Self-confidence can come from several sources. It can come from accomplishments, certificates on a wall, numbers on a page, words from another, or connections with others. But, it is the self-confidence that comes from the inside that is the most powerful. One of the most surefire ways to do this is to develop a skill to the point of extreme proficiency. In other words, by becoming excellent at something.
Take the case of Joe. Joe was never the most popular kid in school, nor was he the smartest. In fact, it seemed that Joe was pretty much average at everything he did. That is, until he started training in martial arts. Years of dedication, training and improvement led him to a profoundly peaceful point in his life: he knew that no matter how smart or popular his colleagues were, he could always protect them physically like nobody else could. Or, he could kick their asses if he needed to.
Brenda shares a similar story. As someone who never felt quite up to par with her peers, her self-confidence improved drastically when she decided to take her passion for singing seriously. After a year of vocal coaching and incessant rehearsing, Brenda carved out an identity for herself. She was the best singer her friends knew, she had talent, and she had found her place.
Skills for Identity Building
When you become extremely proficient at something, you begin to identify with that skill. If you’re excellent at writing story, you’re a writer; if you excel at mathematics, you’re a mathematician; if you read books like there’s no tomorrow, you’re an academic. These identity points become staples for your self-confidence. As your brain evaluates your social standing in relation to those around you, building (or destroying) your self-confidence, it will always have those skills to fall back on. Sure, you may not be as smart as your friend Brian, but you know that you could skate circles around him in a rink. It’s what you do. It’s what makes you special.
Of course, once you become excellent at one skill, you will almost always run into someone who is better. When this inevitably happens, your reality may come crashing down. At this point, you will have two options: get better or add another skill to your repertoire. The latter allows you to hedge your bets on more options, thereby keeping fewer eggs in the same basket. Sure that person can out-skate you, but are they a high-level skater and guitar player? Didn’t think so. Still, this line of thinking is not the end-goal, but only a transition into the desired state of mind: transcending social comparison.
Moving Past Comparison-Based Confidence
At the end of the day, the goal is to move away from out-performing others in order to derive self-confidence. The points listed above are a first step to building self-confidence, but are still external in nature. You are still looking for validation by affirming that you are better than others at certain things. The hope is that, in pursuing the things that you love to a high degree, you will eventually learn about yourself in the process. You will become more in touch with your strengths and weaknesses, your behaviours and habits, and in this process hopefully attain the internally derived self-confidence you were seeking. You will be proud of yourself; proud that you put your nose to the grindstone and did the work to pursue something you love.
So find a skill you want to excel in and get at it.
“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'” – Muhammad Ali