On Confidence

Confidence is one of those easier-said-than-done traits. They're like casual employees who are quick to be called and quicker to be fired. But if we are to live our best lives ever, how does one go about having this 'confidence'? Is it a one-time fix or a disposition we work on every single day?

A defining feature of today's tech and design landscape is increasing uncertainty. You've heard this before, no doubt, Cambridge Analytica and all that.

But what about personal uncertainty – that nagging feeling that you do not have this despite evidence to the contrary?

We can always sing praises to failure with slogans and bumper stickers like 'fail fast, fail often'.

But really, is failure ever fun to live with? Do we really even want to be in that failing state?

Let me share with you a 3-minute clip about confidence from the folks at The School of Life. I transcribed the entire thing so I'd remember it quite pointedly.

What often distinguishes fulfilled from unfulfilled lives is an ingredient that's not part of the educational curriculum, and it can sound vague, silly and Californian in that sense – confidence.

It's humbling to realize just how many great achievements haven't been the result of superior talent or technical knowhow. Merely that strange buoyancy of the soul that we call confidence.

Why is confidence so easy to lack?

Partly, it's a hangover from the past. For thousands of years, for most of us, there simply were no opportunities for hope. We were serfs and slaves, and the central psychological survival skill was to keep our heads down and our expectations low.

Each of us still carries a little of the legacy from that past. An attitude of inner serfdom that threatens our spirit deep into a democratic, technological modern age.

Hope can feel dangerous.

There might, in addition, have been parents who sent out subtle messages.

"People like us, don't."

"Who do you take yourself for?"

We should feel compassionate about where those defensive parental messages came from. They were a protection, a survival strategy, and an escape from humiliation.

School didn't necessarily help either. It wanted us to be good boys and girls, and taught us to trust in established authority.

But we may, naively, have gone on too long, putting too much faith in existing institutions and now suffer from doing whatever is asked of us a little too obediently.

Part of becoming an adult seems to be to embrace the painful realization that grownups don't actually have all the answers and therefore, that we have every right, indeed a duty, to break certain rules and thinks thing through independently.

We need to learn a calculated form of disrespect, which can be a surprising thing after twenty years or so of enforced obedience.

We need to learn a constructive suspicion of authority: a path between total compliance on the one hand, and sullen skepticism on the other.

In addition, confidence seems to involve a courage to accept imperfection. It's tempting never to get going when everything has to be perfect.

But that's a recipe for remaining under the bed!

And yet, how often so-called "great lives" have been riddled with errors that, nevertheless, didn't sink them?

Confidence begins with a capacity to forgive oneself the horrors of the first go.

Death is a necessary thought too. We should use it not to further sadden us, but to scare us, fruitfully, into taking some action.

Our fear of messing up should give way to the only real danger there is: that of never trying.

– Alain de Botton