My friend Chris Brogan is blogging about confidence. I started to comment on his post, and realized what I was saying needed a full post of its own.  Confidence means many things- it can be “real” or merely a mask we put on, until we feel the strength we tend to label confidence.

I thought about this question of  “confidence”, and so many things came to mind. So I went over to the dictionary, and there are at least eight definitions of confidence:

1. full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing: We have every confidence in their ability to succeed. The best definition, but also the one that is most used insincerely;

2. belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities; self-confidence; self-reliance; assurance: His lack of confidence defeated him.
3. certitude; assurance: He described the situation with such confidence that the audience believed him completely.
4. a confidential communication: to exchange confidences.
5. (esp. in European politics) the wish to retain an incumbent government in office, as shown by a vote in a particular issue: a vote of confidence.
6. presumption; impudence: Her disdainful look crushed the confidence of the brash young man. The dark side of confidence
7. Archaic. something that gives confidence; ground of trust.
8. in confidence, as a secret or private matter, not to be divulged or communicated to others; with belief in a person’s sense of discretion: I told him in confidence.

The root of confidence:

c.1430, from L. confidentia, from confidentem, prp. of confidere, from com- intens. prefix + fidere “to trust” (see faith).

Confidence should then be mostly about faith and fidelity.  Trust.  Honor. Hopefully not  bravado, although you see that use of the word all the time.

I have confidence when I trust in what I know; I can confide in others and share things; I sometimes lack confidence in the self-assuredness sense of the word. Why is that?

Because competence at something is often different than expertise, at least to me ,internally.

I look to experts for information, I seek mentors. I have less confidence is being a mentor or declaring myself as an expert at something. I think this is because the transition from student to teacher is not instantaneous, but a slow process we sometimes don’t even know is occurring.  One day, you are seeking information; the next, others are seeking it from you.  Shouldn’t be all that surprising, but somehow, it is.

I love the quote from Michaelangelo at 80 who said “I am still learning”.   I think I’m not comfortable being an expert because I feel I am always learning something new, yet I know in my soul I do have expertise in many areas.  Specialized knowledge I love to share with others, from all different aspects of my life.  Yet I lack confidence in owning the label of expert.  Surely, there is someone out there who knows more than I do, or who is more wise…..Is this really the fear of letting someone down?  Of finding out I could be fallible and wrong?  Probably.

And yet I firmly the believe the strongest and most courageous people are those that are willing to be wrong, to make mistakes, to revise plans and opinions, and do just a little better each and every day.

So back to confidence-  Do I have it?  A heck of a lot more than I used to.  I’ve got more self-assurance and less fear, but I only gained these things by challenging the fear in the first place.  I have faith and trust in myself, in my friends and colleagues.  I would both confide my secrets to them, and well as trust in things they had to say to me- both sides of confidence.

Yet the vagueness of the meaning of confidence comes from that “We have very confidence you’ll do the right thing” you hear, but know that is a show for the underlying lack of faith and trust they actually have. This is the classic line the President rolls out a week or two before the same person is fired.  So much for faith and trust.

In the end, I believe confidence can be one of those social masks- people believe we are confident much beofre we believe it ourselves.  And thank god for that.