Can having low self-confidence be good for us?

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.

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.

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.

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.

A new beginning on a familiar path.

Hello! My name is Shannon and I am a software engineer and architect with over thirty years of experience in the tech industry, and for the last ten years I've had the privilege to be in positions of product and technology leadership.

However, in early 2023, like many others, I unexpectedly found myself out of a job as the company I worked for took a new direction and my entire department was eliminated.

But something was different...

I’ve been around the block a few times and I’ve parted ways with companies before, but this time it felt different. This was the first time I left a company where I was not ready to move on. I had invested everything in the role. I was all-in mentally and emotionally, as both an engineer and as a leader, and the job I had joined to do was not complete. There was so much unfinished work to do and it was all cut short by one short zoom meeting.

I started thinking about what comes next, what I want in a new role, and what aligns with my passions and enthusiasm. I started thinking about what I had actually been doing on a day-to-day basis throughout my career and thinking about the needs I had been addressing and the gaps I had been filling. And I just kept coming back to a pervasive theme that I had been seeing and thinking about for the last several years.

It's all about the people...

I’ve worked on some amazing products in my career, and have been on the leading edge of technology, bringing ideas to life and creating profitable businesses in the process. I’ve generated hundreds of millions of dollars for the companies I’ve worked for and even more for the companies I’ve worked with on their behalf. I’ve built teams from the ground up and led large multi-functional teams spread across the world. All in all, I’ve been pretty successful as an engineer.

However, through the years spent in leadership roles, I have moved steadily away from focusing on the technology and instead have been focused more on the people that come together to make it happen. Technology comes and goes, and the products we create change over time, but it is the people and the missions behind the products that are truly important. I’ve witnessed firsthand that the ebb and tide in the health of a business has little do with the products or features and a lot to do with the teams that make up the company.

And it is the impact that I’ve made in the people that has given me the most satisfaction. I’ve built a career out of lifting others up so that they can achieve their goals and helping leaders refine their skills to better serve their teams.

And I love that I’ve been able to make a difference.

I could pick another company where I could bring my technical and leadership skills to bear and do that same work, maybe even joining some previous colleagues, but I realized that it was going to be difficult to start over again and champion a new product and company when what I really wanted to do was to continue the journey I had started and continue the work I had been doing. And that work wasn’t constrained to the boundaries of any single company.

We all have something in common...

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with and learning from some incredibly talented and skilled people as a colleague, mentor, and leader, and through all of it I’ve seen a common issue surface again and again.

No matter who you are, whether you are experienced with many years behind you, or you are just starting out on your journey, everyone struggles at some point with self-doubt and anxiety. No matter how good you are at your job, or how much people respect you, it’s often difficult to shake these deep-rooted feelings.

And everyone tries to face it alone, ignoring it or trying to drown it out with forced positivity. You can get past it, just pushing through, but in the end it always returns when you are faced with a new challenge or are in an uncomfortable situation.

And while we are all complex, complicated human beings and there are many nuanced feelings that work to undermine our confidence, one of the most powerful and prevalent is feeling like an imposter. We’ve all tried to be someone we are not, and we’ve all conjured an imaginary version of the perfect person, and we just cannot compare.

A simple solution with a catch...

The solution to this is very simple, but it is also one of the hardest things to do for a successful professional in a high-stress work environment.

The solution is to be open and authentic, accept that you don’t have all the answers, be honest about your abilities and limitations, and be comfortable with yourself. And, above all, to understand that you can be all of those things and still be good at what you do.

As most things go that are worthwhile, this is simple, but not easy.

Community is the key...

I know that I have only been able to be truly open and honest about myself and my abilities when I’ve surrounded myself with others who also strive to be authentic. And I’ve only been able to make the biggest accomplishment in my career when I’ve had that network of support.

So I’ve made it my mission to provide that same support for others and I started this project for all of us successful professionals who continue to struggle with issues of self-doubt and anxiety. My mission is to build a community where we can learn from each other, lean on each other, and share resources so that we all can have the support and tools we need to achieve our goals.

But I’m only one person with a perspective that’s uniquely my own. While I can offer my experience and knowledge, there are many of us who have taken on the role of being a mentor and coach, and each of us has a set of unique experiences and knowledge to share. Since I firmly believe that we can be at our best when we open ourselves up to learn from many different points of view, it’s essential that we create a marketplace of thought leadership where we can all be introduced to a diverse set of ideas and opinions.

It's time for a new standard...

Together, we can make openness and authenticity the new norm. My goal is to create an environment where we can all have the confidence to accept ourselves and each other.

The truth is, none of us really know what we are doing.
We are all imposters and we are figuring it out as we go.
And not only is that ok, it's completely normal.

And by accepting that truth as a starting point, we can all stand on equal ground and then begin the real work of creating the most authentic version of ourselves. And as a result, we’ll accomplish more than we could have ever dreamed.

It's about all of us...

I started this project, but it isn’t about me. It’s about all of us and I hope that you join me on this journey and we can build this community together. I’m really excited to see what we can accomplish, and I look forward to meeting you and learning your story.