The Paradox of Confidence

As with many goals that we struggle to attain, we tend to go after them in a way that blocks our success. Quite often I find that individuals who quest for more self-esteem — more internal security and confidence — actually get in their own way. Typically, they are prone to measuring and judging themselves against others.

Such individuals attribute more confidence to others and arrange to always fall short in their comparisons. They see their vulnerability as a weakness and try to mask it. That is the source of the problem. We are all vulnerable and insecure in one way or another. When we accept that vulnerability and no longer seek to hide it, we are actually strong!

The person who tries to act strong or confident may well be masking their concerns and doing so serves to exacerbate the problem. We do this when we are more concerned by what we think someone else thinks of us than coming into acceptance with our own self.

There’s a paradox here. Embracing your vulnerability and no longer hiding from it means that you’re no longer concerned about others’ judgment of you. When you act in such a manner your relationship with yourself surges. This is strength and confidence!

The more you do this the more you will actually grow in confidence. So the paradox to being more confident is that you need to accept and embrace your frailty, and, then, your confidence will likely grow. If you try to disguise your insecurity, you betray yourself and stay mired in insecurity.

Some years ago I was giving a talk on this subject and an elderly woman in the audience raised her hand and timidly asked, “I have a fear of public speaking, what should I do?” I went to her seat and escorted her up to the podium. I guided her to the microphone and asked her to share her concerns once again with the audience. She once again articulated her fear. I then asked her how she was feeling. A smile came to her face as her tenseness retreated. “I feel much better now that I have nothing to hide,” she offered.

She had engaged the paradox of confidence, released her fears and grown in the process.

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11 replies
  1. RPG says:

    I think this is very insightful–It feels like our fears and insecurities are often much bigger to us than they are to others. I see this with my school-age child. I will say, though, that in my life putting myself out there and being honest about fear and insecurity has usually backfired and positioned me as weaker or contemptible or “needy”. How do you get around that? It makes honesty feel like it’s not worth the risk

  2. melschwartz says:

    How do you know it backfired? It really only backfires if you’re measuring yourself based upon what You think other people think of you. Once you focus on affirming your relationship with your self–the other person’s reaction is their reaction. Your investment in yourself needs to remain intact no matter what their response may be.

    On another note, if your stepping forward is met with contempt you might well reconsider the relationships you’re in.

  3. RPG says:

    that’s a good point and this is where i think many of us get hung up. I often FEEL like i’m being met with contempt. Is that always true? who knows–especially if other parties–siblings, spouses, coworkers–claim that they do not feel contempt. How do you parse out how feel you are being treated versus how the other person feels they are treating you? However, the real takeaway is what you said: Affirming the relationship with oneself. I often see people who seem incredibly self-involved and debate with myself–“should i admire them for their relationship with themselves or simply consider them selfish?”

  4. melschwartz says:

    There’s a fine balance to be achieved. Being balanced in one’s own well-being doesn’t suggest that you ought not be sensitive to others. The balance is struck by not betraying yourself in deference to getting another person’s approval.

  5. Alan Brigish says:

    This paradox goes right to the heart of the need for we have for permanence and security, a reluctance to move away from our zone of comfort. According to the Buddhists, when one recognizes that permanence is an illusion, when we learn to embrace change, something inside of us shifts… I may be feeling insecure in this moment but tomorrow is a new day and that feeling may dissipate.

  6. db says:

    “Typically, they are prone to measuring and judging themselves against others”……………. I would think that this applies mostly to unseasoned, immature folk, however, I can be wrong in this interpretation. To me, it’s….. take me as I am, what you see is what you get! However, it had taken me nearly a lifetime to feel and exert that confidence. I realized at a point in my life, some people may be smarter, some more beautiful, some more wealthier. In some instances, I am better at some things than they are. We are all unique in who we are, and we just need to accept the fact that some people are better and some worse in different aspects. Accepting oneself is what it is all about.

  7. Suzanne Harvey says:

    It’s too bad society teaches us the opposite of what is true. Messages from the media are we must be strong, self-confident, bold and beautiful. Wouldn’t it be great if it encouraged us to be open about our insecurities and honest about our vulnerability. The world would be a very different place if this were the case. Especially for men, this “tough facade” they must live up to actually hurts them and their relationships-

  8. Reid says:

    Do you think that the most confident people on the planet are also the ones who are the most vulnerable?

    It’s hard to make the correlation between confidence and vulnerability.

  9. melschwartz says:

    This is a challenging concept because it seems non-rational.

    We need to look deeper into the words and ask–What does it truly mean to be confident? It requires being comfortable with your vulnerability. When you embrace your insecure side and don’t judge yourself, there’s a greater likelihood that you will evolve and become more confident.

    At the core it’s not so much about feeling vulnerable as much as what your relationship is with your vulnerability. Do you nurture yourself or judge yourself? Confident people tend toward the former.


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