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A friend and I were recently chatting about her two, now grown daughters.  Both had grown up with a plethora of genetic gifts and enjoyed a stable, nurturing home environment.  Both were smart, capable, and easy to get along with.

All their lives, people had told them they were destined for great things.  But it was obvious one of the girls was having a much easier time shaping that destiny than the other.

It all came down to confidence.

The thing is, from the outside, both girls were both doing well.  They had great jobs and their supervisors were impressed with their work.  They had active, interesting social lives.

Only their mother knew the truth.  And the difference was striking.  

One girl seemed to relish challenge–she actually performed better when things didn’t go as planned.   She blew people away with her creative solutions to problems.

The other girl was often frustrated.  She saw what her sister was doing, but couldn’t replicate it.  She confided to her mother, “I can’t do that because…” There was always a reason.

She knew what she wanted, but everyday she was a little more uncertain she’d ever realize the potential she’d been promised as she grew up.  And she wasn’t happy about it.

I told my friend her daughter (her eldest as it turned out) was not necessarily doomed to disappointment.  It was possible to develop and nurture self confidence at any age.

And I had just the example to prove it.

Confidence is a habit, not a gift

When you sign up for the newsletter at Everyday Bright, you get access to GI Jen’s Everyday Courage Challenge, a series of emails that helps you boost your confidence and success.

Back in January, fellow luminary Denise Rago decided she wanted to grow and change, but found it difficult to do on her own.

The challenge series can be deceiving.  Individually, the challenges don’t look very hard.  But in combination, the results can be disproportionate to the effort.

The key is practice.  As the subtitle states, confidence is a habit, and you build it like any other: through repetition.  Most people quit before their confidence habit can really take hold.

I personally found Denise’s story of transformation inspiring, especially because you never see the big win coming.  Each moment by itself is innocuous, but behind the scenes, her confidence is growing until she can really capitalize on it.

More than halfway through the series, Denise says, “I really like the new me.”

If you are struggling to live up to your potential, if you know you could do more with your life if you only had the courage to act, read on.

Challenge #1: Talk to a stranger

Denise had been going to her local YMCA for years, and while she would offer a polite greeting to other members, she never spoke to them beyond that.  Shortly after receiving the first challenge, however, she recognized someone from the gym at the Barnes & Noble.  She waved, introductions were exchanged, and her new friend, undoubtedly feeling as awkward as she did, asked, “Are you here to buy some books?”

As it turns out, Denise is a self-published author and was there to try to sell books, not buy them.  This led to an animated discussion on self-publishing, and Denise boldly handed him her card.  He bought two books, and Denise was proud of herself for doing a small act of self-promotion.

Challenge #2: Ask for help

Fiction writers, even successful ones, often need to augment their income.  Denise was looking for a job.  She told everyone she knew that she was looking for job working with special needs children.  At the time of this post, she was pursuing an exciting opportunity that had come through a friend of a friend.

Challenge #3: Offer to help

At a Starbucks, Denise noticed a woman with a cast on her arm trying to juggle her wallet and her coffee.  Denise offered to assist with milk and sugar, but the woman said she didn’t need help.

Challenge #4: Be vulnerable

Initially Denise tried to tackle this challenge by asking questions about a subject she didn’t know that much about: social media.  However, in reading her response, I felt she wasn’t pushing herself hard enough.  I suggested she find another way to be vulnerable that required her to stretch a little more.

She soon found herself in an uncomfortable situation.  During a get together, a friend of a close friend revealed she was struggling.  Her son was physically disabled and her adopted daughter had battled with drug addiction, eventually dying of an overdose.  The woman was distraught.

In the past, Denise might have simply said, “I’m sorry.”  But with the challenge in mind, she revealed she too had felt the impact of a loved one’s drug addiction and the powerlessness to fix another person, though she could not relate to losing a child.

And just like that, the woman’s entire demeanor changed.  Denise realized that by sharing her own vulnerability, she provided a safe place for others to be vulnerable as well.

Challenge #5: Do something unexpected

This is where it all starts to come together.

