Children running on meadow at sunsetIf you base your life on too many illusions, success at life will only be an illusion.  (Thankfully, we can have a few small illusions.)

An important prerequisite to succeeding at life is basing your life on reality.  Rationalizing will be the focus of another chapter, and it is a valuable tool when controlled and used wisely (choosing whether to see the glass as half full or half empty). But rationalizing can very easily control the person rather than the person controlling the rationalizing.

As philosophers point out, reality can be difficult to identify.  But human beings sometimes deny even obvious reality.  One obvious reality is that both you and I have very real and very significant limitations and shortcomings.  It is often advisable to advertise our strengths rather than our shortcomings.  But convincing ourselves we do not have shortcomings is basing our life on illusions.

That particular illusion is among the most irrational of rationalizations, and one of the most limiting of limitations.  This is faux confidence or ego.  No person can grow if they convince themselves there is no room for them to grow, no reason for them to grow.

Truly confident people are aware of their limitations, and they are not afraid to discuss thier limitations with people they trust–though they are cautious with people they do not know if they can trust.

People with controlling egos will quickly say that of course they have limitations.  But they will usually not be able to think of any of consequence.  (They might acknowledge they have not yet solved world hunger.)  They cannot maintain their faux confidence if they admit to themselves they have limitations.

(Ego is the topic of another chapter, Camouflage and Faux Confidence.   Ego is also very valuable when used wisely, and very dangerous when it controls you.)

It is difficult to learn to use actual confidence (as opposed to faux confidence or ego) if you have never been told what real confidence is. 

Television and other media (particularly sports media) imply almost continually that confidence is synonymous with success.  If someone succeeds, they were confident.  If someone does not succeed, they were not confident.  The constant message is that confidence is an unerring foreknowledge that you will succeed.  That message is harmful to adults, and especially harmful to children.

Defining confidence as clairvoyant certainty that you will succeed makes confidence impossible to even conceive, not less achieve. 

Certainty that you will succeed is closer mental illness than to confidence. 

A common example from baseball and softball is that the most confident and successful batters in the world fail over half of the time.  In basketball the most confident players miss the goal half the time.  Todd Helton never swung a bat nor did Tamika Catchings take a shot certain they were going to succeed.  Instead they took the swing or the shot focused on the possibility they could succeed.  They did not let themselves be distracted by the chances they might fail–even though they were aware that they often would.

Confidence is focus on the possibility of success, a desire to succeed which does not instill fear of failure.  Confidence is not an instinctive human reaction to stressful situations.  Nature determined that when under stress, fear of failure is the most valuable default reaction (run for your life first, think later).

Confidence in stressful situations requires growing up.  It requires learning to manage our reactions to our insecurities.

When my son was in grade school, he had a coach who had played several years of professional football.  He related how even in high school he had teammates who were far more talented than he was, but they did not succeed at the next level, and the same was true in college.  Naturally talented people who rely on confidence in their talent often fail as the stakes increase, even as people who appear less talented continue to succeed.  When stakes continue to increase, an illusion that you are already good enough will eventually fail.  Ego or faux confidence can sometimes get you through immediate or short term situations, but it cannot hold up under ongoing and real pressure.

Planning, practice, and visualizing help people have confidence, because they make it easier to focus on the possibility of success, to believe success is possible.  To the extent it is your choice to do them, they are proof that you have room and desire to grow.

If you do those things because you have no choice, they are proof of nothing and have limited value.

You can be focused on the possibility of success even when confronted by a seemingly superior challenge.  That is often called “having nothing to lose.”

Courage is focus on what needs to be done, and not focusing on what could harm you. Courage can keep you from freezing up (choking) in the face of external dangers.  Confidence can keep you from choking in the face of your own limitations.

But confidence and courage are not the universal tools for success as they are often implied to be.

When faced with danger, sometimes focusing on courage can be detrimental.  In live shooter training the public is taught to (1) run if you can, (2) if you cannot run, hide, and (3) if you cannot hide, use courage in attacking the shooter in any way possible.  A great deal of courage can be involved in running or hiding.  But the focus is not “I am going to do the courageous thing, I am going to run.”  The focus is “Running is the wise thing to do in this situation.”

Sometimes being focused on confidence is simply being naïve and will cause you to fail.

(1) You may not know or may not accept the extent of the challenge.

(2) You may not accept that the world has changed.  Polaroid and Blockbuster were corporations that went from initial success to failure because they refused to accept that the world was changing.

(3) You may refuse to face reality regarding your limitations.  At a time when video recording was not commonly used in baseball, Tony Gwinn asked his wife to record his games from television.  He used the recordings to look for weaknesses in his batting swing, and he became one of the greatest hitters in the history of baseball.  A person with uncontrolled ego would instead rely on the faux confidence (ego) of already being good enough.  Tony’s focus was not on confidence.  His focus was on continuing to grow, which resulted in confidence.

Sometimes people improve confidence by reducing their fear of failure.  Chemical impairment can numb insecurities.  Highly talented athletes have used chemical impairment to short term success and long term failure.  As have many in other careers, and at life.

Avoiding reality is avoiding life.

True confidence can be an advantage.  But desire, effort, determination or persistence are often more effective as a focus than confidence. 

It is negligent as a society to not help our children understand what confidence is and what it is not. Children see the same television adults do.  We need to teach them that the media version of confidence is not reality.