Confidence Is Overrated. Here’s How to Be Successful Without It
Experts say you can’t possibly succeed if you don’t fully believe in yourself. Here’s why they’re wrong.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Self-help authors, life coaches, and executive workshop leaders all share the same goal: To help you be more confident. But what if confidence just isn't in you? What if the slightest mishap causes you to quake in your boots? Does that mean you'll never be a successful entrepreneur?
Not at all. While it's certainly true that projecting extreme confidence will help you sell people on your point of view, your product, or investing in your company, it's not the only road to success. Plenty of famously successful entrepreneurs arrived at the top of their professions racked by uncertainty instead of brimming with confidence. So can you.
1. Stop blaming yourself for feeling afraid.
Earlier today, I interviewed a highly successful entrepreneur who told me: "You must believe in your business 100 percent. If you doubt by even 1 percent, you will fail."
That's a pretty brutal responsibility to saddle yourself with. If your business goes down (as at least half do) will it really be because you suffered a momentary twinge of doubt? Of course not. Taking risks is a necessary part of starting or running a business, and fear is a completely normal thing to feel if you're taking a risk.
3. Use fear to your advantage.
The problem with fear is that it sometimes stops us from taking action, often disguised as a rationalization, such as: "I need to do some more research first," or "In a few months, the market for this may be better." Start by determining that you won't let fear paralyze you, remembering that making a decision (even the wrong one) is almost always better than making no decision.
But fear can also drive you in the right direction if you let it. Worrying that you might not have enough to cover payroll next month can inspire you to make a few more cold calls, even though the very thought of one more rejection fills you with despair.
So whenever you can, turn your fear into motivation to try harder or do more or become smarter. It may not be the most enjoyable path to a successful business, but it will get you there.
3. Act 'as if.'
Sometimes the best way to deal with having no confidence is to figure out what a confident person would do and then do that. A few years ago, I landed a job that had been a longtime dream of mine. It was definitely a stretch for me, though, and I often found myself frozen at my desk, unable to do a single thing or write a single word for fear that I would do it all wrong.
That quickly put me behind schedule for the job's tight deadlines however. So, with no other option, I used this mental hack: I decided I would produce work as if I were confident that it was good enough, but promised myself that once it was done, I didn't have to turn it in. If I judged it to be unworthy, I could delete it and start over.
It worked. I was able to get past my block and produce work quickly. Once it was done, I did indeed turn it in almost every time, and nobody thought it was unprofessional or bad.
A similar mental hack might work for you if fear has you stuck in neutral. And once whatever you did works out, you may find your confidence slowly starting to increase.
4. Do your homework.
If you lack confidence to begin with, don't make matters worse by being unprepared for the challenges you'll meet. Spend as much time as you can spare learning everything there is to know about your profession, your industry, and the specific projects or deals you're working on. The better prepared you are, the less reason you'll have to be afraid. And when you've learned as much as you possibly can about the job you have to do, the industry you're in, and the people you're working with, that knowledge in itself should give you confidence--or at least make it unlikely that you'll be blindsided by something you didn't think of.
The more often you do things that take you outside your comfort zone, the less restrictive that comfort zone will be. The more time you spend only on tasks that seem easy and unthreatening, the harder it will be to stretch. So think of the things that frighten you as practice. Even if you do them really badly, the fact that you did them at all will make it easier next time. Keep doing them enough, and you may discover you've grown some confidence after all.