How it’s different from toxic confidence.
All the cool kids were jumping off a cliff. I was 17, watching. My mom had warned me about this. Life can be so literal.
Now it was my turn.
I declined. People stared at me. The head coach tried to give me a pep talk. “Don’t be scared,” he said. “Just do it.”
Instead, I sat down on a rock.
Fifteen minutes later, a girl busted her ankle on a tree trunk hidden beneath the water’s surface. She limped down the trail, helped by friends. We knew she’d probably miss her first race. And she did.
I’ve been looking at confidence in people for a long time. I’ve had a lot of bosses, and sometimes I’ve been the boss. I’ve seen the fake kind of confidence that gets people hurt, and the true kind that you miss at first. I’ve always tried to cultivate authentic confidence.
Here’s what that looks like:
They love giving Braveheart speeches.
Someone with authentic confidence claps for someone else’s Braveheart speech. They sprinkle understated compliments into their daily interactions, in order to make people feel valued.
They don’t need credit for instilling someone else with confidence. They know that defeats the purpose.
They don’t need the spotlight because they are the spotlight.
They’re not trying to impress everyone in the room. Everyone in the room is trying to impress them.
Nobody wants to look dumb in front of people they respect.
Someone with authentic confidence knows that they owe it to themselves and everyone else to ask the embarrassing questions. That’s how you challenge assumptions and popular opinion.
It’s also how you learn.
They don’t assume they’re too smart to practice the alphabet with Big Bird.
Someone with authentic confidence sits back and listens. They give themselves time to think. They might go an entire meeting without saying anything. Non-western cultures value this.
Twelve years of teaching have shown me that quiet students are usually the best. They don’t like to be called on. They’ve told me that teachers who call on them are imposing their own values.
Unfortunately, Americans still reward loudmouths. We need to get better at listening and observing.
It has to be all positive, all the time.
They’ll even shame anyone who contradicts them or asks difficult questions that they can’t answer.
Someone with authentic confidence doesn’t complain in public, but they allow other people to complain. They know people feel fear and pessimism. They help people process their feelings, not run from them. They figure out how to tackle obstacles.
Someone with authentic confidence knows the difference between being optimistic and being delusional. They project confidence when they need to. Behind the scenes, they face reality.
Authentic confidence is about admitting your fears and flaws at the right time and place, with the right people.
Someone with authentic confidence knows an authentic apology can save almost any relationship. They value that relationship over their own ego. They understand an apology as an attempt to do whatever it takes to build back someone’s trust and respect.
Someone with authentic confidence knows there’s an intellectual and emotional side to discomfort, not just a physical one.
They know there’s always a dark, unsettling reflection waiting for them around the corner. They know they might learn one day that they’re not quite as tough or smart as they thought they were.
Someone with authentic confidence knows they’ve never accomplished anything by themselves.
They know some people have more privilege than others. They know they’re not at the bottom, or the top, but somewhere in the middle. They try to help people less fortunate than them whenever they can.
They do this from a place of true humility and gratitude for what they have.
Toxic confidence puts people in danger. It encourages poor judgment, and recklessness.
Someone with authentic confidence learns their limits by testing them and pushing them. They encourage other people to push against their limits, but never blindly ignore them.
Toxic confidence is like a fancy car in a showroom. It looks great, but there’s no engine inside. It doesn’t crank.
Authentic confidence is the opposite. It’s been out on the road. It’s been across the country. It might have some wear. But it’ll always get you where you need to go.