In the realm of self-improvement and career advancement, we hear endless chatter about self-esteem and confidence. Millions of books have been sold on these subjects. But what are they really? Self-esteem is our estimation of our core self based on feelings generated from internal factors, not external ones. Real confidence is based on real world accomplishments. When a person tries too hard to prove to others that they are confident, we call them overconfident. This signifies that people can tell when confidence is fake and when it is real. Truly confident people do not need to try too hard to show others how competent they are, yet their self-confidence will still come across in their behaviors.
Now that we have defined these terms, we can examine the roles that self-esteem and confidence play in personal development. Self-esteem is somewhat malleable since it is a psychological factor. Self-esteem can fluctuate on a daily basis, and this is both a good and a bad thing. We can boost our self-esteem temporarily to gain real world advantages which translate into real confidence. This is known as the “fake it till you make it” strategy. But real confidence based on actual accomplishments is like gold.
So how do we get real confidence? By accomplishing things in the world. It’s that simple. We gain confidence in our abilities and value by overcoming obstacles and seeing how far we’ve come. In this way, confidence is attainable for anyone. It’s not necessary to become a millionaire or CEO to gain real confidence. Confidence is scalable and will be measured relative to where we started out. For a homeless person to get out of homelessness and get an apartment and get a job, however menial, is a huge step up, even though that person may not have particularly high status in society. And that confidence can be built upon.
So in order to get confidence we need to accomplish things in the world. This means that we need to separate our feelings from actions. Actions are more important than words, or even thoughts, for building confidence. When I was growing up, my Mom was somewhat of a self-help junkie, and she talked a lot about this book called “Feel the Fear… and Do It Anyway.” I never got around to reading the book, but perhaps I didn’t need to. The message is all in the title. That little aphorism had a profound effect on me, and helped me to put myself in uncomfortable situations that would eventually lead to personal growth and later, real confidence.
We need to find activities that can help us build confidence incrementally, and not set up too lofty goals initially that will just set us up for failure. I did multiple internships in college because I wanted to throw myself into a bunch of things to kickstart my career. And some of those ended up turning into paying job opportunities. But it could be anything. The point is that it should be something that creates real value in our lives. Some people get a feeling of self-worth from career success, from providing for their children, or developing extensive social networks and helping friends and loved ones. But whatever it is, we should be working toward something that adds to our own value, and benefits others at the same time. In this way we can gradually build self-confidence, which does not fluctuate as wildly as self-esteem does.