Remember the man from the YMCA Denise introduced herself to at the Barnes and Noble?  Denise ran into him again, this time at the Y as he was on the treadmill.  While initally inclined to wave and move on to avoid interrupting him, she noticed he slowed down to chat.

They started talking, he mentioned how much he loved her book, and asked if he could purchase some signed copies.  Feeling some momentum from the other challenges, she went to the front desk, wrote down her information, and asked him to contact her.

Even though they were just talking books, the nervousness of putting herself out there reminded her of high school again.

Then, she got an email from a big name agent in New York.

It was in response to a query Denise had sent over a year ago, apologizing for the late reply but a rejection nonetheless.   The old Denise would have shrugged it off and moved on.  The new Denise wrote the agent back:

Despite the delay I appreciate the courtesy of your response. […]  My novel is also available as an e-book and despite the saturation in the vampire genre, my book is selling and the reviews have been wonderful. My second novel in this series comes out this fall. If you have a moment, please visit my website and FB author page. www.denisekrago.com www.facebook.com/dkrago

To her surprise, the big agent from New York went to her website … and loved it.  She wrote back that it was beautiful and Denise should contact her when she finished her next book.

Who knows where it all will lead.  But there’s an agent who wants to read her work and there’s no doubt the new Denise will continue creating amazing opportunities.

Are you the next Denise?

I believe in the power of serendipity, but only in the sense that Thomas Jefferson put it: I find the harder I work, the more luck I have.

From the outside, people might look at Denise’s story and see it as luck.  I hope this post demonstrates how working hard to build confidence is what allowed Denise to capitalize on that luck.  This is a crucial point that most people never grasp.

No matter what your age, job, financial situation, or social class, you can begin to catalyze your own success by building your confidence one step at a time.  As explained in the movie Three Kings (with a hat tip to The Positivity Blog):

Archie Gates: You’re scared, right?
Conrad Vig: Maybe.
Archie Gates: The way it works is, you do the thing you’re scared shitless of, and you get the courage AFTER you do it, not before you do it.
Conrad Vig: That’s a dumbass way to work. It should be the other way around.
Archie Gates: I know. That’s the way it works.

You don’t just find your courage, you make it.  You build courage and confidence one scary act at a time.

Need help getting started?  Sign up for the Everyday Courage Challenge and be the next Denise.

I promise, you’ll love the new you too.

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47 Responses to Scared? Take Control Of Your Self-Confidence

  1. I loved this post and I have reposted on facebook for my peeps….

    So true all that was stated – I do love your writing and follow it myself. I also have a website for women called http://www.makegirlfriends.com

    In gratitude,

    • Thanks, Nancy. I always appreciate writing compliments. You’ve made me smile. 😀

      • On
      • September 18, 2011 at 4:47 pm
      • stacie
      • Said...


      I’ve been reading your blog over the last week and I really like what I’m seeing. I’ve taken the last 2 yrs as a time to surrender to solitude which has been difficult since I am a natural extrovert – an extro who loves her space as much as socializing. This season of quietude has appealed so much to my ultra-private side that now – well – I’m having difficulty getting “back out there.” Weird. This is really all new to me and frankly – I’m unsettled. I love my space – yes – but I also yearn to make connections with others.

      I have two children ages 12 and 18 so being there for them IS my routine – but hey, what about those other parts of me that are itching to explode into a storm of creativity? Not sure where that part of me is right now. So much I want to accomplish re: personal goals yet I’m not making it past the research gear.

      Okay – so – here I am and I’m glad I found your blog, Jennifer. Your no-nonsense approach appeals to me as does your sense of compassion and empathy for others.

      I’m looking forward to the list of courage-building exercises via email and plan to share how I fair.


      Stacie Belmonte


      • Stacie, I’m guessing you’ve taken the Myers-Brigg test, yes? Because to me, it sounds like you’re an E, but with a heavy dose of I. Which means the most important thing for you is finding a balance between social time and solitude. This was honestly one of the biggest insights I had when I when through my personality profile. I’m nearly 50:50 I and E, but my job required me to be more like 90% E. So I was stressed out and darn near anti-social when I wasn’t at work, trying desperately to recharge.

        So yeah, get out there in the world with those courage challenges and definitely let me know how it goes. I’m happy to cheer you on and give advice where I can. Sounds like you need some small victories right now. Can’t wait to hear about it!


    • On
    • April 26, 2011 at 9:29 am
    • Ayngelina
    • Said...

    I can so relate to this post. I grew up with a mother who taught me if something didn’t go my way it meant something better is in my future. I always believed I could do anything and so far I have.

    • It’s interesting how we invoke our parents in our confidence stories, but really they were just the spark. The confidence habit grew because you believed in yourself and kept proving that idea right over and over. I mean, look at what you’re doing now! Who wouldn’t be impressed? :)

    • On
    • April 26, 2011 at 9:37 am
    • Stacey
    • Said...

    Hey Jen!

    Thanks so much for providing such interesting case studies related to the difference self-confidence makes in the attainment of our dreams and goals.

    I’ve found that SO many factors influence intentions and actions, including the ability to plan, the tendency to procrastinate, and whether or not you have the skill set necessary to bring about change, and self-confidence is huge (and as you said, possible overlooked) part of it.

    I was fascinated recently to learn of a “principle of self-concordance,” a universal law which says people pursue goals that fit with their interests and values—and that they almost never *successfully* pursue goals simply because they think they should.

    Think about it: you’ve got person A, who is working toward something that fits organically within their lives, and then you’ve got person B who is working toward something that they just sort of think they should have, regardless of their own inclinations.

    Which person do you think is significantly more likely to be successful?

    Here’s the really cool thing: following a self-concordant model of goal setting gets you more goal attainment in the future. Nothing succeeds like success, and each goal can be bigger and better than the last. Denise’s story really illustrates this point best!

    Thanks again, Jen, for providing such interesting case studies and clear and actionable advice on how to achieve our goals!

    • Stacey,
      I have to admit, I don’t agree that most people pursue goals that fit their interests and values. In fact, part of the reason this site exists and needs to exist is that so many of us pursue careers for the wrong reasons: to please parents, to appear successful, because we think we can’t make a living as an artist, because we’re afraid to fail at what we love, etc. The list goes on and on. Nor are you prevented from being successful by society’s standards, just because you’re pursuing someone else’s goal. For example, it turns out Andre Agassi wanted to quit tennis, he didn’t really love it, but his father forced him to continue because of his natural ability.

      Now, I will say that it’s impossible to feel satisfied and fulfilled if you aren’t pursuing your own interests and values. But how many times do you hear people suggest such an idea is selfish? When I coach people through career change, many struggle with the idea that it’s okay to pursue what they really want. They ask, “Who am I to want more than a decent, well paying job? Who do I think I am to strive for something more?”

      Long answer, but I think that needs to be addressed. Maybe that’s even the nugget of a future blog post. But I thank you for bringing it up–very important point!

      • Hey Jen!

        Oh, I’m sorry: I wasn’t clear. I simply meant to state that the study showed those who *do* pursue “self-concordant” goals were much more likely to be successful than those who were not.

        In fact, those who *didn’t* were NOT likely to be successful in terms of finding meaning and satisfaction from their work. Again, I realize I wasn’t clear in my comment, and I’m glad you followed up so I could clarify.

        The study fully supports the purpose of your site. To those who say, Who am I to want more? The response is who are you not to?

        Howard Thurman said it best, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who are alive.”

        Thanks again for this great post and lively discussion!

        • Oh, yes, I see. Then we’re in perfect agreement! :)

    • On
    • April 26, 2011 at 1:03 pm
    • barbara
    • Said...

    Love this post. I have great admiration for Denise.

    I, too, have self published. The first book, The Duffy Chronicles, Duffy Finds His Family, came out beautifully. I’ve used it to promote no-kill shelters and I donate the proceeds to our local shelters.

    I just attempted to self publish a completely different book, the journal I kept through my husband’s battle with cancer, and was totally unsatisfied with the result. Even though I won’t be getting a refund I decided to pull the plug on that one. It’s available on my blog as an eBook, but I had requests for a hard copy. I’ll wait til I get a real publisher and do it the way it should be done.

    There are a lot of us out here, like Denise, who seem so confident on the surface but struggle day to day with making the bold moves. Your course, Jen, is an excellent way to push our boundaries and make things happen. Thanks for challenging us.

    • It’s true, Barbara, there’s a lot of self-doubt that’s hidden from normal view. And I think that makes everyone a little self-conscious–they think, “I must be the only one!” That’s why I love talking about it. Not only does it rip away the facade that everyone is naturally confident all the time, but it simultaneously allows me to be more consciously brave. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said in my internal dialogue, “What would I tell my readers to do?” Then I go do that. :)

      Thanks for being such an important member of the Luminaries. I want you to know, I finally did have my big neighborhood party. And wouldn’t you know, the day I picked, we got the worst stroms of the year. The party got kicked off with the tornado sirens! We moved everything inside, did pizzas instead of burgers, had kids running all over the house, but it was a total success. Neighbors still talk about our fabulous tornado party, and best of all, it’s really increased the community of the neighborhood. I love it.

      Thanks for telling me I could do that. You were right of course. :)

        • On
        • April 27, 2011 at 2:38 pm
        • barbara
        • Said...

        Jen, I’m so happy you had a great party. A friend of mine (Stylemaniac.com) had a post the other day about the best parties are when planning meets serendipity. I couldn’t agree more!
        Carry ON!

        • Yes, I just wish serendipity hadn’t included sirens. LOL. It will certainly be memorable, and fortunately, only in the best kind of way.

  2. Naturally, I’m delighted to see two of my favorite successful people (you and Denise) in one blog post! Whoo!

    More importantly, I think this underlines just how challenging the simple things can be for us–and yet how simple they are to overcome, too. We just have to take that first step, accept the challenge, and find the courage. Do the thing; the courage will come–I agree wholeheartedly.

    For so many of us, and women in particular, risk (even tiny ones) require more courage than we THINK we can bear. And yet we are holding ourselves back from so much–adventures, relationship, progress, learning, etc. in avoiding them.

    Three cheers to you, Jen, for creating a stepwise process for your readers to participate in to overcome these small but significant fears!

    • You are also the secret success weapon that Denise and I share! Haha–I feel so clever! (For those who don’t know, Lindsey is the web designer behind Everyday Bright and Denise’s site)

      I think you’re right about women having a greater issue with this than men. I have a whole post outlined on what men and women can teach each other on self-confidence. But I’d love to hear your thoughts. Why do you think it’s different? (I KNOW you have an opinion! lol)

  3. The way it works is, you do the thing you’re scared shitless of, and you get the courage AFTER you do it, not before you do it.

    I love this! So true! That’s my life for the past few months in one sentence.

    That was one thing that surprised me in the webinar last night: when Tyler said he’s still afraid every day. I was definitely afraid of the tiniest things when I started my blog, but in the past few months, I’ve tried so many things I never would have considered before, and they’ve gone so well, now very few things seem scary.

    That feels great, so I assumed I was rocking at life. Go me. But if I’m rarely scared and Tyler is, maybe I should kick it up a notch. Maybe the stuff I’m trying is too easy.

    • I know, I love that line too. That’s the great myth of courage and those who practice it.

      In The Positivity Blog post I linked to, he goes on to talk about desensitivation. What once was scary will cease to be so if you do it successfully many times over. Tyler remains scared everyday because he continues to challenge himself with new, scary things. I now tell myself that if I’m not nervous about what I’m doing, I’m not stretching enough.

      That said, I think some things never cease to be scary–doing a performance, writing a personal blog post–but you get used to and can even somewhat enjoy the fear. Keep shining, you fear junkie you! :)

    • On
    • April 26, 2011 at 3:00 pm
    • Larry Warrenfeltz
    • Said...

    Hi Jen,
    Great post! I never thought of working on “building self-confidence” as analogous to working out to “build muscle” or “build endurance” … but in many ways it is. Interesting! I guess if you don’t keep working on self-confidence you tend to lose it … like your muscles atrophy or your endurance decreases. Self-confidence: Build it and maintain it!

    • Yep, it works exactly the same way. Isn’t it a huge relief? :)

  4. Denise, having read your Facebook updates, it’s so exciting to see this post! Way to take those small steps and end up in a great place.
    Jen, great idea to feature Denise’s story…it’s a strong example of how, “You don’t just find your courage, you make it.”

    • I agree–Denise is doing such dynamic and exciting things. How could I not profile her? She’s definitely got the Luminary mojo down! :)

  5. Just a wonderful, inspiring, and meaningful post that combines success-thinking concepts with powerful examples that all this stuff really works.

    A friend of mine passed a great thought along to me that someone had passed to her. It was that loose connections are often more powerful than tight ones. That confirms your point about just putting ourselves out there and letting the power of chance, intention, and/or the universe do its amazing thing.

    Courage is something we grow one wonderful, scary, unnerving step at a time. Thanks for the leg up! ~Dawn

    • Thanks, Dawn. I’d heard before about the power of loose connections. I think another way of looking at it is that people love to be helpful. I always worry I am burdening people by asking for help, but in reality, I’m denying them a chance to feel good about their impact on the world outside themselves. So I think both loose networks and tight ones can do amazing things, if we’re just bold enough to ask. Goodness knows I’m grateful to folks like you for all you’ve done to help me with this site. Sometimes I still have to pinch myself to believe it.

  6. This is an awesome post Jen! I love how you showed how the challenges helped Denise preogress out of her lack if confidence. I also love the Thomas Jefferson quote. So many people complain because other people are “lucky” but they are not, yet they sit on their hands and do nothing. To truly be “lucky” you have to put yourself out there.
    Just how lucky are you?

    • Exactly. We make our own luck in many respects. It’s impossible to separate what’s serendipity and hard work.

    • On
    • April 26, 2011 at 10:48 pm
    • Rakesh
    • Said...

    Loved it – Absolutely. ‘You build courage and confidence one scary act at a time.’ Brilliant.
    Thanks for writing this.

    • You’re welcome. Even better, let me know what you DO with it. What courageous act will you commit to after reading this post?

  7. Jen: I thank you for this post. Your writing, as always, is incredible. I thought I would share another experience I had and one that might not have happend without all the work I have been doing with you.
    You are an inspiration!

    I was recommended to be on a panel [via telephone]at the online Book Bloggers and Publishers conference a few weeks ago, by a book reviewer who liked my novel. The topic was on self-publishing: who is doing it and why. I figured the experience I would gain was worth more than my discomfort so I said yes! Apparently there were about 150 people listening in to the four of us that made up the panel. I learned alot and was glad to share my experience with others.

    The moderator has since asked me to be apart of another panel next fall and of course, I will do it. Who knows where this experience might take me, despite my nervousness? Thank you again Jen.

    • Denise,

      I’m just not surprised at all. This is the thing–success snowballs. That’s why we can’t discount the small wins. They lead to other, bigger things we couldn’t have anticipated. You deserve every ounce of success. I’m so impressed with what you’ve done with the series. You certainly exceeded my own expectations. Thanks for putting yourself out there and agreeing to share you story. It truly is an inspiration. This is just the beginning of your story. :)

  8. As always, excellent work. I also think that goals are a big source of confidence for people. Seeing yourself achieve a goal is a major confidence booster.

    I think about all the people with weight loss goals and how they shine with confidence when they lose their targeted weight.

    I think of job seekers who light up when they start getting interview requests.

    Such a great post.

    • Thanks, Bryce. It’s true that goal achievement can provide momentum. But it’s also true that your wins don’t need to be as big as that to yield returns. One thing I wanted people to take away from this is that just by doing something small, like talking to a stranger, you can reap rewards in something like weight loss or career change. Start small, win big.

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  10. Jennifer,

    Confidence is such an important skill to hone. Without it, we let all kinds of opportunities pass us by because we feel we’re not worthy, are afraid of failure, or worry that we’ll look foolish.

    As you’ve said, confidence is something you can create through practice. Pushing yourself a little outside your comfort zone each day and discovering – wow! – that the world doesn’t cave in on top of you, even when things go awry … that’s the way to start to gain confidence that everything will be okay – which is what really gives you the confidence to try new things. You’re no longer afraid of the unknown (or even the scary known) – you trust that, no matter what happens, everything will work out.

    TKS for another great post! :)

    • Yes, even if the rational part of your brain knows the world won’t cave in, there’s real merit in seeing it for yourself. The unrational brain is so stubborn! :)

  11. Wonderful post!

  12. Oh I love this post! Confidence often seems to be this elusive thing that is “hard” to get if you don’t have it and “easy” if you have it. It’s something I’ve been challenged with for as long as I can remember. I LOVE that you don’t just offer the simple “fake it ’til you make it” technique that I always hear about. That technique doesn’t work for everyone. Although it’s still a challenge of mine, I’ve found the only that works for me is building it one courageous little step at a time. Building confidence – not hoping for it.

    • Exactly. Many act as if confidence is something you’re born with, and I’m sure that there’s a genetic component to where you start on the scale, but you absolutely can change it over time. Both up and down, depending on how hard you work on it.

    • On
    • April 29, 2011 at 8:35 pm
    • Janet
    • Said...

    I feel that my insecurities and lack of confidence has been a lifelong struggle and now more pertinent and urgent as ever as I’m having trouble paying bills, trying to start a business but feeling “stuck” and clueless and living in the “ghetto” in the Philippines. Just signed up for your list and hoping the inspiration can inspire me to start moving on what I KNOW I need to do… thanks for the great article!! The important take home message is that this is NOT a personality problem, its not an inherent part of “You”, but something that can be learned and changed at any age. :)

    • I wish you luck, Janet, but also the strength to keep trying. Do everything you can to alleviate the “paying the bills” issue. That’s a real fear, and as long as it exists, it will hamper your efforts to build confidence. But you’re absolutely right–you don’t have a personality problem, just another life problem like any other, waiting to be solved. I have confidence you can do it!

      Why don’t you use the series to keep accountability? I’ll be looking to hear how you do with the challenges on the Facebook page. Expect me to be in touch if I don’t see anything from you in a week. 😉

    • On
    • April 30, 2011 at 8:43 pm
    • Joseph Ch'ng
    • Said...

    I absolutely love this post because it resonates with my thoughts. I have been through a similar transformation.

    In my story, I have gone from a frustrated engineer, to now, an aspiring trainer. I can testify that the 5 challenge you shared on this post, is a guaranteed life-changer.

    In the previous 1 year, from not knowing what is my passion and sleepwalking through my life, I experienced a major life change because I have attended seminars, talked to new people, offered to coach others, opened up myself, and exposed my weaknesses.

    I have gained many opportunities to train for people, to write for a parental website, to help conduct a tutorial. Some people call it luck. I call it choosing to create my reality.

    I am still working on my passion. And I am glad with where I am now because I chose to change.

    I believe that when we consciously choose decisions to make a positive difference, even as small as learning to be nice to anyone we meet, it produces a shift.

    Everything is connected.

    Thank you Jen. I shall come back again.

    • Thanks, Joseph, and welcome! I love your story, especially the part where you say, “I am still working on my passion.” That’s key. From the outside, people see a transformation and assume it was some magical event that can’t be replicated. Those who have gone through it know the transformation happens one day at a time, just like anything else.

      Look forward to sharing more ideas with you!

        • On
        • May 1, 2011 at 8:53 pm
        • Joseph Ch'ng
        • Said...

        Yes. Transformation comes from a true want to change, a courage to try new ways, and patience to let change take place.

        We are all work under progress.

  13. Joseph,

    This is so true!

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