Confidence, or lack of it, is an issue that comes up again and again in life. When someone enters a job interview, they are not likely to be hired if they don’t promote themselves to some degree. If they don’t have confidence in themselves, how can a potential employer know whether they’ll be good at their job?

This is true across many pursuits in life including dating relationships, personal relationships, sports, college applications, job interviews and more. Some people are simply oozing with confidence, while others are totally unsure of themselves.

Those with confidence often succeed, while those without it usually don’t even put themselves out there.

As the always delightful Fred Rogers said:

If only you could sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.

This raises an important question: Why do some people lack self-confidence, and how can they grow their confidence?

Let’s break this down further.

What Is Self-Confidence?

“The better you feel about yourself, the less you feel the need to show off.” —Robert Hand

Before we can really delve into how someone can have confidence, it’s important to identify what confidence is and what it isn’t.

Self-Confidence vs. Arrogance

Most of us agree that there’s a fine line between self-confidence and arrogance. But how is that line defined?

One major difference between arrogance and self-confidence is that arrogance often promotes or inflates one’s abilities. While someone with self-confidence can offer reasons why they think they can accomplish something, someone who is arrogant often believes they are capable of more than they actually are.

Arrogance is a false sense of confidence.

Confidence does not mean that a person can’t be humble, or that they have to constantly affirm their self-worth to everyone around them. Self-confidence means a person can look at a job, situation or challenge and accurately assess their ability to succeed. It also means that they’re willing to push themselves out of their comfort zone to achieve the goals ahead of them.

Self-confidence does not mean putting others down in order to make oneself feel more powerful or capable. It does not mean telling everyone they meet that they’re superior. A self-confident person only needs to express their potential when necessary, as in a job interview or as a challenge arises.

The Ability to Overcome Fear

Self-confident people possess the ability to overcome their fears. Fears are a normal part of life that all people face, but self-confident people push past their fears to gain success.

Some fears people experience include fear of failure, fear of criticism and fear of rejection. A self-confident person does not rely on the thoughts and feelings of others to assess their self-worth. While criticism and failure can help them adjust and improve, it does not define them as individuals.

To be clear, self-confidence is not recklessness in the face of fear. Rather, it’s a firm confidence that you have the ability to overcome the challenges you face.

Failure Is Not Final

When it comes to life, it’s important to understand that failures are going to happen. This is especially true for someone striving to improve himself or herself.

A confident person understands that failures do not mean that they should instantly give up. Instead, a confident person will learn from their mistakes and failures and continue on.

Understanding Low Self-Esteem

“Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.” —Malcolm S. Forbes

Unfortunately, we all suffer from low self-esteem at times. While arrogance is an overestimation of one’s abilities, low self-esteem is an underestimation. Low self-esteem can creep up after a particularly bad failure, or it can be a constant in some people’s lives.

How Does Low Self-Esteem Affect You?

Low self-esteem and a life of self-criticism can be unhealthy. As Elizabeth Venzin notes, “…low self-esteem…can reduce the quality of a person’s life in many different ways. Unchecked, low self-esteem may even lead to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, sometimes with tragic results.”

What Causes Low Self-Esteem?

There are many reasons people may have low self-esteem. Some of the reasons come from outside sources, and some are internal.

Negative Authority Figures

Sometimes, low self-worth comes from the way people grew up. Overly negative parenting, uninvolved parents or overly involved parenting can all contribute to low self-esteem.

When parents are too harsh or too negative, a child can start to believe that they aren’t good enough or that they will never live up to expectations. Parents who are uninvolved or not present can lead to insecure feelings of self-worth and a lack of proper motivation.

On the other hand, parents who are overly involved or overly protective may not prepare their children for failure. It’s important to teach kids that it’s OK to fail and what to do when they fail.

Bullying or Toxic Relationships

Sometimes low self-esteem comes from the way we are treated by others. When it comes to what others think of us, it’s often difficult to overcome a lot of negative feedback. Being told over and over again that we are of little to no worth, or that our best efforts are not good enough, can lead to on overall feeling of low worth.


Guilt can be a great internal force that leads to negative self image. When we’ve done something in our life that we are not proud of, it can cloud our entire self-worth and self-assessment. Guilt can be a very big obstacle to overcome when trying to boost self-confidence.


Theodore Roosevelt once said, “comparison is the thief of joy.” While comparing ourselves to others can sometimes have a benefit, it more often causes us to view ourselves poorly. Having a healthy competition with others can be good, but constantly comparing ourselves to others and feeling that we have come up short is not a good way to improve self-confidence.

How to Grow in Confidence

Since low self-confidence can cause people to miss out on job opportunities, relationships or other dreams we have in life, what can be done to improve it?

Here are some simple suggestions.

Exercises to Build Confidence

Below are a list of exercises that can help when low self-esteem becomes overwhelming.

