often make you feel less confident. Dating and/or sleeping with more people doesn’t necessarily make you feel more confident about how attractive you are. Moving in with your partner or getting married doesn’t necessarily make you feel any more confident in your relationship.
- Confidence is a feeling. An emotional state and a state of mind. It’s the perception that you lack nothing. That you are equipped with everything you need, both now and for the future. A person confident in their social life will feel as though they lack nothing in their social life. A person with no confidence in their social life believes that they lack the prerequisite coolness to be invited to anyone’s pizza party. It’s this perception of lacking something that drives their needy, clingy, and/or bitchy behavior.
How to Be More Confident
The obvious and most common answer to the confidence conundrum is to simply believe that you lack nothing. That you already have, or at least deserve, whatever you feel you would need to make you confident.
But this sort of thinking—believing you’re already beautiful even though you’re a frumpy slob, or believing you’re a raving success even though your only profitable business venture was selling weed in high school—leads to the kind of insufferable narcissism that causes people to argue that obesity (something that is more detrimental to your health than smoking cigarettes) should be celebrated as beauty and that it’s, like, totally OK to carve your name into the Roman Colosseum, because, you know, selfies.
A lot of people soon realize this doesn’t work and so they take a different approach: incremental, external improvement.
They read articles that tell them the top 50 things confident people do, and then they try to do those things.
They start to exercise, dress better, make more eye contact, and practice firmer handshakes.
This is admittedly a step above simply believing that you’re already confident and that you don’t belong in the loser loop. After all, at least you’re doing something about your lack of confidence. And actually, it will work—but only for a little while.
Again, this type of thinking only focuses on external sources of confidence. And remember, deriving your self-confidence from the world around you is short-lived at its best and completely fucking delusional at its worst.
So no, external improvement is not a sustainable solution to the confidence conundrum. And feeling as though you lack nothing and deluding yourself into believing you already possess everything you could ever dream of is far worse.
The only way to be truly confident is to simply become comfortable with what you lack.
Read that again.
The big charade with confidence is that it has nothing to do with being comfortable in what we achieve and everything to do with being comfortable in what we don’t achieve.
People who are confident in business are confident because they’re comfortable with failure. They realize that failure is simply part of learning how their market works. It’s a reflection of their lack of knowledge, not a reflection of who they are as a person.
People who are confident in their social lives are confident because they’re comfortable with rejection. They’re not afraid of rejection because they’re comfortable with people not liking them as long as they’re expressing themselves honestly.
People who are confident in their relationships are confident because they’re comfortable with getting hurt. They’re not afraid to be vulnerable and tell someone how they feel and then establish strong boundaries around those feelings, even if it means being uncomfortable (or leaving a bad relationship).
Building Confidence Through Failure
The truth is that the route to the positive runs through the negative. Those among us who are the most comfortable with negative experiences are those who reap the most benefits.
It’s counterintuitive, but it’s also true. We often worry that if we become comfortable in our failures—that if we accept failure as an inevitable part of living—that we will become failures.
But it doesn’t work that way.
Comfort in our failures allows us to act without fear, to engage without judgment, to love without conditions. It’s the dog that lets the tail go, realizing that it’s already a part of himself. It’s the Domino’s that cancels its own order, realizing it already has the pizza it wanted. Or something.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to publish this article comfortable with the fact that some people will probably hate it. And eat my pizza.