Confidence vs. Compassion

  • The status quo, dominant culture of our society was not built to and cannot bring about liberation and justice for all people.
  • What we practice with our lives — our habits and actions — often reinforces that status quo culture, even when we don’t mean for it to.
  • Our opportunity is to become more conscious about what we’re practicing and make choices about how to practice in more liberatory, disruptively self-compassionate ways.
  • Creating collective liberation — out in the world, for all people — starts with, and in fact depends on, our own inner liberation.

That is the heart work we’re doing here.

Published: June 1, 2018


Why Confidence is a Jerk
by laura brewer

Speak to yourself with compassion on the inside and you will radiate peace on the outside. ― Amy Leigh Mercree

Most people think that if they had more confidence, they would be much more successful. They’d worry less, they’d have less anxiety, they’d have less fear and insecurity, and they’d take bigger risks and feel much better about their work and life and relationships. The problem is: confidence is a piece of shit covered in glitter. It’s false advertisement. It’s fake news.

What we really need is self-trust, and trust comes from understanding ourselves deeply and being able to apply compassion to everything we see and do. This month, we’re exploring: what if we bench confidence and bring in compassion?

June is a practice of applying compassion – to yourself and others – where you used to crave confidence … and simply noticing what shifts.

These monthly DTHW topics are a window into my head and heart – the stuff that’s up for me, the muck I’m in the midst of. Craving confidence and struggling with self-compassion is no different. I’m launching a podcast soon, and it’s been a rich swampland for learning about the necessity of self-compassion and the unnecessariness of confidence. I’ve had this project on my heart for a while, but hadn’t put it in action for a few reasons:

  • “I don’t feel ready.”
  • “Once I do all the research, read all the things, and know everything there is to know, I’ll feel more confident about my idea, the editing, and how to launch.”
  • “I don’t think guests will want to be on the show and talk to me about such intimate and vulnerable content.”
  • “Who the hell am I to do this?”
  • Basically, a shit ton of doubt, insecurity, and lack of confidence.

For a few months I tried to confidence my way into launching this thing. Pep-talks, research, obsessive planning. No Bueno. My insecurities got worse and I felt even less confident about my abilities and readiness. And then I realized who/how I was being was the problem – not my lack of confidence. Confidence is usually a product of something (often multiple attempts, failure, and fine-tuning) – not a pre-requisite. And confidence is simply a feeling. I was handing my power over to an emotion. Literally, a feeling was standing in the way of me and work connected to my purpose.

Compassion is also a feeling, and it’s way more than that. It’s a way of being, it’s an orientation, it’s an intentional action, and a commitment. It is so much more three-dimensional than confidence. When I shifted to befriending my insecurities, acknowledging them but not letting them steer, and was able to sit lovingly with my doubt – things began to shift. Dramatically. Let’s just say: there will be a podcast. And turns out lots of other people want to talk about some super vulnerable ish with a stranger. Thank God I didn’t have to feel confident to get to work.


Confidence vs. Compassion
Listen with ears of tolerance. See through eyes of compassion. Speak with the language of love. – Rumi

In order to practice one thing intentionally instead of another, we need to know what each thing is.

From Webster’s:

-A feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances

-The quality or state of being certain

Confidence is a strong sense of self-worth, self-belief, and self-certainty. Sounds rad, right? Totally.

So what’s so bad about confidence? Nothing and everything. The problem is not with confidence, itself, as much as it is with how we relate to confidence. Acquiring confidence, craving confidence, using confidence, the power we give it – as much when it’s absent and when it’s present.

More often than not, when we’re wanting confidence or pursuing confidence or telling ourselves we should feel more confident, we’re practicing behaviors that tend to be more toxic than they are helpful. When we’re striving to feel confident, we often:

  • Need to feel or perceive ourselves as special, which often means we’re on a tireless chase to do more, be more, work more, etc.
  • Compare and evaluate ourselves and others – against an invisible, subjective, and always-moving bar that doles out worth based on a subjective (and usually insecure or needy) evaluation.
  • Get addicted to the feeling of confidence, so we believe it’s bad when we don’t feel it. We believe we need to feel it to take risks or action. Insert hamster wheel of doing more, being more, working more in order to feel special, secure, and in control.
  • Believe that success and failure are opposites, and that failure is “bad.” (If you want to kill organizational culture, spirits, innovation, and the ability to learn – embrace this belief, otherwise known as perfectionism.)
  • Treat emotions that don’t feel great (like doubt, insecurity, confusion) as problems that need to be fixed/solved/made to go away.
  • Criticize: ourselves and others. In our society, the way most of us go about acquiring confidence is to benchmark ourselves against others and against a perceived sense of how we should perform. We do this as parents, as professionals, as partners. We can become obsessed with evaluating and criticizing, and it becomes our model for “success.” As compassion-researcher Dr. Kristin Neff says, in a modality of criticism, “we become both the attacker and the attacked.” Yucka.

I’m not saying the feeling of confidence is bad. It’s a lovely thing to feel. But when we treat it as a prerequisite for taking action (“I can’t do X until I feel more confident,”) we limit our potential and keep ourselves in a state of inaction. We justify all kinds of apathy. We tolerate all sorts of injustice. And when we feel emotions like insecurity and doubt, we criticize ourselves and tell ourselves we need to be more confident which hits replay on the whole cycle.

