I don’t think anybody would disagree with the statement “To be successful, you have to have confidence in your abilities”.  But what is confidence and how do you get it?  Or just as importantly; what happens when you lose it and how do you lose it?

Let’s first talk about confidence and try to define it.  IMO, confidence is a state of awareness of one’s own ability/abilities.  In some people, it is a natural thing; in others, it takes a lot of work (and a lot of successes).  Confident people are not always confident; there are things that they feel uncomfortable doing, and thus are not confident doing them, so in those areas, they are not confident.  For me, personally, much as I love dance, I don’t do it, because I just don’t feel confident that I’m not going to make a fool of myself.  It’s not that I’m uncoordinated; quite the opposite in fact, but dance is one of those areas for me.   Some people, a lot in fact, feel completely unconfident when they have to speak in front of a group or tell a joke; how many times have you heard somebody preface a joke with the statement “I’m not good at telling jokes”?

To be good at anything, which is the prerequisite of having confidence, you have to do that thing over and over and over again, until you reach a state of not thinking about what it is you’re doing.  At that point, you are in, what is sometimes referred to as, the ‘zone’, and when you are in the zone, you become literally unstoppable because your confidence level is so high, and so is your level of conviction.  Both of these are powerful but when put together, they are a force of nature known as charisma.

There are people who are naturally charismatic; others are drawn to them like a moth to a flame because they burn and they burn bright, and that energy is irresistible.  We all know somebody who fits that description and we probably wonder how they do it.  The truth is they don’t have any more idea than we do; it’s a natural phenomenon.   Everybody has the ability to be charismatic; actors turn it on and off at will and with ease; for others it is more difficult.  In either case, though, when it is on, it burns energy; sucks it right out of you and at the end, when you turn it off, you sometimes crash and crash badly; It’s like a rush of adrenalin.  Robin Williams, one of the funniest people who has ever lived, was naturally charismatic and, I wonder, if the ‘down’ for him, with all the energy that he consumed, was such that it, eventually, consumed him.

When I was in my late teens and up to my mid 30’s, I was supremely confident behind the wheel of a car.  I had incredibly fast reflexes with the ability to calculate speed and distance spatially and instantaneously.  I could also drift in and out of corners, control spins as easily as breathing, and had all of the other skills (including nerves of steel) that make up a professional driver. Because of these abilities, I was a very fast driver and could get from A to B as fast as it was possible to get there; I’m sure that I scared some of my passengers half to death because they weren’t able to see the gaps that I saw or calculate like I was able to.

in 1988, I was driving to an appointment outside of London.  I wasn’t in a hurry, and I wasn’t driving very fast, but I saw a car coming up very fast behind me and instantly knew that the road was too narrow for him to get by me, so the only thing I could do was pull over as far as I could and pray, which, for an atheist, is a difficult thing to do.  The driver, who later turned out to be 18 and driving his fathers BMW, also realized that he didn’t have enough room, went into the other lane and head on into a truck at close to 100mph.  His car disintegrated as if a bomb had hit it; killing him instantly.  Pieces of debris tore big gouges in the roof of my car as they went over it, but nothing hit my windows.  The truck jack-knifed across the road, missing me and half a dozen other cars by inches; and ended up in a ditch.  Fortunately, the driver suffered nothing more than a sprained shoulder.   I walked away from that accident with zero injuries, and, although it wasn’t my fault in any way,  it shattered my nerves and destroyed my confidence behind the wheel of a car.  It has taken 25 years plus for me to get it back, and even now, I don’t drive the way I used to, nor will I ever.  The point of this story is that confidence is easily destroyed and once lost, it takes forever to get it back.

Now this is an extreme example of losing confidence.  Generally, it is much more subtle but, whatever the cause, when you lose it, it is devastating.  Perhaps the only person who will notice it, is yourself.

Whatever profession you are in, you need confidence to succeed and the more you succeed, the more confident you will become.  But before any success is possible, you have to have the self belief that you can achieve it which is where confidence starts.

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