Business requires confidence. There’s simply no way around that. Neither your team nor your audience can trust in you if you don’t trust in yourself. With a loss of trust comes a loss of credibility—and in entrepreneurship, credibility is everything.
When you’re held back by a lack of confidence, you also lose the flexibility and dynamism that keeps a business from stagnating. You become overly risk-averse. Unable to move in any direction, you become stuck. For business people—especially the independent kind—that’s starting the countdown to disaster.
Fortunately, there are ways to gain and maintain the confidence every business person needs:
1. Stay Busy
Sometimes, making yourself too busy for doubt is the best way to keep it at bay. By the time you finally take a breather, you’ll have accomplished enough to make the doubt seem like it was a silly notion in the first place.
Keeping a consistent schedule is crucial to this. By having your days, weeks, and months planned out with specific timeframes for specific tasks, you’ll be less overwhelmed. You’ll always have the confidence to take just the next step on your list. After a while, looking back on that staircase will give you even more self-esteem, and a sense of accomplishment.
Simply engaging in the business of your choice, day in and day out, will make you feel more qualified. Blogging, conversing with your business community, getting involved in industry-related activities; all of these things are low-risk, high reward in terms of confidence. These things—regardless of their financial impact—are the cures to “imposter syndrome,” the very common (but incorrect) feeling that you’re not truly qualified.
Simply producing content (besides being good for marketing) builds on your credibility and self-possession. And for every item you produce, you increase the odds of one of them making the kind of splash that will really boost your esteem.
Stay busy. Build the momentum, and it will take you beyond your doubts.
2. Don’t Compare Yourself to Anyone Else
If your goal is to destroy your confidence, measuring yourself by other people’s rulers is the way to do it. There’s always someone better. If you see making a hundred dollars as a letdown because someone else made a thousand, you’ll see a thousand as a letdown compared to ten thousand. You’ll think a hundred thousand is nothing but short of a million. You’ll create an endless procession of things you didn’t do as well as…whoever. And it will wear you down.
You aren’t just your toughest competition. You are your only competition. Your job is to surpass the person you were yesterday, not the person next to you. No one wins this game unless they’re improving themselves. No one loses it unless they give up on themselves. Somebody will always be able to outshine you, unless you’re Elon Musk. And he wants to live on Mars. Stop comparing.
Sometimes it’s helpful to take a break from things that trigger comparison. Social media is one of the worst offenders. At its most sinister, Facebook is nothing but a stream of people’s attempts to look better, prettier, more clever, or more happy than everyone else on their feed. Jason Zook, he of the wildly creative business ideas that can only come from a place of confidence, once took a 30-day social media fast for this reason.
Rather than sighing wistfully at the online tooting of people’s own horns, make time to spend with people who inspire you. Hang out with colleagues you admire or friends who are there for support rather than competition. Get some perspective, then get back in there and do better than you did before.
3. Frighten Yourself. Regularly.
There is one surefire way to encourage the development of your overall cajones: do things that scare you. Do something for which you lack the confidence necessary to pull it off. Do many things like that. Get on stage. Host your first webinar. Put yourself into a position you have no business being in, and improvise your way out of it. At worst, you’ll become immune to embarrassment and self-doubt. At best, you’ll discover abilities you never knew you had.
One of my favorite guests on The $100 MBA show was Jia Jiang. His lesson on how to triumph over fear was an eye-opening look at how totally surmountable your doubts are. To build his own confidence, Jiang put himself through a 100-day boot camp of frightening and/or embarrassing activities, from asking a cop for a selfie to making unorthodox orders at Krispy Kreme. The takeaway? Fear is a poor estimator of what you can accomplish.
4. Recognize Your Accomplishments
Part of competing with yourself is acknowledging your victories, even the small ones. Especially at the beginning, it’s important to celebrate—quietly—each step you take. Simply publishing your first blog or building your own website are worth giving yourself a quick back-pat. Creating your schedule, doing your research, building a product; each of these things is more than you did before you did them. Having done them is a win. Each is a reason to believe you can do the next thing.
As time passes and these small accomplishments build into bigger ones, their value will become even more apparent. Looking back will fuel your confidence. Odds are, after a few months of dedicated work, you’ll have accomplished more than you thought you could have at the outset.
Business is a long-term endeavor. Confidence, like profits, grows best gradually. Experience is earned a day at a time, and with it comes more and more proof that you can do it. Every successful entrepreneur I’ve ever known has had this belief.
It isn’t about being better than anyone else, it’s about not letting anyone else’s idea of what you should be determine your fate. That takes a little hubris, even in the face of your setbacks. You’re going to take risks. You’re going to make mistakes. If you stay true to your vision, the path you make for yourself is the one you’ll never regret taking.