Do you feel self-confident?  Do you have a decent amount of self-esteem?  A little?  Not so much?  Depends on what we’re talking about?

Well, what are we talking about?  Are we talking about moxie, bluster, extroversion?  Are we talking about pride, gregariousness, popularity?  Are we talking about the absence of shame, embarrassment, fear of failure?

When we talk about self-confidence and about self-esteem, I think we’re talking about a certain state of mind in which there’s a predominance of faith in self and comfort in one’s capacities.

Notice that I said “capacities” and not skills, or ability to thrive, or likelihood of succeeding.  Because self-esteem and feeling self-confident are not really dependent upon success or even upon thriving.  To the contrary, holding on to one’s self-esteem and self-confidence in the face of failure is an important test of whether you have a good enough dosage to carry you through the tough parts.

It’s easy to feel good about yourself when you’re succeeding.  When things are going swimmingly.  When you’re exactly where you want to be.  It’s harder to keep a firm sense of self-confidence and self-esteem when things are not going well.  When you’re struggling, whether professionally, or in your relationships.  When things aren’t going as you want them to.

So, what about “capacities”?  Most importantly, capacities refers to your ability to withstand the pain of failure.  It refers to your ability to tolerate messing up, make mistakes, and being wrong.  It’s the capacity to keep the self together in the face of failure.  It’s no coincidence that self-help writers zero in on this very fact: fear of failure is a big reason why we lack confidence and suffer with self-esteem issues.

Let’s be clear about failure.  Failure can mean more than bottoming out on the physics test.  Failure is a broad category of pain, and each of us has our own version of what failure means.  Failure can mean encountering disapproval or disappointment in others.  Failure can mean rejection.  Failure can mean falling short of self-imposed expectations.  Depending on how you understand yourself, failure can be as fleeting as missing an appointment. Or as monumental as addiction.  As tiny as burning the toast; as big as freezing up in the final presentation.

Whatever your brand of failure, fear of it is the reason most cited for impaired self-confidence and self-esteem.  And it’s not necessary to have already experienced the failure.  It’s enough simply to imagined it.  To anticipated it.

When a person who suffers with low self-esteem or diminished self-confidence hesitates to step forward, is unwilling to assume a task, a responsibility, a role, a job, a position, a challenge, it’s possibly because they feel they don’t have the self-capacity to withstand the pain of failure.  It’s because they feel they don’t have the self-capacity to keep themselves consolidated if they fall short.  The thought of failure is terrifying and it’s more terrifying than whatever the consequence of hesitation and of shying away from engagement.

When we look to understand lack of self-confidence and lack of self-esteem, and when we connect it to fear of failure, we can understand that the absence of self-esteem and self-confidence can lead a person to shy away from engagement.  We can understand hesitation.  We can understand a little better, the phrase “fear of failure.”

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