Keep a Compliment Journal

One exercise you can do to promote a healthy self-image is to keep a compliment journal. In the journal, write down things that you like about yourself or compliments that other people have given you. Review the compliment journal when low self-esteem is especially intense.

Live a Health Lifestyle

Good hygiene, dressing appropriately, eating well and exercising are all things that can help improve self-confidence. When you’re clean, healthy and well dressed, you are much more likely to feel better about yourself. Exercise and a proper diet will boost healthy hormones and give you a better sense of self-worth.

Challenge Your Inner Criticism

A healthy amount of self-criticism is fine, but when it starts to negatively affect your daily life, it’s time to replace self-criticism with affirmation. When your voice inside tells you that you’re incapable or bound to fail, respond with phrases like, ‘I can do this,’ or, ‘I am capable of accomplishing this task.’ You can ask yourself questions like, ‘Why do I believe I will fail?’ Are the concerns valid or are they fabricated due to a low sense of ability?

Understanding Failure

Everyone is going to fail from time to time, and sometimes the failures will be great. Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Life will never be a constant of success or failure, but our response to both is crucial.

Don’t Take Things Too Seriously

Sometimes one of the biggest reasons a person battles with low self-esteem is because they take life too seriously. It’s important to be able to laugh at life and even at your own mistakes and failures. At times we can wither easily under someone else’s teasing or criticism, but when we respond lightheartedly it doesn’t have to drag us down. Our self-worth isn’t wrapped up in one moment of embarrassment.

Help Others

Often a person with low self-esteem spends a lot of time dwelling on their own inadequacies. It can be crippling to live life constantly focusing on insecurities, but when we help others it takes the focus off of ourselves. Therapist Emily Roberts writes, “Helping others has a profound effect on your brain chemistry, promotes joy and realigns you with a sense of purpose, even in the face of pain.”

Helping others has the bonus of potentially learning new skills or interests that we would otherwise have been unaware of.

Forgiving Ourselves and Others

Holding on to a grudge towards others does nothing to improve your self-worth and will often leave you feeling worse. When you forgive others, you’re putting the power back in your own hands. You’ve chosen to forgive them and to move on with your life.

When you’re able to forgive others, you may also be able to forgive yourself for things that you may feel guilty about. Feelings of guilt and shame can be crippling to a person’s self-worth. While we should do what we can to atone for past mistakes, living in constant guilt will keep us from growing in self-confidence and ultimately deter us from achieving our goals.

Confidence Building Classes

It may be difficult to start self-confidence alone, especially when the pattern of self-doubt is extremely ingrained. Because of this, it may be helpful to take part in a confidence class. Having someone guide you in self-confidence and having others to relate to can be a big step in achieving your goals.

Self-Confidence Application

Confidence building exercises can be extremely beneficial in improving our lives and our self-worth, but how do we use them in a practical application? How do we promote self-confidence at our places of work?

How to Be Confidence at Work

Once you have the job, it is important to continue to grow in self-confidence. Confidence in the workplace will likely lead to pay raises, promotions and recognition, in addition to a more positive experience

Take on New Challenges

It’s much easier to stay in our comfort zones and maintain the same level of work, but those who want to succeed have to push themselves to new challenges. Ask to be included in new projects or ask a boss for new and challenging tasks. As you succeed with new challenges, your confidence will grow.

Make Criticism a Personal Challenge

Instead of letting criticism be a catalyst for low self-esteem, use it to grow. If your boss says that your work is lacking in some way, work harder to prove that you can be successful. Even if it means extra research or time spent outside of the workspace improving your skills, rise to the challenge.

Find Fellow Workers Who Build You Up

If your co-workers are difficult or overly-critical, gravitate toward those who build you up. No one wants to be told constantly that they are inadequate. If it is impossible to find pleasant co-workers, seek out friendships and relationships with people who are more encouraging than discouraging.

Create Goals for Yourself

It’s important in a career to not only think about what you can add to your company, but also what personal career goals you want to meet. If your goal is to be the top salesman at your firm, visualize what needs to be done to get there. Ask yourself what steps have to be made in order to get better at your job or get a promotion. Tell yourself that you’re capable of reaching those goals and go after them.


Self-confidence may not be something that a person is born with but it is definitely something that a person can develop and grow. While some things are out of our hands like past mistakes, difficult childhoods or overly critical acquaintances, self-confidence is still possible. There are many confidence building exercises, tools and activities that can inspire us to achieve our goals.

Sidney J. Harris says:

It’s surprising how many persons go through life without ever recognizing that their feelings toward other people are largely determined by their feelings toward themselves, and if you’re not comfortable within yourself, you can’t be comfortable with others.

Learn to be comfortable with yourself so that you can extend kindness toward others.

Grow in Confidence With a Degree

Earning a degree and gaining knowledge, skills and experiences can boost your self-confidence greatly. Check out Alison Harrop’s (B.S. Psychology ’16) story where she shares how her education provided her greater confidence to lead well.