Two Essential Truths About Confidence

Abbey reconciles her lifelong search for confidence with the wise words of Derek Hough on American Idol

by Abbey Johnston | July 28, 2022

I will start with a part of my story I don’t share much. The part about me as an awkward chubby kid who was painfully self-conscious and a regular muse for bullies. I struggled from a really young age with low self-esteem and, not surprisingly, self-confidence.

So, if we fast forward from the young awkward Abbey to now, it should be no surprise that when I pursued my master’s degree in Leadership and Communications I was desperate to understand confidence. What actually is it and where do you get that stuff? 

Self-confidence is a deal maker and inversely a deal breaker.

Many studies even show that the appearance of self-confidence will even beat out actual competence. This research is equally intriguing and maddening to me.

At the point in my life when I began my master’s, I had a decentish amount of accomplishments behind me, but self-confidence still felt so elusive. The second I thought I had it – it’d slip through my fingers like sand. Additionally, I had been working with absolutely incredible people at the highest levels of their careers who were also feeling a deep void of self-confidence. Many that I talked to, at the very top of their field, reported the fear that they were waiting to be caught out as a fraud.

I had been working with absolutely incredible people at the highest levels of their careers who were also feeling a deep void of self-confidence.

So I studied the hell out of self-confidence. I wrote my master’s thesis on it. I read, what seemed like, every single academic journal article, research paper, or book on the topic. I was knee deep in heady papers on confidence. But it wasn’t until just a couple of weeks ago – many, many years after I wrote my thesis – that I heard the best way to describe and think about confidence. 

It didn’t come from some heady academic journal. It was from a reality TV show. Obviously – the world’s best wisdom can be gained from reality TV. (It’s almost like I can physically hear my credibility sinking. wink) Anyway, the description was from an American Idol guest coach, Derek Hough.

“You don’t have confidence, you do confidence.”

Derek was coaching one of the participants. This participant was very similar to my childhood self – awkward in his appearance and was obviously not comfortable in his own skin. But when he sang he lit up the entire room. (For the record – I could not light up any rooms with my voice as an awkward child…or even now. In this way we are very different.) The participant said to Derek, who was coaching him on stage presence, “I just don’t have confidence.” Derek responded, “You’re right, you don’t have confidence. You do confidence.” This short statement summed beautifully the two essential truths about confidence. 

Two essential truths about confidence:

First, it’s not a trait given at birth. Something baked into your being-ness that is either there or not and if not, well too bad – no confidence for you. Because you don’t have confidence, you do confidence.

Second, this statement illuminates that confidence isn’t a feeling that we wait for, it is a choice we make about how we are going to show up. It is something we do…even though we are afraid. It is something we do, even though we are uncertain. 

Sometimes we believe that we aren’t confident simply because we are afraid. But confidence (and courage) is knowing that we are afraid and we can take action anyway.

The thing my awkward adolescent self needed to know was confidence was right there with me the whole time. Just like it is now. It lives in me (and you) just on the other side of a choice.

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