The Hidden Room of Self Confidence

There’s a secret about self confidence that they don’t want you to know.


What we think it’s made up of is a sham.

Self confidence is not a thing to be founded upon the outside world’s measurements: acclaim, salary, recognition, titles, et cetera.

It’s a thing that can only originate from your own and lone internal appraisal and permission.

Those two things have nothing to do with what they know about you, and everything to do with what you know about you.

Yet we tend to focus on the former.

broken window pane

What Comes First—You or Them?

When Lucille Ball was 15, the head of her theater and dance school told her mother that she was wasting her money. Lucy left the school, but didn’t give up.

Through early adulthood, she kept working and kept “failing” in acting. She was even dubbed the “Queen of the B” movies.

Finally, nearly 30 years after that theater school tried to crush her, she created I Love Lucy.  

Over the next few years, she received thirteen Emmy nominations and four wins.

But was Lucy not an amazing actress before that? Even if her acting was bad at first, isn’t her amazingness the reason it got better?

What if we define amazing by how a person responds to lack of “success?”

(I’m defining success, temporarily, as “social recognition and money” versus a truer definition involving the fruits of personal fulfillment.)

In youthful attempts to work as a cartoonist for the Kansas City Star, Walt Disney was rejected and told he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

Yes. That Walt Disney.

Then ol’ Walt tried to launch an animation company. It failed. He tried another . . . it went bankrupt. Two rather large failures.

Oh—Disney also didn’t graduate from high school.

Like many, he’s an entrepreneur who failed many time before finding “success.”

But was he not an entrepreneur during—even before—the failures? Did it really take acknowledged financial wins to make him an entrepreneur, or was he not that all along? Didn’t the successful part come before the recognized success?

fireworks at walt disney world

We wait for the outside to validate us and all the while, the outside isn’t paying any attention at all …

Until it does.

But who were you before that?

An artist who’s never sold a painting, who’s never even painted a painting, but has them stored in jars of dreams on shelves in the mind—is she not an artist?

Is she not an artist because nobody has said so? Or maybe because she herself hasn’t said so?

I see artists every day who would never dare call themself that, but it is what they are.

My friend John is a poet. I know because I’ve seen his prose, I’ve seen the poems he enjoys, and I listen to him speak. Especially when he’s drunk.

He speaks in poems.

But John doesn’t have any poems published; I doubt he writes anymore. Perhaps he figures, why bother?

He doesn’t believe, but is he not a poet?

The housewife who coached a high school track team to three consecutive state wins before deciding to stay home after her third child …

Did she stop being a coach when she stopped coaching?


The Secret Room of Self Confidence

The line dividing who we are and aren’t doesn’t consist, I’m afraid, of any line at all.

But I know what’s going on here: If we confess to a title with which society does not (yet) anoint us, we must endure the follow up:

“Oh! You’re a writer/artist/entrepreneur/designer? What have you published/shown/started/sold [successfully]?”

We think that because there is no measurable result, then we aren’t who we are.

I’ll repeat that:

Because we can’t show external proof of identity to someone (who is not us), we accept, heads hanging, that we are not who we are.

Not who say we are, but who. we. are.woman taking a photo of herself in the mirror

Given the presumed valuations of others, we tie our self confidence to self knowledge and lock them away in a dark and secret room. We wait for renown, we wait until the first client, the first sale, for those are the things to confirm that we offer something worthwhile.

(To at least one person).

Some say you can’t call yourself a professional until you make your first sale. But I’m not talking about profession, I’m talking about self.

Why is it not enough that you love your craft? That you pursue and have skill therein? That you sense your greatness? That you know that although you may still be a novice, you’ll grow, and grow, and better, and change?

Do you expect to begin as an expert? Do you think that while your first works may be more giraffe-legs than your latter, that there’s therefore no current market for them?

And no, we don’t need you to say you’re a pilot when you’ve never flown and never trained. That’s not what I mean. We don’t need to die.

But if you’re trained, if you’re as ready as you can be, let me tell you something:

Sometimes things get better with age, and sometimes they don’t. The best you’re ever going to have could be already waiting, wasted, and in you right now.


The Fabricated Gap Between Now and Then

You await validation, some external thing (that’s out there truly not giving a damn) to come along and tell you who you are in order to believe that you have it in you at all.

Maybe that person who just validated you is cheating on their spouse. Maybe they worship a cat king. Maybe they eat cigarette ashes.

You’re waiting on them?

Or this:

You may be waiting until you can be even better at what you are before letting the world know . . .

But stop.

That is ego.

Start where you are and know that you’ll get better through work and action. Not through sitting there doing the same thing every day or collecting more online certifications (though yes, those things can help).

Be willing to swallow your pride and know that while your stellar taste is saying, “WAIT! You could do better with more time—just wait until then!” that what you’re doing now is actually enough.

More importantly, it’s the thing that’s going to get you to that whole “better with time” place. It’s part, it’s problem, it just . . . is.


Who’s Your First Patient?

Do you think a surgeon or psychiatrist’s very first patient gets the same treatment as a new patient decades down the road?

No, they don’t get the same thing.

But is the thing they get worse? Maybe not. A very strong maybe.

(And again, was that doctor not a doctor before the first patient?)

Sometimes, it’s the fresh eye, the person in training, who offers the newest and best ideas.

Just ask Jack Andraka, who by 16 had had his research rejected by 199 labs until the 200th accepted him. By doing so, John Hopkins University aided Andraka’s creation of a pancreatic cancer test purportedly 100 times more sensitive and 26,000 times less expensive than anything at the time.

199 rejections? Internal self confidence? Yep, those were things.

So. Back to your craft.

Perhaps you know you can be better than what you are now. Perhaps that’s what keeps you from having more self confidence.

That first sentence is a good thing. It means you’re realistic and you have taste. The second? Not so much.

If you thought you were 100% ready, that would be scary.

“Nobody tells people who are beginners. I wish somebody had told this to me:

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap …

For the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. Okay? It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. You know what I mean? A lot of people never get past that phase.

A lot of people at that point, they quit.

And the thing I would just like to say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting, creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be.

They knew it fell short. It didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have.

Everybody goes through that. And for you to go through it—if you’re going through it right now, if you’re just getting out of that phase—you’ve got to know it’s totally normal.

And the most important possible thing you could do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline . . . because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you actually are going to catch up and close that gap, and the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.

It takes a while. It’s going to take you a while. It’s normal to take a while and you just have to fight your way through that.


Ira Glass


If you think you are the best you can be right now, in this very moment, then congratulations. You literally can’t get any better than that (right now). It takes many moments. It’s a rolling snowball approach, not a top-of-the-mountain thing.

There will always be a next ideal, a next opportunity to be better. When you reach the point at which you thought you’d be satisfied with yourself—surprise!—there will be yet another level-up.

But you can only take it if you grasp. If you fail and if you try and if you keep going anyway, strong in the knowledge that only you need to know:

That you are who you are and we need you—I need you—to be it.

But I’m not going to tell you to start being it, because you already are it.

We need you to own yourself.

We need you to be realistic about who you are. To acknowledge that if you’re waiting on a validation that’s literally made out of thin air (words) or thin concepts (money), then you need to stop waiting.

Take the pilot test: Are you trying to fly a plane without proper training? Is there actual information that you’re missing? Do you need more fire under your ass to take logical steps toward your goals or …

Do you just need a new approach to self confidence?


Your thoughts? I’d love to hear ’em below … Oh, and get an email when I post something new.

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