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What Can You Learn About Confidence from a 17-year-old?

This article was originally published on my website. If you’re reading this now, you probably think I’m a confident person. And if you even know a little more about me from watching my TEDx Talks or reading my book, you would be pretty sure I’m a confident person.  You probably wouldn’t think a timid 17-year-old […]

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This article was originally published on my website.

If you’re reading this now, you probably think I’m a confident person. And if you even know a little more about me from watching my TEDx Talks or reading my book, you would be pretty sure I’m a confident person. 

You probably wouldn’t think a timid 17-year-old would give TEDx Talks in front of 700+ people.

This is my journey through the peculiar question of confidence:

I was a person who was, in fact, never confident. I was like most people my age. I would care about what people thought about me, and this seemingly never-ending thread of thoughts and narratives going through my head would be so overwhelming that I, like most people, would not dare to talk to that person, raise my hand in class, stand up when something wasn’t right, or even abstaining from doing simple acts such as saying “Hi” to someone in the hallway. 

So what changed? What can you learn from my journey?

Confidence is interesting and tricky at the same time. It’s interesting because confidence is correlated to our narratives, or to put it in simple terms, the confidence question becomes a matter of what you internally believe and tell yourself. It’s massively tricky because to change the picture of how you see yourself when you are by yourself is not an easy job, but it is possible. 

Let’s try to understand how I made that happen.

From kindergarten to 8th grade, I was a person who cared about what other kids thought about me, what parents thought about me, what my family thought about me, and what society thought about me. And as you can expect, I was the person who I thought they thought I was. 

Before age thirteen, I would describe myself as a kid who was scared, timid, smart but not smart enough, talented but not talented enough, unstable, and quiet. Sure! These descriptions were probably true if I compared them to other people. However, these descriptions were not about who I was.

My confidence level, if there’s such a thing, surged and a wonderful journey called life began. 

Joseph Campbell was asked once what he thought the meaning of life was. He said that the meaning of life is “to experience truly living.” And let me tell you that to experience truly living, you need to be CONFIDENT. 

By the time I was thirteen, I was more confident, but not to the level where I am today. 

Something else had yet to happen. 

My family and I desperately left our native country (Venezuela) and moved to the U.S. That was the catalyst. Moving to a different country, different city, different school, different (you name it) was the perfect way to start all over. 

For me, it meant learning English, entering high school, and trying/doing things I never thought I’d do, but I had to. I didn’t have any other choice. I had to adapt, and I had the opportunity to reinvent myself. I had the opportunity to change what I thought other people thought about me.

Learning and mastering English was a must, and I decided to do it in 1 day but failed. Then 1 week, but failed. Then 1 month, but failed. Then 6 months and I succeeded. I took risks and did things most people wouldn’t do such as the Debate Club. 

Joining the Debate Club was one of the scariest things I’ve done. Oh boy! I shiver every time I remember as I walked into this classroom full of upperclassmen, all who seemed very articulate and confident. I made the first step; I somehow walked in there, but now the hardest part was about to begin. 

The club president asked if I wanted to stand up in front of 15+ people and debate about a topic I was thankfully familiar with: Oil. I came from the country with the largest reserves; so, I had some knowledge about the topic. It was now my turn. People started laughing at me and others started asking themselves, “What the heck is this kid saying?.” No one understood a single word of what I was saying, and I couldn’t be more perplexed. I managed to make an argument, and the timer was over. I sighed. 

After I joined the debate club, I learned to compare my progress to who I was last week (and not other people), I learned to not care about what they thought about me, and I learned to be myself.  

How did I learn all of this? “Memento mori,” which translates into “Remember you will die.” That’s the truth. I had two options. 1) Live the life I wanted confidently, 2) Live the life other people wanted me to live. I didn’t want to have any regrets. I’m only going to regret the things I didn’t do, not the things I did. 

That was just one example of how I did uncomfortable and hard things as a way to be more disciplined, increase my self-esteem, and of course my confidence. Others include cold showers, fasting, and a morning routine.

One of my favorite quotes ever is a quote by the sociologist Cooley that beautifully describes our true nature, why we do what we do, and what it means to be a human. He once said, “I am not what I think I am, and I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am.” Please read it again, it’s a very “cooley” quote that will help you understand how our fellow humans think.

“Does that mean reality is like looking in a mirror?” That is what I thought when I first read that quote. After reading and pondering about it for a few days, I concluded and asked myself this question: “If what I think about me isn’t true, and if what someone thinks about me isn’t true either. What is the actual true representation of my personality?.” Not a simple question to ask, not for me (at the time 14 or 15), not for someone in their 30s, and not for someone in their 80s. 

I wanted to change for the better and attempted to answer it. 

I realized that the true representation of my personality was not what I decided to be or become but an illusionary mental model that only existed in my imagination. 

I couldn’t believe it.

This explains why people behave differently with different people such as their family, friends, teachers, etc. My behavior was predicated on what I somehow decided you thought about me. If I think you thought I was smart, I would behave like a smart person. If I think you thought I was incompetent, I would behave like an incompetent person. If I think you thought I was nice, I would behave like a nice person, and so on.

However, waking up one day and changing the perception of how everyone in the world thinks about you is hard and arguably ineffective. Instead, I did something a little different. If I wanted other people to believe I was confident, I better believe I was confident.

This is the first and hardest step, trying to make yourself believe something that might seem impossible or even false. 

Confidence is fascinating. To some, it’s even attractive (hint: it is, I’ve tried it). Confidence is a lot more than that; it’s a lifestyle. It’s a way to perceive and be perceived. Life is even easier for those who are confident. 

Stop looking at this blurred mirror of reality and start living your life confidently. 

Confidence is the bridge to many other qualities such as self-esteem, independence, writing, coding, public speaking, relationships, and even entrepreneurship. Of course, you now think I’m confident, but it all started by believing that I was confident. 

Here are two ways to become more confident:

  1. Do hard and uncomfortable things. (Joining the Debate Club, taking cold showers, etc)
  2. Start believing you’re confident. (Cooley Quote)

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