First off, full disclosure: contrary to what the length of this blog post would have you believe, confidence is not something I spend a whole lot of time thinking about.

But, you ever have that experience where a subject isn’t terribly important to you, but it keeps coming up over and over again in different circles, from different people, so much so that you go, “let me give this some thought?”

That’s what happened to me on the subject of confidence.

Over a very short period of time, people kept telling me that they admire my confidence and they’d follow that up with “How are you so confident?”

And because I hadn’t personally really given it much thought, I would immediately point them to Amy Cuddy’s amazing Ted Talk that tells you how to strike power poses and how just the act of posturing can boost your confidence.

But, I got the question so much that I felt compelled to actually explore my own thoughts about confidence and give some personal advice rather than just phoning it in and sending folks over to Amy.

What I realized was that the reason I didn’t think about confidence is because I don’t really have it. Well, not in the form that most people think of it anyway.

When people ask how I get to be so confident, they position it like it’s a thing one has—you either have it or you don’t. And if you weren’t lucky enough to have it naturally, you need to focus your energy on acquiring it. Cue Field of Dreams cutaway, “If you pursue it, it will come.”

To me, confidence isn’t a quality one can consistently possess. I view it as a synonym for hypothesis, or “my smartest guess based on the information I have at the time.” And in any given situation, I have varying degrees of confidence based on what I know.

For instance, I do a lot of public speaking, and when I do, I’m confident. I’m not confident because I have an internal supply of unfounded confidence that I tap into for the occasion. I’m confident in my ability to execute a good presentation because:

  1. I enjoy public speaking
  2. I’ve cultivated public speaking skills
  3. I’ve done well in this endeavor in the past
  4. I’m going to practice to increase the odds that I get the outcome I want

In this situation, the information I have in front of me is past experience, known skill, interest, commitment to practicing, a clear idea of what success is for me and a general enjoyment of public speaking. Therefore, based on that information, I’m confident, or I can say with some degree of certainty that I should do well in this arena.

My degree of confidence is just a byproduct of the information I have.

It’s not an innate quality I possess or a built-in supply of a trait. It’s just data.

Conversely, when I don’t prepare for a speaking engagement, guess what happens? I may still do ok, but I’m less confident in my ability to execute because the data I have supports the likelihood of poorer performance.

To me, confidence sits squarely in an objective space, not a subjective one. I’m confident when I have data to support the case for it and I’m not confident when I don’t. That simple.

I know what you’re thinking: But, what about times when you have confidence and you don’t do great. What then?

I’ve definitely been there. Typically, my misses are a result of underestimating the level of skill I need to reach a goal and/or overestimating where I am current state, so while I prepare well, it’s not good enough to hit my target.

And, that’s just called a teachable moment.

Missing the mark isn’t a cause for confidence to wane—it’s cause for assessment: Why did I miss? How do I not miss next time? Is the effort required to not miss next time worth it to me? And my favorite question, “Am I interested or am I committed?” (I got this from John Assaraf).

Asking these questions may help you realize that you don’t actually want something as much as you thought. If you’re committed to improving, then your confidence will only grow as you learn more about what you’re doing i.e. seeing data that supports that you’re doing well. If you decide you were only interested, then understand that the endeavor wasn’t actually that important to you—and be ok with that. You don’t know until you do. Plus, you ended up with more self-awareness than you had when you started.