From Webster’s:

-Sympathetic consciousness of (yours and) others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it

Compassion is unconditional kindness and a belief that everyone – including yourself – is entitled to it without having to earn it. It’s also a desire to alleviate and not contribute to suffering. To want truly yourself and others not to suffer.

Why is this preferable to confidence? Ultimately, confidence arises from trust – a deep belief that you did the best you could or that your partners/spouse/child/coworker/sibling did the best they could. When we trust ourselves, a byproduct is that we often feel more confident. So confidence is the product, not the prerequisite. And trust isn’t grown through confidence – it’s cultivated through a practice of courage, deep understanding, and compassion.

Ultimately, compassion is a healthier, more critically conscious, more liberatory way of being in the world: toward others and toward ourselves. It does not crave or use power or control in the way confidence sometimes can. It breeds forgiveness and the ability to be with what is in a way that confidence, which often pursues bigger/better/more and uses comparison and evaluation, struggles to accept.

When we orient to/through compassion, we tend to:

  • Believe that all humans including ourselves have worth and need not prove, demonstrate, or have to do anything special to earn that worth. Worth through compassion is non-negotiable, unconditional, and unshakeable – whereas worth derived from confidence is subjective, changing, and insecure.
  • Tolerate failure and sometimes even embrace it.
  • Accept situations and people for who they are. Including ourselves. We don’t need to hide any part of our human experience. We don’t believe feelings, mistakes, or vulnerable pieces of our story need to be put out of sight. Compassion tells us that it – who we are, what we feel, what we’ve done – can all be held.
  • Reject performance.
  • Create safety – for ourselves and others.
  • Trust our decisions. When we practice compassion, we bring a gentle kindness and understanding to our situations. We tend not to hold absolute or subjective bars. We avoid using the belief that we should do something as a tool of motivation.
  • Create connection. In compassion, we’re more likely to ask for help, to name our needs, to name our boundaries. Often in confidence, we perceive those things as signs of weakness and so we avoid them or deny them to ourselves.
  • Learn to comfort ourselves during tough times, emotions, and situations – just as we would comfort a friend.


Distinctions Between Confidence and Compassion
If one is cruel to himself, how can we expect him to be compassionate with others? ― Hasdai ibn Shaprut

Confidence and compassion aren’t binaries or opposites – they’re simply distinct. Each is a unique source we can pull energy from; each is a distinct target we can aim for or pursue. Each is a unique motivator. Here are a few more distinctions between confidence and compassion:

  • Confidence is a head game; compassion is a heart game.
  • Confidence says “fake it ‘til you make it” – compassion says “be exactly who you are and know that it’s enough.”
  • Confidence requires performance if we aren’t actually feeling confident; compassion is raw authenticity, regardless of whether or not we feel how we want.

(Not at all) ironically, the times I have felt the least confident in my life professionally were the times I craved/used/pursued confidence the most and lacked or negated self-compassion. At this point in my life, I am the most self-compassionate I’ve ever been – and I’m sometimes confident and sometimes not. What’s shifted is that I no longer believe confidence is a prerequisite in order to take huge risks or pursue the things I most long to pursue. It’s lovely when I feel confident – though I usually don’t. But feeling confident just doesn’t matter much to me anymore, and that’s because I trust myself unequivocally whether or not I feel confident. And because I trust myself, I appreciate confidence when it’s there – and I don’t need it when it’s not.


Honing a Practice of Compassion and Detoxing a Practice of Confidence
It’s not your job to like me – it’s mine. ― Byron Katie

How do we move forward? How do we loosen our grip on our desire to feel confident, and how do we strengthen and apply self-compassion?

  • Take some time to reflect on the role of kindness in your life. Where, when, with whom do you offer it? Where, when, with whom do you receive it? Where do you deny it to yourself or others? Why? Ultimately, self-compassion is the ability to stand in unconditional kindness – toward yourself (your feelings, your results, your fears, your past, who you are) and toward others.
  • Get to know yourself more deeply than you’ve ever dared. What do you fear? What do you desire? What are the pieces of yourself you’ve previously called “bad” or “unacceptable?” What would you have to give up in order to accept those pieces of yourself? Compassion is so much braver than confidence. It can look anything in the eyes and stay standing.
  • Identify your self-defeating or unkind habits, thoughts, feelings and practice befriending those little fuckers. What’s all your shit that you’re trying to cover in glitter and hide? Find it and apply love.
  • Practice forgiving. Others, but especially yourself.
  • Cozy up to failure. Those things you avoid because you know you’ll fail? Do them exactly for that reason – because you know you’ll fail. Get familiar with failure. Learn to love it as the life source for learning, creativity, and innovation.
  • Practice connection when you’re feeling pain. When we’re suffering we tend to isolate. A practice of compassion means learning to give that cultural ridiculousness the middle finger. When you’re feeling down and experiencing suffering, the antidote is connection.


Wanting more? Each week this June, we’ll go deeper into an exploration of confidence and compassion. You need to be a member of our free community in order to receive the resources below, and you can join by signing up at the bottom of this page.

What’s coming over email to members only:

  • June 4-8: How confidence and social justice can be at odds
  • June 11-15: How to take risks even when you don’t feel confident
  • June 18-22: Concrete ways to practice self-compassion every day
  • June 25-29: Live Q&A/community discussion


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