How are you supposed to be confident about something when you have nothing to feel confident about?
Like, how are you supposed to be confident at your new job if you’ve never done this type of work before? Or how are you supposed to be confident in social situations when no one has ever liked you before? Or how are you supposed to be confident in your relationship when you’ve never been in a successful relationship before?
On the surface, confidence appears to be an area where the rich get richer and the poor stay the losers they are. After all, if you’ve never experienced much social acceptance, and you lack confidence around new people, then that lack of confidence will make people think you’re clingy and weird and not accept you. Same deal goes for relationships. No confidence in intimacy will lead to bad break ups and awkward phone calls and emergency Ben and Jerry’s runs at three in the morning.
If you’ve always lost in life, then how could you ever rationally expect to be a winner? And if you never expect to be a winner, then you’re going to act like a loser. Thus the cycle of suckage continues.
This is the confidence conundrum, where in order to be happy or loved or successful, first you need to be confident; but then to be confident, first you need to be happy or loved or successful.
It’s like a dog chasing its own tail. Or Dominos ordering its own pizza. You can spend a lot of time cuticle-gazing trying to mentally sort everything out, but just like with your lack of confidence, you’re likely to end up right back where you started.
We know a few things about confidence just from observing people. So before you run off and order that pizza, let’s break this down quickly:
1. Just because somebody has something…
…(tons of friends, a million dollars, a beach body) doesn’t necessarily mean that this person is confident in it. There are tycoons who totally lack confidence in their own wealth, models who lack confidence in their looks, and celebrities who lack confidence in their own popularity.
So I think the first thing we can establish is that confidence is not necessarily linked to any external marker. Rather, our confidence is rooted in our perception of ourselves—regardless of any tangible external reality.
2. Because our confidence is not necessarily linked to any external tangible measurement…
…we can conclude that improving the external, tangible aspects of our lives won’t necessarily build confidence.
Chances are that if you’ve lived more than a couple decades, you’ve experienced this in some form or another. Getting a promotion at your job doesn’t necessarily make you more confident in your professional abilities. In fact, it can often make you feel less confident. Dating and/or sleeping with more people doesn’t necessarily make you feel more confident about how attractive you are. Moving in together or getting married doesn’t necessarily make you feel any more confident in your relationship.
3. Confidence is a feeling
It’s a state of mind. It’s the perception that you lack nothing. That you are equipped with everything you need, both now and for the future. A person confident in their social life will feel as though they lack nothing in their social life. A person with no confidence in their social life believes that they lack the prerequisite coolness to be invited to everyone’s pizza party. It’s this perception of lacking something that drives their needy, clingy, and/or bitchy behavior.
The obvious and most common answer to this problem is to simply believe that you lack nothing. That you already have, or at least deserve, whatever you feel you would need to make you confident.
But this sort of thinking—believing you’re already beautiful even though you’re a frumpy slob, or believing you’re a raving success even though your only profitable business venture was selling weed in high school—leads to the kind of insufferable narcissism that causes people to argue that obesity (something that is more detrimental to your health than smoking cigarettes) should be celebrated as beauty and that it’s, like, totally OK to carve your name into the Roman Colosseum, because, you know, selfies.
No, the solution to the confidence conundrum is not to feel as though you lack nothing and delude yourself into believing you already possess everything you could ever dream. The solution is to simply become comfortable with what you potentially lack.
The big charade with confidence is that it has nothing to do with the comfort of what we achieve and everything to do with the comfort of what we don’t achieve.
People who are confident in business are confident because they’re comfortable with failure.
People who are confident in their social lives are confident because they’re comfortable with rejection.
People who are confident in their relationships are confident because they’re comfortable with getting hurt.
The truth is that the route to the positive runs through the negative. Those among us who are the most comfortable with negative experiences are those who reap the most benefits.
It’s counterintuitive, but it’s also true. Often we worry that if we become comfortable in our failures—that if we accept failure as an inevitable part of living—that we will become failures. But it doesn’t work that way. Comfort in our failures allows us to act without fear, to engage without judgment, to love without conditions. It’s the dog that lets the tail go, realizing that it’s already a part of himself. It’s the Dominos that cancels its own order, realizing it already has the pizza it wanted. Or something.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to publish this article comfortable with the fact that some people will probably hate it. And eat my pizza.
This post originally appeared at MarkManson.net.