Anton Strickland

On Self-Confidence

Is there anything to be gained from not believing in yourself?

Some might say that if your beliefs are unpopular, you might face social ostracization. I would argue that it's not as bad as it seems, and in fact might even be a good thing. Let's dive deeper into it.

Suppose you are in a group of people, and you are holding a vote on a controversial topic. Voting is not anonymous, so everyone will know what everyone else voted for. You can either vote YES or NO. You might choose to just vote for whatever is popular, in order to avoid social ostracization. But let's look at some examples.

Suppose it is just you and one other person. You want to vote NO, but instead vote YES. Now there are only two possibilities: either the other person also votes YES, in which case you get an outcome you didn't want, or they vote NO, in which case there is a tie. In the event of a tie, suppose the outcome is randomly selected, in which case there is a 50% chance that YES is the winner. So you would have been better off voting NO as well to get the outcome you wanted. Had you believed in yourself, the odds of reaching an outcome you actually wanted would have been increased.

Now imagine a group that is much larger. You might assume that most people in the group would vote YES, and so in order to save face you also choose to vote YES. But what if that is what everyone else is thinking, too? And so maybe in a group of 10 people, only 3 would actually vote YES. But the other 7 people all think that the majority would vote YES, and so out of fear they themselves vote YES, creating an outcome that the majority didn't actually want. But if instead, each individual operated on the basis of voting as they actually believed, then the result would be a majority NO, and the majority would actually get what they wanted. So in this case, not only does not believing in yourself negatively impact yourself, but it also negatively impacts others who believed the same way.

Now one final example, let's say that the group is completely honest and believes in themselves, but you are not in the majority. You voted NO, but the majority was still YES, even with honest votes. There are only three outcomes:

  1. You are treated just the same as before
  2. You are socially ostracized from the group
  3. You start a conversation about your beliefs and possibly change some minds

But let's focus on #2, because that's the rationalization you'll use for not speaking your mind. You might be afraid of losing friends, or losing social status, or losing your ability to make ends meet.

You might be afraid because out of those 10 people, you are the 1 person who voted NO, and now you don't fit in. But that's okay. What you need to do is go outside your current group of people. The world is large enough to find more. No matter who you are or what you think, there is someone out there who will treat you decently. You just need to find them. You are probably just afraid to take the risk because you've gotten comfortable. You don't want to consider these friendships a sunk cost. But it's the right thing to do, because otherwise, resentment will grow between you, and it will inevitably fall apart anyway. You are afraid of losing these friends, but if they were really your friends, would you be afraid they would leave you? Or are you just afraid of losing them because you don't think you could find any more? Why do you think you can't? Who is telling you that you can't do it? You managed to do it once, and you've gained more experience now, so you can do it again.

Notice that having a job is just "doing work that someone else finds valuable enough to pay for". So if you are afraid of losing your job, then perhaps it is a job that is worth losing. You should find other people with similar values who need someone like you to work for them. That way, everyone wins.

So what is there to be gained from not believing in yourself? You will be afraid to try new things. You will miss out on opportunities that you find meaningful. You will waste your time on things you don't want.

Some might say it's good to be a little skeptical of your own opinions, because you might be wrong. Fair point. It is good to learn from others who might know more than you. But then the question becomes, who knows more than you? Who are you going to choose to listen to? That itself is a choice that you must believe in.

Do you take orders from someone that you don't actually believe, just because they're the "popular" person? Or do you learn from people you really trust, regardless of what other people think of them? What will make your life more meaningful in the long run?

Remember that when you listen to someone, they are showing the courage to express their own ideas. So if they can do it, why can't you? What's stopping you?

Decisions made out of fear only lead to bad outcomes in the long run.

Decisions made out of hope at least have the potential to lead to good outcomes. And that potential is what makes them worth pursuing.