Confidence is a character trait that has never really come naturally to me. I don’t think confidence is something one is born with, but it is instead instilled in you by those who raise you, school teachers, friends, coaches, mentors and any other people you surround yourself with throughout your life. When you are a child, you can slowly gain confidence by trying new things and getting the result you wanted. Confidence requires risk and reward. Sometimes the reward is extrinsic, as in it comes from someone else praising you for a job well done. Or it can also be intrinsic, when you see the result for yourself and feel as though you have something to be proud of.

Confidence can also be unwarranted. If your parents raised you in such a way that you could do no wrong, you never really had to take a risk in order to get the reward, you can be confident without having attained any of the skills of risk taking, trial and error or executing a plan to success. Once you get to be an adult, you can wholeheartedly believe you are hot shit just because you exist, if that’s how you were raised.

On the other hand, particularly as I was an undiagnosed autistic for all my life less the last 2 years, I have never felt like I could move through the world with confidence. Sure, there are things I do well, but I also know on the inside how much effort I actually put into those things. I can very easily take my very specific types of giftedness for granted, and I have no clue how to apply my gifts in a way that would support my career or life, in general. I am generous to a fault and regularly fail to acknowledge my own accomplishments because the recognition is so uncomfortable.

I experienced a lot of cognitive dissonance as a child. I was really great at taking tests and was generally interested in learning, but I was quite bored in school because it moved very slowly so I wasn’t always excited to be there. I got positive reinforcement from my family at home for being curious, educating myself, coming up with and testing theories, etc, but was chastised at school by peers and teachers. There were very few teachers I remember fondly and that is typically because they recognized my boredom and found something challenging for me to do. Others would be downright discouraging or anything I did that even hinted at being “extracurricular.” My confidence was shot by the time I started high school and never truly recovered.

I know that there is nothing really great that any one person can accomplish on their own. All greatness is derived within partnerships or groups. So if people do not want to partner or group with you because you are weird, or you don’t know what to do with a compliment, or you do some things faster and/or better than others without being able to explain why therefore making others feel inadequate (or something), how will you ever be able to reach your potential? And what are you supposed to be confident about?

Confidence attracts others. This is why the phrase “fake it ’til you make it” came about (see previous post). The problem is that there is also a cognitive bias called the Dunning-Kruger effect that relates to us humans being incapable of accurately assessing our own abilities. Some folks are overconfident when they are less able and those who are more able are underconfident. And we are all so absorbed in our own minds, opinions and “stuff,” that we are losing the ability to relate to others who are not like us.

When I attempt to fake confidence, my actual performance suffers and I come across as painfully inauthentic. But when I am authentic, others see me as being talented, but possibly insecure. Sometimes I am insecure, especially when I struggle with things that used to come very easily to me. I don’t feel like I have an accurate way of assessing whether my skills have diminished or the situation has changed making the scenario harder or if I’m taking on too much responsibility and I should be letting someone else pick up the Slack. In those contexts, what little confidence I did have can vanish in an instant and I have no idea how to handle it. I know I would have more to be confident about if I were able to maintain deep partnerships/friendships with people who want to work on building something together.

There is a balance to be struck between having too much or too little confidence. When I meet people who appear very confident, I typically figure they are either way more competent than I am, or they are completely fake. When we all reward fake confidence with investments of time, energy, relationships and/or money, we are sending signals to society about what we collectively value. And in general, we do not value those who are authentically competent, but lack confidence. So my advice to you, dear reader, is not to discount those who under-sell their own abilities or who appear to have a distaste for “tooting their own horn.” Your cognitive biases may just lead you away from someone who could change your life, or allow you to change theirs.

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