How to Get Self Confidence and Succeed at Anything

Peter Drucker told us that no manager could operate effectively without taking risks. Taking professional risks demands self confidence. Drucker wrote that fear of job loss was inconsistent with doing your best. But how can you not fear job loss, especially in tough times? Again, the answer is self confidence. I’ve never seen a really successful manager without a good deal of self confidence, and I challenge you to find any "up and comer," "fast burner" or whatever you want to call managers who seem to zoom right up the corporate ladder and right past their contemporaries, who don’t possess a healthy dose of self confidence.

Self confidence may be a necessity for significant professional success, but that doesn’t tell as how to acquire it. Sure, those who have already achieved great success have self confidence. Unfortunately those who are not in this category, and that’s most of us, sometimes feel self confident, but many times we do not. We are concerned with possibly losing our jobs in tough times, and we may sometimes choose the safest path when the way to enormous success involves more risk than we’re willing to tolerate. We know what Drucker recommended to us, and we probably agree with his recommendations. We know that if we were achieving the success of that small percentage of our colleagues that are shooting ahead at light speed, we would have the self confidence that Drucker wrote about. However, to reach that kind of success, we first need to acquire self confidence. So, it’s the old question of which comes first, the chicken or the egg? We can’t achieve great things without self confidence, but we can’t have the self confidence without achieving them first. Or so it would seem. My research into Drucker’s methods proves that there are only three ways to have self confidence before you achieve:

  1. Be born with it
  2. Gain it slowly over many years as you acquire experience
  3. Build your self confidence yourself whenever you decide to do it

Be Born With Self Confidence

Let me tell you a secret: No one is really born with self confidence. Individuals who are "born" with self confidence actually developed it in their formative years and before they entered their professional lives. Do you remember Mary Kay, the woman who built a billion dollar corporation, Mary Kay Cosmetics, and gave away pink Cadillacs to her most successful saleswomen? Mary Kay never even went to college. Yet she had the self confidence to begin her business with $5,000 weeks after her planned fall-back support, her husband, died suddenly of a massive heart attack. Born with self confidence? No, but as a little girl of seven she had more responsibility than many adults; she cared for her bed-ridden father so that her mother could work. This included many ancillary chores and all the shopping for her family. Do you think that may have helped her in developing her self confidence as she grew older before she even started her work career?

Or how about that fabulous movie maker, director, producer and screen writer, Steven Spielberg. He’s worth over $3 billion, according to Forbes. Spielberg made his first film for a Boy Scout merit badge in photography at the age of 12. With the confidence gained from that film he made a 40-minute war film and won first place in a film contest a year later. Then three years after that he wrote and directed a full length science fiction film called Firelight. It was shown at a local theater and actually generated a profit—exactly $1. But it wasn’t the money. He gained more confidence yet and he made more films on his own, getting better and better. He applied to attend the famous film school at the University of Southern California, but they turned him down because of low grades. However, he had so much self confidence that he didn’t let that bother him one whit. He attended California State University Long Beach and talked himself into a great "part time" job. He worked seven days a week as an unpaid intern at Universal Studios. You know what he probably did next, and he did it. He made a short film on the Universal Studios lot and blustered his way through to get it viewed by Sidney Sheinberg, who was then vice president of production for Universal’s TV division. Sheinberg immediately signed Spielberg up as a TV director although he was still not a college graduate and most TV directors had worked their way up after long years of experience. Spielberg was 23 years old. He went on to become one of the top directors in Hollywood and to make such films as Jaws, the Indiana Jones films, The Color Purple, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, ET and many others.

OK, that’s great. So if you developed your self confidence before you entered your work career, you have it already and others think you were born with it. What about the 99 percent of us that didn’t?

Gain Self Confidence Slowly as You Pay Your Dues

Some of us eventually make it this way and there is nothing wrong with doing this, except that it is usually long, and sometimes painful. Basically, you enter a profession, do what everyone else is doing, work hard and do your best. Hopefully your efforts are eventually noted and rewarded. As you progress upward, at every stage you gain more self confidence. Of course there may be bumps along the way. Sometimes a promotion you think that you earned goes to someone else. Through no fault of your own, you could suffer a layoff. We’ve all seen horror stories where this occurs at inopportune times such as when you have only recently bought an expensive house, are supporting a child in college, or when you are older and it is more difficult to find another job. However if you persevere and are a little lucky, you will probably eventually reach a top rung in your profession.

Building Your Own Self Confidence for Success

I like this method best. It is faster and with less risk than the previous method. Moreover, you have more control. The method I recommend is based on a simple principle. You can develop anything about yourself, physical, mental, or spiritual by beginning with a small challenge and increasing it over time. In this way it is related to the slow, "pay your dues" method I discussed previously. Except that it is much faster, less risky and you are guaranteed results since you are not dependent on someone else. For example, exercise a muscle every day, and every day it is going to grow bigger and stronger. Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t start out with all those muscles that led him to win international bodybuilding championships even before he became an actor or Governor of California. However, by exercising with increasingly heavy weights every day, his muscles got bigger until he was at world champion level. This didn’t start with Arnold. Milo, an ancient Greek athlete trained by lifting a calf every day and carrying it a short distance. Four years later he was still lifting the calf, but he gained immortal fame throughout the ancient world because the "calf" was now a fully matured bull.

Now I’m not suggesting that you start lifting a calf every day to develop your self confidence, although this would certainly do the job. But the principle works for developing your self confidence in much simpler and easier ways. All you need to do is to make the decision that you are going to take action to develop your self confidence, and then to do it.

Here’s a great method. Every day select something different which is out of your "comfort zone." That is, something that you have never done previously and feel a little uncomfortable and uncertain about doing. This might be something physical like going dancing, ice skating or bowling. Or it could be about a fear challenge, from going on a roller coaster ride to making a bungee jump, or doing a sky dive. The latter shouldn’t be out of the question. After all, the first President Bush does it every year, and he’s in his 80s! Even food can be used. If you have never before eaten sushi (raw fish), eating it for the first time is one way of getting out of your comfort zone. You can see that selecting a different thing every day can be fun. As time goes on, you can select more and more things to do that you see as challenging. Of course, don’t ignore challenges in your professional life either. Volunteer to do things that are out of your comfort zone, from organizing a retirement party to company sports and making a speech. Don’t select things that you have already done or are comfortable in doing. Challenge yourself! Do the uncomfortable.

Before long it will become more and more difficult to find things that you are unwilling to take on. At the same time you will find that your new self confidence has spilled over significantly into your professional life. You will find that others look to you because of your leadership and self confidence, and you will find that you are now considered one of the "up and comers" and "fast burners," and are slated for promotions. Others will wonder how it happened that you suddenly caught fire. The truth is you built your own self confidence. You did it yourself. Drucker would nod approvingly.