Einstein famously said that “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” And yet fear of the new and the unknown, doubts and insecurities, and the thought of pushing ourselves beyond the familiarity of our comfort zone is a scary thought that makes us rather “bear those ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of” (Hamlet, Act III scene i). And those “ills” could range from a bad relationship or undesirable apartment to an unsatisfying job situation, a horrible boss, or simply the fear of getting out there and going on a job interview.
So what keeps us trapped in a prison of dissatisfaction and unhappiness, and living a life of quiet desperation? It could be a variety of factors, but one of the biggest and most common is: a lack of confidence.
From my own personal experience, I’ve found, over the course of my career, that confidence is the single biggest differentiator between those who succeed and those who don’t. All things being equal, whether in business, sports, school, or life, the more confident person is often going to come out ahead more times than the one who isn’t. As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”
We’re talking about the person who has the confidence to raise their hand. The confidence to put themselves out there. The confidence to take risks and give it a try. The confidence to question authority. The confidence to ignore those who mock you. The confidence to get back up after getting knocked down. And the confidence to (as in the classic Apple “Think Different” commercial “Here’s to the Crazy Ones”) think they can change the world.
Years ago, when I lived in L.A., I went to watch a live taping of “Seinfeld” – which, as a huge fan of the show, was an amazing and unforgettable experience. But what made it most unforgettable – and regrettable all these years later – was something that didn’t happen that night:
During a break in the taping, the host whose job it was to keep the audience entertained in between scenes said, “It’s time for some Seinfeld trivia! If you can tell me the middle name of Elaine Benes, you win this Seinfeld t-shirt!” Having watched and pretty much memorized every single episode, I knew for certain that the answer was “Marie.” But while other audience members randomly shouted out one wrong guess after another, I sat there in anxious silence…while busting to call out the correct answer and claim my prize. But too shy to speak up, doubting myself, and afraid of the possibility of being wrong and embarrassing myself in front of a group of strangers who didn’t know me and who I would never see again, that window of opportunity quickly closed. So what kept me from winning that Seinfeld t-shirt that I wanted so badly? Absolutely nothing but a lack of confidence in myself, the fear of being wrong, and, simply, the fear of speaking up and speaking out.
I wish I had kept in mind that night the classic quote by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who famously said that, “The only thing we have to fear…is fear itself,” as well as these motivational thoughts from his wife, First Lady and prolific author and world-changing social activist (despite all her many self-confessed fears and insecurities), Eleanor Roosevelt:
“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you, if you realized how seldom they do.”
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
“What could we accomplish if we knew we could not fail?”
“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”
“Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each new thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.”
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out, eagerly and without fear, for newer and richer experience.”
“You can often change your circumstances by changing your attitude.”
And, my favorite, and probably the most well-known (from her inspirational book, “You Learn By Living: Eleven Keys For A More Fulfilling Life”):
“Fear has always seemed to me to be the worst stumbling block which anyone has to face… The encouraging thing is that every time you meet a situation, though you may think at the time it is an impossibility…once you have met it and lived through it, you find that forever after you are freer than you ever were before. If you can live through that, you can live through anything. You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this…I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
The word “confidence” comes from the Latin for “with trust or faith” (and is related to such other words as confide, confident, confidant, fidelity, fiduciary, etc.). So the key to keep in mind regarding this definition is that in order to instill confidence in others, it is so important to first trust and have faith in oneself.
Here’s the bad news: You are always going to struggle with your confidence. Why? Because EVERYONE does, at one time or another! Fear of the unknown is an absolutely normal, human emotional reaction. And, the future is always unknown!
The only way, really, to make yourself completely confident all of the time would be to just do the same old thing, the same old way every single day of your entire life. But that would be predictable and boring…and will lead us nowhere. The only way to grow is to try, to take risks, to fail, and to learn, and to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones…into the zone of the unknown.
Thomas Edison said, “I didn’t fail 10,000 times; I learned 10,000 ways how NOT to make a lightbulb.”
Wayne Gretzky said that “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
And Dale Carnegie advised: Imagine the worst that can happen. Now imagine the likelihood of the worst happening, and be prepared in case it does. But realize that worst-case scenarios rarely happen. Think back on how many times in the past you’ve worried about something bad happening, how infrequently (if ever) it did, and how much time and energy you wasted worrying about it. Now use that time, that you would have spent worrying, more productively.
So, with spring almost upon us and opening day of the baseball season just around the corner, to paraphrase the famous words of Babe Ruth: Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from swinging for the fences!
For more on building your confidence, please see my blog post, “How to Regain Your Confidence and Recapture Your Mojo After a Layoff.”