Gustav Juul
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By: Gustav Juul

Principal Partner

Adizes Institute

One of my friends has insisted for several years to write a chapter on the importance of self-confidence when you go into business. I still haven’t been able to convince him to write in the book, but I have self-confidence enough in myself that I have been self-deceiving myself. Joking aside I have not always been a self-confident or had much self-esteem. 

I didn’t think it was a bad subject, but I just didn’t know what to write. I am still the type of person where ideas stick. They tend to stay inside my head for, until they minutes or years after reappear and I know exactly where I want to go with it. This happened to me this afternoon when I started to think of self-confidence versus self-esteem and if there really is a difference.

To me there is a clear difference, but is it really that big of a problem for people that I should write about it? Does it really matter if we say one thing and mean the other? After all, these are concepts that are quite similar to each other, so does that really make a difference?

Since I am writing the article I guess you already have figured out that I think it is important the be able to distinguish between self-esteem and self-confidence, because it determines how you understand yourself.

It is for example quite useless to keep working on your self-confidence, if what you really lack is self-esteem.

What is self-confidence? 

Self-confidence is the belief in one’s own abilities and the belief in one’s abilities to adapt to the world or be successful in the world. When you set a goal, your assessment of whether you are able to achieve that goal is influenced by social conditions, past experiences, results, and so on.

The greater the belief that you have the skills to achieve a goal, the greater your self-confidence, so to speak. The amount of self-confidence can have a huge impact on what you choose to throw yourself into and what you skip projects.

According to psychologists, it is especially in the years from the age of six until puberty that you develop your self-confidence. If you are not recognized and accepted for who you are at this age, it can later lead to either a low self-esteem or an inflated form of self-confidence that is false and fragile and reminiscent of narcissism. For example, uncritical praise, or very harsh criticism, can lead to greater or lesser self-confidence.

Self-confidence can be strengthened or inflated by successes – awards, nominations and results. Some reflect self-confidence in milestones and material goods – big house, expensive car, beautiful spouse, wise children – and so on.

Self-confidence can be high in one area and perhaps less and more fragile in others. Maybe you are wildly good at cooking, but would rather not throw yourself into a game of Trivial Pursuit because you are not good at answering general knowledge and popular culture questions.

Sometimes you might throw yourself into some things where self-confidence is not quite at its peak. It is the more courageous gene that is activated here. It requires more strength because you just do not have the confidence to strengthen yourself in the belief in your success. At the same time, this is where you can have new successful experiences that can help strengthen your self-confidence.

Gray zone

Having a great deal of self-confidence is far from meaning that you also have a great sense of self-worth. In fact, it is not atypical that people with very high self-esteem have a similarly poor sense of self-worth.

What does self-esteem mean?

Self-esteem is your own emotional and mental realization of what you feel you are worth. It is through self-esteem that you assess whether you are worth anything in relation to the outside world and other people. People with a healthy self-esteem less often need to mark themselves through external values ​​such as earnings, cars, money and so on.

People with good self-esteem are more often sweeter by themselves, take better care of their health, do things that make them happy, and are more in understanding between the outside world’s perception of them and their perception of themselves.

People with greater self-esteem are able to throw themselves into projects and relationships with greater freedom because they are not afraid of making mistakes or being rejected. More often, they find it easier to find joy because it is small things that they find pleasure in, and they accept and forgive themselves and others more easily.

Like everyone else, people with high self-esteem also experience downturns and less good times, but they are not affected by them in the same way that people with low self-esteem do.

Self-esteem is a deeper sense of love for yourself, where belief in your worth is not determined and influenced by other things from the outside.

The difference between self-esteem and self-confidence

Self-confidence is thus the belief in one’s own abilities in different situations and can be influenced by things outside of oneself, for example successes and results. It will therefore also have an impact on other people’s results, and a constant search for recognition in this field can lead to poorer satisfaction with life.

Self-esteem is the perception of yourself and your worth as a human being. At the same time, self-esteem is crucial to how you meet the world and how you perceive yourself in the world. Self-esteem is deeply rooted in you and will also, if high, be harder for others to influence.

When something is lacking

This is probably the example that most people think of when they have to imagine someone who feels bad about themselves.

This is both a person who does not feel valuable as a human being, and at the same time does not feel that he can achieve anything in the world.

It is very logical that self-confidence is not at its peak when you walk around and feel that you are not worth anything. So why write that assignment at all? One can still not figure it out because everyone else is better than oneself. Why should you say something in front of friends when they probably reject you because you are not as good as them…

This situation is very unfortunate for everyone who is in here because it can be the screw without end. It can be very difficult to see yourself out of it, as you basically do not think you deserve to feel good.

The situation has probably developed like this because the person, already early in his life, has not felt the same value as other people. Quietly, this feeling has become a greater and greater truth for the person, and at one point, it has become so burdensome that the person has begun to withdraw from his surroundings. He has stopped taking initiatives, has stopped trying something, because things are going badly anyway.

