Where does confidence come from?

I’ve never thought of myself as a confident person. Yet sometimes people ask me where I get my confidence from, so I must be projecting the illusion of confidence at some level.

I don’t feel confident right now. I feel vulnerable.

For the past year I’ve been working in my secret underground laboratory creating something new.

It’s a novel. The first in a series.

Writing the novel was fun most of the time (apart from the month when I couldn’t write a single word and couldn’t figure out why.) I allowed myself to imagine my cast of characters walking, talking and doing interesting stuff. And there was no risk of public failure, because I kept my words hidden from the outside world.

Now I am showing people what I’ve spent the last year working on. I’m making myself vulnerable to criticism. I’m suggesting to people that what I’ve written is worth them spending a chunk of time reading. I’m even asking them for money.

‘Huh? For that?’ I hear them saying (in my imagination.) ‘What a terrible idea. What a stupid book. What a useless writer you are.’

To protect me from this, I need confidence. But where does it come from? Let’s think of a metaphor.

Suppose you’re lost and you don’t know how to reach your destination. That’s all of us, right?

There are lots of options, lots of possible routes, but you don’t know which one to choose.

Now, one option is certain to result in failure – don’t make a decision, and stay exactly where you are.

Every other option has at least a chance of success, so it is always better to make a decision than not. That’s the first part of confidence – overcoming the fear of failure, by realizing that failure is guaranteed if you don’t act.

So you choose a route and set off. If you set off along your chosen route and never consider whether it is right, you may not reach your destination. Equally, if you set off hesitantly and timidly, it’ll take you a long time to get anywhere.

The optimum solution? Make your choice and set off confidently, but keep your choice under continual review.

Doing this consciously, you can engineer confidence. You can know, rationally, that in a world of confusing choices and incomplete information, you are embarking on an option that’s better than most.

No decision you make in life should be final. Every choice or direction or decision should be provisional, and subject to review. But until something forces you to reassess and change your decision, it is better to stick with it as if you had confidence.

So I am publishing my book, whether it is good or bad, knowing that to not publish it would guarantee that no one ever gets to read it.

9 responses to “Where does confidence come from?

  1. Your third paragraph makes your novel sound like the Frankenstein monster. Hence, a Morris—centric reading of Shelley’s book: Dr. Frankenstein pursues his project with catastrophically excessive confidence, resulting in a creature whose self-loathing becomes catastrophically destructive. Now invert the process (an inversion, incidentally, that Freud saw in such obsessive-compulsive patients as the wolf man and the rat man) and you get a self-loathing that produces an illusion of great confidence. Could self-loathing be the hidden source of all great creative projects? An interesting theory, but for now I recommend that your readers forget about my conclusion and focus on your more wholesome one: “Make your choice and set off confidently, but keep your choice under continual review” 😊

    • My novel is in fact like Frankenstein’s monster. In a good way, or a bad way remains to be seen. Perhaps a certain amount of self-loathing is required to temper over-confidence or unwarranted confidence. That’s what I hinted at when I wrote that every decision should be provisional and subject to review. That can become exhausting, of course.

  2. Having read a draft of your book, which I enjoyed a great deal, I definitely think you’re making the right decision. It will never be perfect. The only measure is whether readers will enjoy it, and I think they will.

    On confidence, I think you’re looking at it the right way. We have to be willing to potentially make mistakes, learn from them, and improve on each iteration. But that means exposing ourselves to potentially uncomfortable criticism on our early efforts. But often the only way to get to the refined later versions is to go through the early rough ones.

    • Thanks, Mike. I’ve always believed that to grow as people we have to push beyond our comfort zone. Sometimes we fail, sometimes we succeed, but by pushing at boundaries we find that we can do more than we thought.

  3. Pingback: Where does Confidence Come From? | Playful Bookbinding and Paper Works

  4. Thanks for this post Steve. This was my favorite line (which I’ve already repeated a couple of times) “Now, one option is certain to result in failure – don’t make a decision, and stay exactly where you are.” I just reblogged this post on to my blog.

  5. That’s great, Steve! I wish you all the best. I have enjoyed reading your blogs. Confidence comes from facing your fears, take swimming to add to your example of metaphor. The more you swim the more you feel confident to ‘tread the waters’. Hear the sound of a breaking idiom? A breaking wave. “Every breaking wave on the shore tells the next one there’ll be one more” 🙂 One thing is leading to another one for you Steve, enjoy it 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYVEik7Lvc4

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