I feel like the word confident is bandied around in all sorts of places – job interviews, leadership, primary school… and waved around like a flag on a battlefield or at a fun fair (if the two can be related)… something to notice, and look at, and gravitate to – but when you get there, you aren’t really sure what you will find.
Feeling or showing certainty about something.
Feeling of showing confidence in oneself or one’s abilities or qualities.
So, we’re looking for a “certainty in my quality” … awkward statement if ever there was one.
In a world where everything seems transient and so much of life is out of our control, confidence is one of those things that we are wary to claim for ourselves. We can have it in spades for someone else, but when we talk about ourselves the way we talk about our loved ones it can feel a little… yuck. Confidence however is a very small fragment on a sliding scale of capability vs attitude.
The NITL Certainty in my Quality Scale (CIMQ Scale – sounds very impressive 😊)
Adequate, comfortable, competent, confident, arrogant, superior
We all have moments of being able to clearly recognize ourselves in each of the above (Yes, even the end ones, we’re only human and that’s okay) but in truth, the middle two are probably the ideal places to act from and the hardest place to keep a balance in. Why is that?
Let’s test a high stakes job on the CIMQ scale, like being a surgeon. First off, adequate or satisfactory, which in most areas of our lives is perfectly acceptable, suddenly becomes a dirty word. If you asked about the surgeon’s operative skills to be told they were… adequate… you would be either looking for someone else or seriously considering the urgency of the operation!
If someone tells us that the person is quite comfortable doing it, it makes us think they’ve probably done it more than a few times, they’re not stressed, nervous or worried, which is good, but they don’t claim expertise by any means. On the other hand, this word could mean something quite different on the scale, depending on who is saying it. Sometimes saying ‘comfortable’ really means ‘I’m excellent at this thing and I could do it with my eyes closed’. This is definitely one of those times where you want to express that you are really confident but you don’t want to come across as arrogant, because that becomes instantly less trustworthy so you drop to a lower word.
Competent is a bit like this too. I want my surgeon to know they are competent, however, if I hear their work explained that way, it can start feeling a whole lot like adequate - technically a huge improvement, but both a bit impersonal and not committed to or interested in the work (in this case of saving my life). Competent often needs it’s next door neighbour, confident, to make us feel more comfortable. (play on words)
The big question here is how confident is too confident?
There seems to be a very fine line of what is acceptable for this one. If you’re great at something you have to be confident – if you’re ‘too humble’ you inadvertently sound arrogant. If you’re too confident, then it seems this also ends up in the same word-
having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one's own importance or abilities.
you’re automatically assumed to be overselling yourself and even moving into superior (ala the original Old French interpretation of the word from Latin arrogant - ‘claiming for oneself’ – ie “this skills is mine, and no one else’s”), and both of these things often result in rumblings of bitterness, frustration, or even resentment from the people around us. And storms, they start brewing! By the time you hit superior - higher in rank, status, or quality, conceited – you are on your own!
So how do we balance it?
We need confidence in and from ourselves. Letting others dictate our level of confidence is almost impossible – you can’t find certainty in external opinions – especially nowadays when both the people we hear from, and the many avenues to share thoughts are so diverse, and constant.
So, we have to believe it ourselves, otherwise it’s not confidence at all. We also perform better when we are confident. And if we are confident to start with, and then are not successful, we tend to let it go a lot easier. We know we can do this, this attempt was the outlier, not the accurate reflection of our skills. So often we can “learn from these mistakes”. It’s generally harder and more upsetting when we know (or believe) that we don’t know how to do things, and these are the “Don’t ever try this again” moments.
Whilst your judgement of your own skills does have to come from yourself, the heavy influence of other people keep us fluctuating on the CIMQ scale. We shuffle or leap up and down through both internal and external motivators… So what are the triggers that make us do the CIMQ dance?
It seems when someone tries to place us along the scale, we feel the need to either push in the opposite direction when we feel challenged or unsafe with this person, or settle in and lean a little more extremely if we trust the other.
For example, if you think you’re comfortable doing something then a work colleague challenges whether you are even adequate, you might fall straight into the statement that actually, you’re more than comfortable – you’re confident. Or you think you’re confident and you see someone else effortlessly perform the task, cool-as-a-cucumber, and their attitude knocks you right back down to competent or even just adequate. With this comparison, if they aren’t arrogant or act superior, their quiet confidence is not what you have, so you can’t be confident too… can you?
And the other way, when that person you most respect regularly recognises how skilled you are and one day hands over responsibility to you, you damn well should feel confident. And if a fellow worker who wanted the same job doesn’t celebrate with you, you may want them to know that you both deserve and claim that you are the right person for this job (to the exclusion of… well, them).
There really isn’t a way to stay settled in on the CIMQ scale, nowhere you can sit and relax on the line. Not surprising when the world keeps changing, and skills are relative to those around you, but this doesn’t create a lot of certainty. So can you be consistently confident?
Are we supposed to take every single thing in our life and assess it personally on the CIMQ, then add in our peers, then “objectively” against people we’ve never met? Of course not. We know, logically, that it’s got to come from within AND that we should continue to take on positive and constructive feedback. Maybe the thing we can be confident about is that we are always aware of the skills we do have, and always eager to learn more about how they fit into the world, and how we can develop them to be more effective. That sounds like a much more doable goal doesn’t it?
But also, we can develop a bit more stickiness on the CIMQ so that the opinions of ourselves are well founded, and the opinions of others don’t turn the train ride into a rollercoaster. By knowing how we define our skill, and how we are expressing it to others, we can drop anchor somewhere on the line and only the tides of being humble and being driven will drift us slightly to the right or left. While comfortable and confident are socially nice, arrogant and superior, if it works best for you, is up for grabs – as long as you have the evidence to back up your claim of owning the position of higher quality and importance.
And most of us have at least a few things that we are certain about the quality of. These claims can include untestable concepts like “I’m really good at getting a parking spot right out front” or the consistent physical attribute no one can dispute like ‘I have great eyesight so can read that street sign all the way up there’. What if we can extend our certainty to something a bit more meaningful to our lives, from “yeah, I am pretty quick at solving problems”, or “I guess I do calm people down” through to “I look great in green” or even “I am good looking, most days”. Certainty in My Quality, remember?
We are allowed to believe in ourselves. And it is in fact essential to be useful and have an impact. The option of talking ourselves down, and trying to drop off the adequate end of the CIMQ scale just because we don’t want to appear like we have a superiority complex is extreme and unnecessary and often quite traumatic. Our CIMQ gives us words to describe having something to offer, without needing to compete – which may work better for those of us who dislike social hierarchies.
Hopefully, you should be able to look at that scale and use it as a guide to a bit of self love. List 3 things you’re confident about, maybe one you’re so confident about that you feel okay being a little bit arrogant. It’s also useful as a guide for the adequate things you might want to improve and the ones that are good enough just being at that end of the scale.
And once you get the hang of it, then we can talk about how we encourage it in others… because all of us are rock climbing the cliff of self esteem – but that’s a topic for another Nay in the Life.