Self-Confidence is a Mirage

The self-help industry is booming. So is the “get slim without lifting a finger” industry, aaaaand the “get rich quick” industry. There’s a common denominator here, a reason why these industries are persistent and lucrative. They all play on our innate desire for a better, easier life, and they all ignore fundamental laws of nature. They don’t work, therefore there is always a massive market of people still looking for that magical pill, the silver bullet, the secret ingredient, the desert oasis. 

The fake fitness industry doesn’t actually make anybody fit because there’s no shortcut to true physical health. Regular exercise and a healthy diet are non-negotiable, yet we convince ourselves this time it’s going to work. Nope, it’s not. In two months you’ll just be short a few hundred dollars and still fat. 

The get rich quick schemes don’t work because hard work, dedication, and perseverance are required to become wealthy, barring some stroke of extreme luck or fortune. A little talent doesn’t hurt either. If it seems too good to be true, it is. 

The self-help prescriptions don’t work because self-confidence, as most people understand it, is a mirage; a lie we can only believe in until life proves our confidence was misplaced. We aren’t capable of handling every challenge that comes our way, of always being right, of knowing all the answers. Think all the happy thoughts you want but don’t kid yourself; life is hard and it gets the best of us all the time. 

Truth be told, there’s no reason to be confident in yourself. No matter how smart you are, how talented, how driven, life can kick your ass before you can say “it’s not fair!” No, it’s not fair, life isn’t fair, and you can’t do anything about it.

Why place your confidence in someone (you) who has no control over his/her own life, let alone employment status, relationship status, financial status, and every other status?  Eventually, inevitably, life will remind you- like finally getting to the desert oasis that doesn’t really exist- that you have no reason to be confident in yourself. 

 

Truth Matters

So what can I be confident in if not myself? I’m glad you asked! First, you can be confident that life will bring you struggle, pain, failure. Life will present challenging and sometimes impossible problems. Embrace the struggle! As mark Manson points out in his book, THE SUBTLE ART OF NOT GIVING A F*CK, “The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience, and paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.”  

The self-help industry would like you to believe you can overcome your problems with positive thinking and self-centered, ego fluffing tricks. Then things fall apart and you start making excuses because you’ve defined who you are (your ego) and life is calling your bluff. Well I’m unique, and so are my problems, so what do you know Mr. self-appointed podcaster advice giving guy? I know that your problems aren’t unique and if you think they are, your perspective is too small. Don’t be a narcissist.

 

Get Some Perspective

My point here is that finding true confidence requires us to look outside ourselves, to gain a proper perspective of our place in this crazy existence. First off, you’re going to die, silly mortal! Considering your own mortality is uncomfortable but important. Whether it happens today, tomorrow, or you live to 105, you will come to an end. The stoic master Seneca discusses this in his letters to Lucilius when he explains the uncertainty of our next breath. He points out that any person you meet has the power of life and death over you. If someone decided to kill you in your sleep (better not upset the misses before bed), what can you do to stop them? Expand upon this by considering the fact that our bodies, while extremely resilient, are also very fragile. People die without warning and without any contributing external event every day. In light of your certain mortality, are your daily fears really justified? You will find, upon honest examination, that most of them are not. 

Rather than trying to convince yourself of your capabilities, focus on the irrationality of your fears. If you’re going to die anyway, why not take a risk, try something new, and face the challenge?  What’s the worst that could happen? You could fail, sure. But what if you don’t? The counterfactuals to the actions we don’t take in life would haunt us all if we knew what could have been. How many soul mates have missed each other because someone was afraid to make a move? How many promotions have been missed because someone was afraid to ask for more money? How many great businesses never came to be simply because someone was afraid to fail? 

 

Risk is an Illusion

The truth is, risk is an illusion, just like self-confidence. Most of the time we think we’re taking a risk, we’re over-inflating the consequences of failure, ignoring the benefits of failure, and deflating the benefits of success. This is how we justify our inaction. It is easier to sit alone with a negative idea about yourself (ie. “She doesn’t like me”, “I might get fired”, “I don’t know how to run a business”) than it is to go out and put that idea to the test. If there’s any reason to be confident in yourself, it’s because you’ve experienced the refiner’s fire; you’ve been knocked down and found the courage to get back up; you’ve been tested. Take the test.

I started this article to answer a listener’s question about how to bolster her self-confidence as a police recruit. She, as I have throughout my life, struggles with self-confidence. If you do too, then guess what; you’re one step ahead of the rest who are chasing the mirage; believing the lie. Recognize the triviality of life’s worries and embrace the struggle. Life is struggle. If you wait for it to be easy and painless, you’ll spend it walking circles in the desert, looking for an oasis that doesn’t exist. 

 

Do Good || Be Strong || Fear Nothing