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Confidence is a work in progress

However, a moment’s reflection will reveal that confidence waxes and wanes, much like “form” in sport. Over time we lose our shape, our technique falters, little errors creep in and confidence and form drain away. We then must reset.

Secondly, there is the assumption that confidence is causally related to success – confidence is the cause of success. It may be the case that people who are confident of achieving a task are more successful than their self-doubting counterparts. However, one can reasonably ask where did this confidence come from? The most likely source is from having experienced success in a similar situation before. In other words, success breeds confidence, and not the other way around.

We might argue that some people are more generally self-confident, perhaps because they had parents that were expert nurturers. The role of parenting in matters of confidence is a veritable hall of mirrors, and enter at your peril. So let’s go in! If we had followed parenting gurus of the last 40 years or so, we would have learned how important it is to big-up a child’s self-efficacy – their belief in their own agency. This seems not unreasonable, but unfortunately it has resulted in a distorted simplistic message that we must tell our kids that they are great or have the potential to be great at every desirable endeavour.

If ever there was a receipt for breeding insecurity it is instilling the view that one can do anything if one sets our minds to it. The story then all too frequently goes: I am not achieving my heart’s desire; but I can do anything if I set my mind to it; therefore I am to blame for my “failure”; I am therefore a failure. This view discounts or ignores the important role that our environment plays in providing opportunities or barriers.

An outlook of self-confidence in all facets of life rapidly segues into over-confidence and arrogance with potentially disastrous outcomes. The longer-term result is self-doubt, or worse, denial. Doubt, even a modicum of anxiety, is important. It alerts us to our limitations, and therefore provides valuable feedback that we need to learn more or try harder to achieve, or it is a signal that we need to avoid what is in front of us.

Anybody who says they are confident in everything is lying or deluded, but enough about the US election. We can boost our confidence, or those of others, by providing the scaffolding, or supportive environments to allow ourselves or others to achieve, to overcome our anxiety and doubt. Taking small steps and achieving desirable results breeds confidence and encourages taking further steps.


When faced with reversals, we need to put the training wheels back on. What is not helpful are brittle expressions of self-belief.

Confidence, like painting the Harbour Bridge, is a work in perpetual progress. While some may be tempted to rely upon it, confidence, unlike Dutch courage, cannot be bottled.

Jim Bright, FAPS is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU and owns Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy. Email to Follow him on Twitter @DrJimBright

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