As you can probably figure out, this does not exactly have an encouraging effect on the bad self-esteem you already have. Now everything you have been telling yourself for so long is being confirmed. You actually HAVE no friends because you take no initiative. However, the person will interpret this as meaning that it is because he is not worth anything.

Here it is therefore important to address both self-esteem and self-confidence at the same time. In order to get things back on track, something must happen on both fronts, as they are closely linked. So it’s both about dealing with the feeling of worthlessness, but also about going out into the world, and taking initiatives again.

A rare case 

There are a few people that have high self-esteem and low self-confidence. Here the person is really well with himself, but has difficulty getting out of the ramp so to say. Probably the lack of self-confidence here is due to the fact that the person has simply not needed to try hard enough, and thus has become complacent with what he knows.

This is actually a bit hypothetical for me because most people with high self-esteem also manage to acquire the qualities they want to get. This does not mean that they are good at everything, but rather that they master the areas that matter to them.

So you must have excused me with this thin description, but I have not met many of this particular kind of people.

A special case 

The type of people that have low self-esteem but high self-confidence are very interesting and a bit complicated. 

This type of people know a whole lot of things outwardly, but feel bad inwardly. They often don’t “just” becomes skilled, but must be the best in many things. He is often super good at social things, good at school, and looks good. Bonus all the way around.

But it is only outwardly that everything runs. Inside, it is a bit of a chaos that can only be soothed by stellar performances. It is only by being the best in all disciplines that this person can make the inner critic shut up for a while, which is why he or she constantly feels a huge pressure to succeed all the time. Because as soon as a project did not succeed 100%, he is very bad at turning it inward.

I think that if I fall into any of the categories, it is probably that one. Although I remember my grandmother to be a very loving person I always knew that my father definitely didn’t grow up in a rich family, rather the complete opposite. He once told me that him wanting to go to university was uncommon for a person with his background and that if it had not been for scholarships he would not have been able to. I guess most kids are proud of their fathers, but my admiration for his achievements I think were greater than most. He has worked his way up on his own and had reached high. He had gotten the best grade of his class, nationwide. He worked with nuclear energy, helped write a book, held important positions, and even became ambassador. 

I was born into a very comfortable lifestyle and had everything I ever wanted. There was nothing I was asked to do other than make myself the best person I could be. Because of the elitist nature of my school my friends also had parents that over-achieved so the measuring stick did not become much easier even if I tried to find “smaller shoes” in my friends’ houses.

The good part of this is that you are forced to work very hard. Albright, the shoes I felt I was expected to fill were big, very big and failing was not an option, so was the predicament of my friends. To this day, even if I know I have achieved a lot, I still feel sometimes that I have not done enough, and am slow in catching up to “where I should be”. I am, more mature now than when I was younger, about dealing with these feelings when they come up, but they still linger.

It is quite clear that this is a race towards the abyss, where you unconsciously try to imagine that more achievements will make you feel more valuable.

Here is an important point. High self-confidence does not automatically lead to high self-esteem, although high self-esteem can often lead to high self-confidence. And while low self-confidence can lead to even lower self-esteem, one cannot conversely say that high self-confidence leads to high self-esteem. However, working on gaining a higher self-confidence can WELL help IF you are also working on the deeper levels of self-esteem.

Does it make sense – so far?

The facade

One of the reasons why a high self- confidence often does not have a contagious effect on self-esteem is that very many feel that they are putting up a false facade. So despite a lot of success experiences at school, at work, and / or in private, it’s hard to absorb.

I recently had a client who told me about how much difficulty he was having with all the praise she had just received. She described it as “it all felt fake”. She told me that she in fact felt sloppy and lazy, but had worked hard all her life to appear proper and diligent. Deep down she felt that her success stories were never really due to her, only that she was so good at playing a role. Furthermore she felt a deep-rooted fear that she someday would be exposed as unworthy and a cheat. It can be a really difficult phenomenon to work with because the person who has it like that can be addicted to performing.

In my case, I have had to learn to be less dependent on performing in order to have peace of mind, work with myself, and find out what it was I really wanted in life.

When self-esteem and self-confidence are in harmony

Self-confidence and self-esteem greatly affect each other, and therefore you have to go in and work with both when you want a change in your life.

Personally, I think one should always “go deep” first. Where does this feeling come from? You have to confront the ideas you have about yourself, but if you do not take action and translate this understandings into action in your life, you will instead feel that you are stuck.

It’s about finding out what’s really important to one as a person, and thus challenging oneself within those areas. The best approach is when one breaks one’s own boundaries because it is something that limits one in doing what is important to one. Thus, it does not matter what people think about it, it is about whether you will be able to live a life that is more in line with who you are as a human being. Does it make sense?


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