At Beyond.com, we think confidence is important because it’s transformative. But developing confidence is a commitment. It takes time.
I want to be clear. Confidence is not natural in anyone. It has to be developed, acquired, and nurtured. It is something to get; it is not something given. Confidence is not the ability to put your head down and push forward. It’s knowing that you will succeed. You can benefit from confidence in so many ways. It can be the tiny edge that gets you the job. It can make colleagues turn to you for answers. It can get you the corner office, secure your big raise.
I can think of two approaches for developing confidence. Depending on your personality, you might tend toward one or the other. You may also find yourself switching between the two depending on the situation.
The outside-in approach is for the late-night-study-session personality. It views confidence as an outer layer, a coat of paint, a projection. And it’s very useful if you suddenly find yourself outside your comfort zone. We can all relate to this approach in some way. You may have used it teeing off on the first hole of a nice golf course. Or when you started your first job. Or the first time you met your in-laws.
The outside-in approach can be helpful for forcing you to develop new skills. It can work in a pinch, but it’s not optimal for the long term. It relies way too much on externalities. It’s a reactive state, not a proactive one.
You’ve probably heard someone say, “Fake it till you make it.” That’s a good place to start, but don’t fall into the trap of faking it. Think of yourself as a block of marble. Make a habit of chipping away at the block until you reveal your masterpiece. In essence, work on making it, so you don’t have to fake it any more. Then you’ll have more knowledge and skills, so you can better adapt to future obstacles and overcome them.
2. The Inside-Out Approach: Build a snowman.
The inside-out approach is for the studious, proactive personality. It views confidence as a byproduct of deeper knowledge and understanding. This approach is very useful if you’re leading others, or if you want to solve problems. To imagine this approach, think of a handyman and his toolbox. The handyman can walk into almost any situation, and with the same set of tools, fix the problem.
The inside-out approach is extremely powerful for the long term. It uses lessons learned from past experience and ongoing study to prepare for any situation. It’s an ongoing, proactive state of development.
Think of this one like building a big snowman. Each part of a snowman starts with a small snowball that’s rolled into a larger one. So for example, if you work at it, you can develop your spreadsheet skills and move into project management or accounting work. If you keep up with technology, you can be a more desirable mechanic. If you develop as a presenter, you can be a more dynamic manager.
The trick to the inside-out approach is understanding one fact: it’s impossible to know everything. You can always improve; there’s always someone smarter; there’s always a bigger snowman. The key is not being bitter about it. Instead, see it as an opportunity. Be humble, learn from others, and keep improving. One day, you’ll realize you’ve turned yourself into quite the snowman.
Confidence is Hard Work
In all reality, you probably move back and forth between the outside-in approach and the inside-out approach. That’s okay. We all do. But overall, you should try to work as much from the inside-out as possible. Focus on developing your strengths, removing your weaknesses, and honing the tools in your toolbox. Keep learning, growing, and reaching outside of your comfort zone. Prepare yourself for great things.