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Self-Confidence -- The First Step toward Career and Life Success

March 15th, 2009 4:11 PM by Lehel Szucs

Self-Confidence -- The First Step toward Career and Life Success - By Bud Bilanich

In my work as an executive coach, I have found that the single biggest mistake that people make is assuming that competence and performance are their ticket to success, when in fact they are merely the price of admission. Most people are good performers. It's a huge mistake to think that good performance is the only element of a successful career.

All executive coaching consultants will tell you that it takes a combination of self-confidence, positive personal impact, outstanding performance, communication skills, and interpersonal competence to succeed in your career and life. People who are successful in their lives and careers have mastered all of these five elements, and excel in one or two of them.

Outstanding performance is very important to career and life success. It's at the heart of the five success elements. No one can be successful without being a highly competent, outstanding performer. The incompetents and poor performers get identified and asked to leave or are placed in marginal positions pretty quickly. However, as I always remind my executive coaching clients, don't forget the other four.

You also have to be self-confident, make a positive personal impact, have highly developed communication skills, and act in an interpersonally competent manner if you are going to succeed. These four elements are necessary complements to outstanding performance and are at the core of my executive coaching services.

This article is about Self-Confidence.

As an executive mentor and coach, I always tell my clients that all self-confident people have at least three things in common:

1. Self-confident people are optimistic.

2. Self-confident people face their fears and deal with them.

3. Self-confident people surround themselves with positive people.

Let's take a look at each of these in a little more detail.


Max More says optimism is "the fuel of heroes, the enemy of despair, the creator of the future." Optimism is the opposite of pessimism, which Denis Boyle says is "as magnetic as any black hole, swallowing one good day after another until there are no good days left."

In a very interesting article in AARP, The Magazine (yes, I'm old enough to be a member), Mr. Boyle makes some great points about optimism and pessimism:

"The essential truth about optimism: the opportunities for it are everywhere. They just get ignored... Pessimism though, is the default state of our psyche, and the easy way out. We tell ourselves there is nothing we can do because life sucks, black holes abound, Murphy's Law rules. Meanwhile, optimism takes effort. Despites tons of information provided by zealous pessimists, optimists believe everything will turn out fine. They are able to do something no pessimist can: they do their part to make sure tomorrow will be better than today. To subscribe to optimism means that you have a role in shaping your own future (italics added). Why is this important? Because it's how stuff gets done. No successful individual could conduct business with a set of pessimistic assumptions... Work, progress, great ideas all are fueled by optimism."

I agree. I am an optimist. I admit that sometimes it is difficult being optimistic, but I am relentlessly optimistic. I believe every day is going to be a good day -- and set about making it so. I believe I will succeed in every project I undertake. This optimism fuels my self-confidence, and my self-confidence drives my performance.

Tal Ben-Shahar teaches a course in Positive Psychology at Harvard. He had 800 students in his course last year. He offers the following three tips for becoming more optimistic:

1. Give yourself permission to be human -- don't beat up yourself about mistakes.

2. Express gratitude often.

3. Engage in activities that give your life pleasure as well as meaning.


Fear is the enemy of self-confidence. It's also very normal. We're all afraid sometimes. Usually it's a fear of failure. Fear can be debilitating, paralyzing us into inaction. Over the years, I've found how to face up to my fears and to conquer them. Indecision, procrastination, and inaction feed fear. Action cures it.

Here are my four easy steps for dealing with fear.

1. Identify it. Figure out why you're afraid. Is it fear of failure? Is it fear of making the wrong decision? Is it fear of lost opportunity? Are you afraid that you aren't up to task? Once you identify the reason behind your fear, you are well on the way to overcoming it.

2. Admit it. It's OK to be afraid. You wouldn't be human if you were never afraid. A common definition of courage is the ability to feel fear, but to go ahead and do what you need to do regardless. In 1988, I faced a very frightening decision. Should I stay in a comfortable but ultimately unsatisfying job with a large corporation, or should I start my own business? I definitely was afraid of failing. Failing meant that I would lose my savings and have to start over again -- looking for a job in another corporation. However, once I identified and admitted my fear, I was able to take the next step -- acceptance.

3. Accept it. Accepting your fears is important -- because it shows that you know that you are human. Once I accepted that I was fearful of failing, I was able to start my business, and succeed. In fact, I embraced my fear of failure -- it made me work harder. In some ways, my fear of failing pushed me to work long hours and learn the lessons of entrepreneurship necessary to be successful as an independent consultant, coach, and speaker.

4. Take action to deal with it. Action cures fear. You have to identify, admit to, and accept your fears first, but action is the most important of these four steps. Do something! The worst thing that can happen is that you'll find it was the wrong thing to do -- and you will have eliminated at least one thing from your list of possible actions. Action is the antidote to fear. In most cases, you'll choose wisely and your fears won't be realized. In the cases where you choose poorly, you'll find that failure isn't as catastrophic as you imagined. Stars learn from their failures. So, by taking action on your fears, you win on both counts. You win if you make a good decision and things work out. You win if you make a bad decision and things go poorly because you have an opportunity to learn from your decision and the subsequent problems you faced.

Positive People

Successful people surround themselves with positive people -- people who are both positive by nature, and positive about their success in their life and career. Positive people are optimistic -- and as I've discussed above, optimism is the first step in building self-confidence.

Positive people help you feel good about yourself because they feel good about themselves and life in general. Positive people are there when you begin to doubt yourself. They help you build your self-esteem because they have a strong sense of self-esteem. People with a strong sense of self-esteem are not threatened by others. They realize that self-esteem is not a fixed pie. There is an unlimited amount of it to go around. Therefore, you can build your self-confidence just by being around upbeat, positive people.

Self-confident people take the time to identify and build relationships with mentors. Wikipedia defines a mentor as "a trusted friend, advisor, counselor, or teacher; usually a more experienced person... Today mentors provide their expertise to less experienced individuals in order to help them advance their careers, enhance their education, and build their networks." Mentors are positive people by definition. You cannot be willing to lend your wisdom and expertise to another person without being hopeful about that person and his or her future.

I have had several mentors over my career. Bert Phillips, Maggie Watson, Dick Pelton, Bill Rankin, Howard Sohn were all trusted friends and advisors at one time or another in my career. I believe that mentoring is so powerful that I have engaged the services of Tom Antion, a professional mentor, to advise me as I embark on turning over 30 years worth of intellectual property that I have developed into products that can be sold online.

Mentors challenge you to do better. That's why they are so important in building self-confidence. As they challenge you, they are also telling you that "you can do it." Having someone who believes in you -- like a mentor -- is a one of the best ways I know to build self-confidence.

Self-confidence is a big part of my executive training and coaching. As an executive mentor, I work with the people I coach to help them develop their self-confidence, as I believe self-confidence is a necessary prerequisite to success.

About the Author:

Bud Bilanich, The Common Sense Guy, is an executive coach, motivational speaker, author, and blogger. He helps his executive coaching clients succeed by applying their common sense.

Dr. Bilanich is Harvard educated but has a no-nonsense approach to his work that goes back to his roots in the steel country of Western Pennsylvania.

Bud is a cancer survivor and lives in Denver, Colorado with his wife, Cathy. He is a retired rugby player and an avid cyclist. In addition to helping people succeed in their lives and careers, Bud likes movies, live theatre, and crime fiction. Visit him at http://www.budbilanich.com

Check out the Experts page for Bud Bilanich, the Official SelfGrowth.com Guide to Executive Coach and Executive Coaching.

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Posted by Lehel Szucs on March 15th, 2009 4:11 PM



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