Misunderstanding Confidence

by Max Sirak

(On the go? Listen instead of read!)

We have it all wrong. Confidence isn't what we think it is and it doesn't come from where we think it does. And that's alright. Because with some help from my friends, I'm going to set the record straight.


Vince Lombardi, legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers during the 1960s, called confidence contagious.

While I can appreciate the disease model of confidence, especially in the context of trying to inspire a team to achieve a goal, it's a bit misleading. Confidence isn't a germ. It's not transferred through contact with bodily fluids and it most certainly doesn't come from someone else.

In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand writes, "Confidence is the practical form of being true to one's own consciousness."

Her definition is more helpful than the hatted hero of Green Bay's. Although, being true to yourself falls more in line with what a lot of us would call honesty, integrity, coherence, or actualization.

Democritus, the pre-Socratic philosopher from BCE (Before the Common Era), said confidence "is a mind devoid of fear."

Of all the descriptions of confidence so far, this is the one which hits closest to home. Most of us walk around believing confidence is an antidote. If we have enough of it then eventually we'll be free from the feelings of fear.

Democritus was on to something. There is definitely an inverse relationship between confidence and fear, the more of one the less of the other. However, with the ancient Greek paying no mind to his order of operations, I'd like to offer my own definition.

Confidence is a hot shower.

Allow Me To Explain

ShowerConfidence is a reward, not a requirement. It's not a vaccine or preventative measure. It's not something we need or can even have in advance.

We've all made this mistake. There are things we've waited to do, or flat-out don't do in our lives, because we don't feel confident. Maybe it's getting up on stage to perform stand-up or play music. Maybe, depending on age, it's trying out for a sports team or school group. Regardless of the situation, I bet we can each point to a place and time in our lives we didn't do something because we didn't have the confidence.

This is misunderstanding confidence.

Waiting to begin something until we feel confident is like waiting to travel until your destination magically appears at your door. That's not how it works. In order to get someplace, you must go.

In order to feel confident, you must do. There is no other way.

Wisdom Of The Old Joke Carnegie_Hall_Tower_cropped

"How do you get to Carnegie Hall?"

Practice, practice, practice.

How do any of us get good at anything? Practice.

The only way to improve our abilities to do something is to do it and do it and do it. There's no mystery. There's no secret formula.

Think about your own life. Anyone out there have kids? Great. Did you notice a difference in your approach and attitude between raising number one and number two? Was there a difference between changing your first diaper and your 900th?

Now, let's talk about sex. (Couldn't resist.) How was that first time compared to now? Were you a good lover to the sweet soul you lost your virginity with?

Of course not. You were clumsy. It was awkward.

What about now? Do you consider yourself a good lover? Are you more couth? Is sex as untoward?

You get my point.

No matter what it is we're talking about, practice is how we get better. And getting better at something is how we get good at it. And, when we're good at something, confidence is our reward.

However, long before we get to wash ourselves in the waters of confidence, there's a delicious, dripping opponent we must face.

Doubt Gets The Best Of Us WonderCon_2015_-_Michelangelo_(16861822678)

Michelangelo, the Renaissance sculptor and poet, called doubt delicious.

As a man who could see a completed statue where everyone else who looked saw only a big rock, I'm sure he was well acquainted with doubt. Especially in those early stages of creation where his vision was still entombed to all but his own eye and heard things like, "Just looks like a rock to me."

Napoleon Hill, in Think And Grow Rich, calls doubt one of our biggest enemies.

This makes sense. Remember, confidence comes only after having done something and getting good at it. So, when staring down any new project or task, it's easy to doubt yourself and abilities, getting bogged down by all the reasons we can't or shouldn't. And then we don't.

LeBron James calls doubt a drizzle.

Well, actually it was probably the ad agency behind the Kia campaign who came up with the line, but whatever. The point being, during the Eastern Conference NBA playoffs, this commercial was in the rotation.

LeBron says, "Doubt is a drizzle. Just enough to make you stay inside. Or second guess yourself. Or quit. Or let them have it. Or question your limits. But that's only if you're afraid of a little rain."

Doubt is often the reason we don't start new things. It's the incessant pitter-patter of negative thoughts, what ifs, and I don't knows which keeps us paralyzed. Dry and warm, sure. But also stuck.

Waiting for confidence to appear isn't what we need to brave the drow of doubt.

Wet socks are.

Courage: Our Wet Socks

Courage is going outside and playing despite doubt's drizzle. Courage is knowing we're going to get soaked, accepting it, and doing it anyway. Courage is embracing our wet socks.

Which isn't easy. No one likes wet socks. They're soggy. They make gross squishy sounds when we move. They make our feet cold. Wet socks are annoying and awful and that's ok.

Dan Sullivan, the mastermind behind Strategic Coach likes to point out, "Courage is never comfortable."

It can't be. By definition. Because courage is what gets us out the door and into the drizzle. It's the deep breathe before crossing the threshold knowing full well what it'll mean for us and our socks. And it is only through courage, our first step, we ever actually find ourselves to the hot shower of confidence.

Close Your Eyes And Imagine

Think about the last time you were outside and got drenched. Remember the feeling of your clothes and hair clinging to your body. Now, what's one of the first things you wanted as soon as you could? Was it a hot shower?

Do you remember how amazing it was standing there head down, eyes closed, half smiling as all the steamy water poured down the back of your neck onto the rest of your frozen body?

That is confidence.

It's the feeling of accomplishment. The smirking satisfaction of knowing you did something you set out to do and overcame obstacles along the way. It's appreciating what you've done, which is why it's impossible to feel before you start.

Here's How It Goes

We decide we want to start doing something new. Oppressive gray clouds of all the reasons why we can't begin to build. The drizzle of doubt starts to fall. We take a deep breath and nod to ourselves. We see, hear, and smell the rain. We know what's going to happen to us if we go out in it.

And we don't care. We summon our courage. We embrace our wet socks. So we go out. Again. And again and again. It sucks. We're cold. We're sopping. It's uncomfortable. We're miserable.

Except, then we stop noticing how wet we are and start noticing how much better we've become. All the time we've spent practicing out in the rain is paying off. We're able to do things we couldn't when we started. The things we could do then are easier now. We smile.

We carry this smile with us back inside. We wear it as we unlace our shoes and dump the puddles out. It stays with us as we strip off all our clothes and hang them to dry or wring them out.

Then, after all the hard work, after the hours upon hours we've put in, we start the shower. We turn the knob to hot. We wait. Thinking about all the discomfort we've managed, all the failures we bested, all the negative thoughts we entertained, and finally we see it.

Wisps of vapor start to spout and the shower door fogs.

We did it. We made it. This hot shower is our reward.

Confidence isn't an initial condition. It's not infectious. It's not a synonym and it isn't a vaccine. It's not what you need before you set out, it's what you get if you persevere.

Doubt is a drizzle. It keeps us from things. Courage is wet socks. It's what we need to start new things and brave the bedraggling. Confidence is a hot shower. It's the reward we get, which feels so good, because of all the time we spent in the rain.


Max is a ghostwriter and a podcaster. You can see his work here and listen here. Reach out on Twitter here.

Special thanks to Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach for the inspiration. Especially here and here.


Photo Credits

Carnegie Hall – By Carnegie_Hall.JPG: The original uploader was FRED at French Wikipedia derivative work: Niklem (This file was derived from Carnegie Hall.JPG:) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Michelangelo – By William Tung from USA (WonderCon 2015 -) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons