Confidence as a function of competence

Parenting’s hard. One day you’re a successful professional person with a clear path forward; the next, you’re just another imperfect human trying their best to avoid messing up their kids.

Which is why I listen to parenting books and podcasts. Because I am a student of psychology, always. And because I recognize that young kids get imprinted with all the harm and all the good we expose them to at home.

Recently my current favourite parenting podcast host shared this: “Confidence doesn’t come from praise. It comes from competence.”

Of course it’s natural to gush all the “great jobs!!!!!” at our kids. Not only in hopes of building their self-esteem, but also, because witnessing their transformation from 7lb squirming newborns into full-blown humans who are now kicking soccer balls – even if they’re aimed at the wrong net or some other kid’s head – feels MIRACULOUS. Like holy heck ” GREAT JOB” is right.

But the parenting experts say to tone it down. Instead we’re advised to hold in our explosive pride and simply say “you did it!”. That’s one exclamation point.

Because what actually builds their confidence is not the praise, but the competence. Kicking the ball. Etc.

Why care about confidence?

I like this definition from Kidshealth.org: Confidence means feeling sure of yourself and your abilities — not in an arrogant way, but in a realistic, secure way. Confidence isn’t about feeling superior to others. It’s a quiet inner knowledge that you’re capable.

I’ve had many clients tell me they struggle with confidence. It shows up in insidious ways: holding us back from betting on ourselves; holding us back from feeling secure in our choices; holding us back from simply feeling good.

DE-coupling confidence with competence

Interestingly, when my clients talk to me about lacking confidence, it has literally never been coupled with competence. Not once. They understand that they are competent; they just lack confidence.

While the confidence/ competence link seems pretty straightforward in kids, apparently, the grownup world can destabilize it. All the experiences we’ve had, the roads we’ve walked, the emotions we’ve felt, the comparisons we’ve made, can cause the two to start marching in different directions.

For many people, somewhere along the path the competence kept growing forward, but the confidence split off. It feels like it stalled or worse, started sliding backwards.

RE-coupling confidence with competence

There are some important discussions to be had around enabling confidence (unpacking thought patterns, challenging flawed assumptions, inventorying accomplishments). And lots of exercises too (identity visioning, taking manageable risks, journal prompts like these ones over here).

But what I remembered when I heard my favourite parenting expert talk about the confidence / competence connection, was the simplicity of childhood. And letting competence and confidence match each other. It makes confidence seem less elusive, and more straightforward.

My new question for folks struggling with confidence is to ask yourself: where is your confidence in relation to your competence?

And what would it look like to recouple those concepts, so that confidence was simply a straightforward, basically accurate, reflection of competence?

This way, if confidence is low because competence is low, we address competence.

And if confidence is artificially low compared with competence, we need to simply acknowledge that misalignment, and allow it to catch up.

We don’t have to let low confidence overshadow high competence. Or be an invisible anchor holding you down. Or a terrifying monster on your shoulder. Or an obnoxious outfit some well meaning relative gave you as a child that you simply have to wear forever.

No thanks! Your competence counts. And your confidence is allowed to simply reflect it.

In other words, confidence and competence belong in alignment. Acknowledge competence. Let confidence recalibrate.


I would love to know if this resonates. Comment below or DM me over here .

I’m cheering you on.


Want to learn about coaching? Here’s a link to get on my calendar for a free intro session.

About Allison

Inspiring radical evolution in work and life.

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