True Self-Confidence Isn’t What You Think It Is

I recently realized that my perspective on self-confidence has been completely backwards.

Generally speaking, I’ve always thought of myself as being a pretty confident person. In part, I think my confidence grew out of my athleticism and my involvement in a slew of different sports over the course of my life.

When I was 6 years old, I participated in my first end-of-school-year field day race, and I learned that I was a fast runner. By age 7, I was playing on a soccer team in the fall and spring seasons and skiing most weekends of the winter. I also started taking regular Kenpo karate classes and earned my black belt by age 12.

In 7th grade, I joined the boys soccer team at my school because there wasn’t a girls team. I continued to play on the guys team up until my senior year of high school, when a girls team was finally added. And in 8th grade, I was pulled up to run on the high school’s varsity track team.

I found that as my identity (and ego) developed, it became very tied-in with my athletic ability.

Even over a decade later, since turning thirty, I tend to feel pretty self-assured when trying new things and engaging in (what some might perceive to be) risky activities. I went skydiving for the first time on a whim. And I learned to rock climb just this past fall and quickly fell in love with the sport.

Coming from an athletic and competitive background, I would say that I ordinarily feel confident and secure in my abilities with respect to others. But therein lies the very subtle yet pernicious problem - that “with respect to others” part.

Because, yes, sometimes other people serve to inspire me, push me, or fascinate me. But sometimes, for any multitude of reasons (if I’m having a bad hair day, if I’m feeling tired, bloated, overwhelmed, or anxious, if I’m not meeting or exceeding whatever expectations I’ve set for myself, or if I’m simply reacting to one or more triggers), my tendency to compare myself to others makes me feel uncomfortably, nauseatingly insecure.

What I’ve discovered only recently is that true self-confidence has nothing to do with other people. It doesn’t have to do with being “the best” at something or how you compare to others in any respect at all.

Self-confidence is a much more inherently individualistic quality. It comes from being comfortable with whatever actions you’ve taken and whatever experiences you’ve had. But, above all, self-confidence derives from you being happy and wholly content with who you are, regardless of anyone else.

We tend to initially develop self-confidence early-on in our lives upon learning that we’re above average or better than others at something. We start to feel like we belong in the world, and we begin to develop a sense of purpose surrounding that thing that sets us apart.

Even if others are better than us at some things or have developed an expertise in a certain area, we can lean on our own experience(s) and/or talent(s) and often still feel special or important in some way. Our sense of confidence and self-worth too frequently develops within us from that space.

But basing your self-confidence on other people - whether it’s by way of comparing yourself to others or by receiving validation from others - is a fallacy.

This truth can be hard to see at first because engaging in this sort of comparative behavior will sometimes lead you down a positively reinforcing path (which is often why we fall victim to the tendency to compare in the first place). Competing with and comparing yourself to others in this way may initially inflate your ego and make you feel emotions that are strikingly similar to happiness and self-confidence.

But regularly entertaining this practice will ultimately lead you down a dark road and take you to a place that’s ruled by insecurity and fear. Because there will almost always be someone out there who is better than you at anything you are good at in life. And if you’re constantly comparing yourself to others, you’ll relentlessly suffer from a nagging feeling of insufficiency that will not serve you.

True self-confidence comes from a place of surrender and self-acceptance - not from a place of comparison or competition. It comes from not giving a royal fuck about what others think of you or how they stack up against you. It comes from a place of love and fulfillment, and not darkness or lacking.

So don’t look at your achievement in whatever category and compare it against the achievements of others. Doing that will not make you happy. If you constantly compare and compete, you’ll be doomed to always lose out to a better player.

The happier artist / athlete / worker / human just enjoys creating or doing whatever it is they’re doing for the sake of it - for its own merit.

And the only thing that makes you a(n) [insert whatever it is that you’d like to define yourself as here - artist, writer, athlete, doctor, lawyer, etc.] is showing up every day and working or creating within that space. If you’re a writer, write. Be true to your passion and enjoy it. Embrace the process and revel in the journey.

That’s the real path to self-confidence.

So tell me, what does self-confidence mean to you? And does what I’ve just explained resonate with you? Why or why not?

Regardless of whether it does or doesn’t, I’d like to challenge you to give this approach a shot. Start by trying to let go of comparison and competition for one full day. Embrace, accept, and love yourself for who you are and nothing more. Then reach out and let me know how it went.

If you do this every day for a month, I believe you’ll begin to feel happier, or at least more content and fulfilled, than you felt when deriving your self-confidence or feelings of self-worth from engaging in comparison to others. It won’t be easy to do, but I promise that it will be worth it.