Note: This post was inspired by Professor Kraemer at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business, where my husband got his MBA.

I often think about what makes anyone good at anything, what makes them successful. Are they simply more talented than the rest? Did they work the hardest? Did they follow the right path? Was it chance and luck? The answer to all of these is yes. I’ve posted before about the concepts in Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, as I find that book to be particularly enlightening on why certain people have been so “successful.” (I put that in quotes to convey that I think the definition of success is flexible.)

There is another element of success that I think is less-often talked about. Our self-confidence or self-percetions, the voices in our heads. What do we think of ourselves? What do we believe we are capable of? And how do those thoughts translate into action or inaction?

We’ve all heard wonderful stories of people who have accomplished great things because they believed in themselves. The best ones are people who had the odds stacked up against them and the blasted them down with their will-power. RUDY is one of my favorite movies for that reason. I cry every time.

We’ve also heard equally good or terrifying stories of people whose own arrogance and pride became their utter destruction or the destruction of others. Like Voldemort. (He’s real in my mind people.)

Some people shy away from confidence, perhaps because it seems that there is no way to be truly confident without an amount of selfish pride and arrogance. I have seen people beat themselves down for this reason. Extremely talented and intelligent people who constantly berate themselves in an effort to keep themselves humble. But I believe this is a mistake.

Confidence and Humility do not contradict each-other, but are actually necessary for each trait to be true and genuine.

True confidence means that we reach for the potential within us. There are things we can do that no one else can. People we can help, stories we can tell, things we can build, problems we can solve, lives we can change. We can say what we think in an open and honest way, without fear or defensiveness of being contradicted or even wrong.

Genuine humility? It doesn’t mean telling ourselves that we are horrible or worthless or stupid. It doesn’t mean setting our sights low. That’s just laziness. It’s denying the potential within you, shutting down the amazing creature that you are. You stubbornly tell yourself that you aren’t capable of the task, so why even try?

Genuine humility means that you recognize that you are no better than anyone else and no, the successes in your life are not purely a result of your genius and hard work. Luck, timing, God, and other people have a hand in all that we accomplish. No great act or success is made purely of one person. We should never put ourselves above the people around simply because we have accomplished something they haven’t. Those accomplishments can be destroyed in an instant and there will always be people who can do it better than you.

When I got my publishing contract, I reveled in that accomplishment for a while. I felt my hard work had paid off. And I did work hard, not just to write, but to have the confidence that I could write and write well. But recently I’ve had a few friends tell me, “You were lucky,” and I have to admit, it stung a little. Don’t you mention luck to me! I worked my little rump to the bone for seven years to get where I am! Luck had nothing to do with it!

But setting my pride aside, I know that luck definitely had something to do with it. I know there are writers out there who are more skilled and talented and who have worked just as long and harder if not harder than I have, and still have not reached their dream.


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