There is a common misconception that I would like to put to bed right now, it’s about Ego, and Confidence.
It is this: Confident people, truly confident people, don’t have big egos.
In fact, they probably have very little ego.
When people talk about confidence they tend to paint an image of someone who is actually completely blinded by ego.
The image of the confident person is someone who walks into a room, believing that they are the best looking, most intelligent, most interesting person in there. Who has unwavering, complete belief in their excellence; someone who is totally convinced of their superiority.
This is not confidence, this is arrogance; it is born of ego, and no matter how solid it looks it is, typically, disastrously fragile.
Egos Bruise Easy
They bring their egos in to the room with them, you can see them; they need to be seen to be speaking, even if it just to repeat what has already been said. They ask questions about things that have happened, and they demand to know why they weren’t involved or consulted, like it matters now. They one-up other people, they talk about past glories, they drop names, they make demands.
In short, they look for anything to salve their ego, to make them feel special, or different, or important; even if that means attacking others, blaming, throwing other people under the bus, tearing into people’s ideas, demeaning them, denigrating their work.
The ego is ever ravenous, and it must be fed, if it is not getting the attention it feels it deserves, it will start to feed on other people.
Confidence is different. In fact; confidence couldn’t be more different.
Confidence doesn’t need feeding, it doesn’t need salving, it doesn’t need to denigrate or degrade others.
People who are truly confident know that they are not the best looking, most intelligent, most interesting person in the room, and they’re OK with that. In fact, they’re better than OK with it, they don’t really care.
Ask someone who is truly confident who is the best looking, most intelligent, most interesting person in a room, and they will most likely tell you that they hadn’t thought about it.
Confidence knows that it can be flexible, that it can adapt and overcome, and that it will probably fail on the way; and that that’s OK because failure is part of the journey of success.
Confidence doesn’t bruise like ego does, either through failure, the thoughts and opinions of others, or through comparison with other people’s lives and achievements.
Confidence lets it go.
Confidence is the very opposite of ego, it is humility.
So, How Can You Grow Confidence?
As a coach, this is probably the number one thing that I deal with, and it manifests itself in so many ways:
- Not being able to manage their workload and be able to say no to work.
- Wanting to be more assertive in meetings and discussions.
- Wanting to be a more decisive leader.
- Wanting to lead without micromanaging.
- Wanting to be a better public speaker.
- Wanting to go on holiday and not check their email
The list goes on, and on; so many things, all of them have their root in confidence. They also all come from a need to let go of ego; let go of the risk associated with a bruised or otherwise damaged ego.
Confidence is a Muscle
The first thing to understand is that no one wakes up one morning and says, “You know what? I’m going to be confident today.”, and then just is. That doesn’t happen.
Confidence is grown, and ego is relinquished, slowly. It takes time to change approaches and develop the muscles needed. There will be setbacks and hiccups. You will fall into old habits, you will feel the rush of anger as your ego is bruised.
But with practice, these things can help:
- Practice Humility — I spoke about recognizing that you are not that important in my last post but it is something that people still find incredibly hard to do, but it is crucial; both to let go of your ego and, strangely, to build confidence.
Remember that confidence recognizes you for where you are, not for where you want to be or for how you compare to others. Confidence tells us that we’re not the best or the brightest, that we are not special, and that that’s OK.
Ego tells us that we are important, and special, it tells us that we can’t fail; and when reality comes calling it makes excuses, it blames and it denigrates others
I won’t tell the story of the guy and the kayaking accident again, but suffice to say the recognition that I was a tiny cog in a huge machine, and that the machine would continue to work just fine without me, was deeply humbling.
- You Do You — There is saying that has been attributed to more people than I can be bothered to name:
“What other people think of you is none of your business.”
Sayings like this permeate culture and get attributed to everyone from Gandhi to Elon Musk for a reason, they are true, get on with your life.
You cannot change another person’s perception of you, in large part because you don’t actually know what it is. You know what you think it is, you know what you think their perception of you is, but is that their perception, or yours?
You are spending so much time worrying about what other people think, when in fact you’re just walking around putting words in their mouths, playing out your insecurities as if through their eyes.
Focus on you, be the best you that you can be, and make sure that when you look in the mirror at the end of the day the person looking back has a high opinion of you.
- Get Comfortable with Discomfort — Put yourself under load, and fail.
Then do it again, and again, and again.
Do hard things because they are hard; take cold showers, face your fears, learn new skills, fall off, fall over, crash and burn.
Then do it again, and again, and again.
In short; kick your ego to death.
Become flexible, develop the understanding that, whatever the outcome, you will be OK, and step forward with confidence.
When Confidence Becomes Ego
Here is the watch out, confidence breads success, yes, it tells us that we will be OK and that we can handle whatever comes our way, yes; and it can quickly calcify into arrogance, and from there, to ego.
When you start to believe that, driven by your confidence, you are unshakable, undefeatable, that you are the best; you are back to ego, and a fall will be in the offing.
Remember, humility is the true core of confidence, and it comes from failure, it comes from stretching yourself, and it comes from self reflection.
If you want to avoid confidence becoming ego, then you must constantly challenge your thinking, you must take the time to reflect; meditate, journal.
You must look at yourself, at how you have carried yourself, how you have measured up; you must ask yourself, “What did I learn today?” and, “How could I have made today better?”
And be honest, stay grounded, stay real.
Here I quote modern day Stoic Ryan Holiday, from Ego is the Enemy: “When we remove ego, we’re left with what is real. What replaces ego is humility, yes — but rock-hard humility and confidence. Whereas ego is artificial, this type of confidence can hold weight. Ego is stolen. Confidence is earned.”
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