Can having low self-confidence be good for us?

June 27, 2023

Can having low self-confidence be a good thing or is it a barrier to accomplishing our goals and achieving success? Is there something we can learn from how we behave when we are unsure of ourselves and we don’t trust our abilities?

“Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings.” - Samuel Johnson

There is no shortage of advice or quotes from famously smart people that espouse the oft-repeated notion that approaching a goal with confidence increases the likelihood of achieving it.

At first glance, this may seem like common sense. Confidence leads to decisiveness, motivates you, and helps convince others around you that you will succeed. As a result it seems obvious that it would increase your odds of success dramatically.

And even better is that once you do achieve that goal, you gain even more trust in yourself, which creates a self-reinforcing, self-fueling cycle that leads to ever-increasing levels of success.

But it requires self-confidence to kickstart the process.

Low self-confidence can be challenging.

However, if you haven't had any major achievements, this can leave you feeling uncertain about how to accomplish anything at all. When you first start out without any experience, it can be challenging and frustrating and we are all familiar with the drawbacks associated with having low self-confidence.

  • Indecision: You may often have difficulty making decisions due to a lack of belief in your own capabilities and indecisiveness can result in missed opportunities, both personally and professionally.
  • Fear of Risk: You can fear taking risks, which results in avoiding situations that are outside of your comfort zone and limits your potential for growth and success.
  • Poor Performance: You may not fully utilize your skills or abilities, leading to poor performance in various areas of life, including work, school, or social interactions.
  • Difficulty with Relationships: You might find it challenging to initiate conversations or build new relationships, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  • Missed Opportunities: Others might overlook your potential qualities and you may miss opportunities for advancement.
  • Stress and Anxiety: Consistent self-doubt can lead to elevated stress levels and even anxiety and take a toll on your mental health over time, negatively affecting your overall well-being.

Low self-confidence has some hidden benefits.

But what you might not realize is that even though you don't have a track record of success under your belt, you actually have some advantages over your more well-seasoned colleagues. There are some subtle benefits that come from being unsure of yourself that you can lean on to help you succeed.

  • Humility: If you display humility, you will be more approachable, likable, and respectful of others' perspectives.
  • Empathy: You can have a better ability to empathize with others' struggles, especially those related to self-doubt or insecurity, and that can lead to deeper relationships and more meaningful connections.
  • Caution: You will be more cautious and thorough when making decisions, and can take the time to consider multiple perspectives and potential outcomes before taking action.
  • Willingness to Learn: While you often question your own abilities, this makes you more willing to learn, grow, and improve. You will be more receptive to feedback and guidance, seeing these as opportunities to enhance your skills.
  • Risk Awareness: You can be more aware of potential risks, leading to more cautious behavior and this risk-aversion can protect you from negative outcomes.
  • Perseverance: You constantly push against your own doubts to achieve your goals, which can foster a kind of perseverance and resilience that becomes a strength over time.

In fact, some people have even proposed the idea that people with less self-confidence may actually have more success because they drive themselves more and make strategic, intentional choices about their careers where others might be more reckless.

Whether that is true or not, it’s definitely clear that these traits can be beneficial. If you start out on a venture with blind confidence, you are likely undermining your future success by not embracing some of these habits early on in your career.

Take care not to fall prey to over-confidence.

Of course, over time you will experience wins in your career and your confidence will increase, sometimes dramatically. In those cases, you need to take care not to fall prey to overconfidence and keep yourself grounded.

  1. Poor Decision-Making: Overconfidence can result in poor decisions, as you might not fully consider the risks involved in a situation or fail to prepare properly because you believe you can handle anything.
  2. Failure to Seek or Accept Feedback: Overconfidence may make you believe that you already know best and thus may not seek advice or feedback from others. Even when feedback is offered, you may reject or ignore it, missing an opportunity for growth or improvement.
  3. Neglecting Skill Development: If you are overly confident about your abilities, you may not invest time in continued learning or skill development, which could stifle your personal or professional growth.
  4. Arrogance: Overconfidence can sometimes be perceived as arrogance, which could negatively affect your relationships and lead others to view you as unapproachable or unpleasant.
  5. Impaired Empathy: You may struggle to empathize with others who are facing difficulties or who are less confident.
  6. Risk-taking: While a healthy degree of risk-taking is often a part of achieving success, you may take an excessive amount of risks, which can lead to catastrophic failures.
  7. Inability to Handle Failure: Overconfidence can make the impact of failures or setbacks harder to deal with, as you may not have anticipated the possibility of failure.

The good news is that overconfidence rarely survives experience. As you grow and learn more, you become aware of just how much there is that you do not know. You may have a high confidence of success in areas where you’ve succeeded previously, but you will likely become less sure of yourself when facing new situations.

You have to take risks to grow.

Ironically, it is at this stage where you need to take the biggest risks to grow and you need to give yourself permission to fail. You should actively seek out situations and challenges where you have a lack of confidence in yourself and your abilities. To grow, you should intentionally engage in unconfident action, and push yourself out of your comfort zone.

As you grow, it’s important to remember that self-confidence is not an absolute. It is an ever-shifting spectrum of emotions that changes for every unique situation and is different for every person. We each have to find the balance that works for us so that we can be self-confident while also using the skills we learned when we were not.

  • Smart Decisions: Be decisive and assertive when making decisions, but approach them with cautious evaluation and be aware of the potential outcomes.
  • Appropriate Risks: Actively take measured risks, but be resilient and look for the opportunities for learning and growth after failures and setbacks.
  • Humility and Empathy: Express yourself clearly and confidently, but remain humble and have empathy for others.
  • Seek Feedback: Actively seek out feedback and advice, be receptive when it is given, and act on it.
  • Seek Growth: Be confident in your skills and abilities, but push yourself to learn and grow.

And remember that not everyone is at the same place on their journey. We can find our balance while also helpings others find theirs, so we can all be appropriately self-confident, secure, and achieve our goals.

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