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This is a chapter from the book The Teenager's Guide to the Real World by Marshall Brain, ISBN 1-9657430-3-9. For more information on the book please click here.

Chapter 14: You Can Be Confident!

You may recall from the preface that when I was a teenager I felt like an idiot much of the time. That is true, but it is funny because I had the highest SAT score in my class. You may recall from the chapter on sports (Chapter 36) that I felt like a geeky weenie and a loser much of the time in anything that had to do with athletics. That is funny because later in life I was able to ride my bike over a hundred miles in a single day. You may recall from the chapter on love (Chapter 9) that I felt like everyone hated me. That is funny when I consider how many people love me now. So the question you have to ask yourself is, "What was wrong with this guy when he was a teenager?" It is the same thing that is "wrong" for a huge number of teenagersóit is a lack of confidence. Psychologists might throw in things like a lack of "self-esteem" as well.

Whatever you want to call it, it is a fundamental disbelief in your own worth, value and abilities.

It turns out that lack of confidence is a terrible thing. It robs you of a tremendous number of opportunities in your life. It wastes time. It causes emotions that hurt and tear you down. In extreme cases it causes people to commit suicide.

If you are in the huge army of unconfident teenagers now, I know exactly what you would think if I were to say to you, "You are a good personóbe confident!" You would think, "Yeah, thatís fine for you to say, but it doesnít apply to ME. I AM a loser. I AM an idiot. I AM a weenie. I am miserable and I hate it." Or maybe you are less extreme than that and are merely mildly disgusted with yourself at times. What I would like to do in this chapter is try to show you a different way to look at the world. It may not work for you today, but I would like for you to think about it. Then come back and read this chapter again next week. And again the week after that. And keep thinking about it. About 10 weeks from now (or if you are stubborn, 10 years from now) you will begin to see the light and things will change. My goal is to help you start the process. It is usually the case that the change to confidence causes a change towards success.

The Basics

Let me start with a simple statement of fact: You are a human being. As a human being you are no different from anyone else. You have strengths and you have weaknesses. You have talents and you have faults. You have advantages and you have disadvantages. In that you are equal to everyone around you. You are just as valuable and you are just as worthwhile and you are just as important as everyone else. That is a fact of life. The only thing that stops you from thinking you are an equal to everyone else is a failure to believe these simple facts. You lack confidence in yourself and your value as a human being.

I know you are looking around you and seeing people and thinking, "But he has all this natural athletic talent, and she has all this natural intelligence, and he hasÖ" And that is all true. What you may also be thinking is, "And I have none of that, and Iím not really good at anything." That is not true. You too have a set of natural talents that are just as good and just as important and just as eager to be developed. There is no difference between you and everyone else except for the fact that they have found and accepted and started exploiting their talents, and you have not. Primarily the part you are missing is acceptance.

Here are three quotes to help you get some perspective. The first is from the book Industrial Light and Magic: The Art of Special Effects by Thomas Smith:

In 1974, George Lucas was in trouble. Universal Studios, which had made a small fortune from his movie American Graffiti, had turned down his next proposal, Star Wars. United Artists, too, had said no. There were a few flickers of interest at 20th Century-Fox, but George couldnít quite build that flicker into flaming enthusiasm. The studio executives just didnít understand his vision for the film.

This is George Lucas, the man who has created many of the best-selling movies of all time. Here he is with this great idea in his head called Star Wars, and he is already successful from American Graffiti, yet he is being rejected multiple times.

The second quote comes from the book The Sam Walton Story by Austin Teutsch:

In the five years Sam Walton spent in Newport, he made the store one of the best. People from all over north-central Arkansas came to buy products that were once only found in Little Rock to the south or Memphis, Tennessee to the east. Bobby socks, white leather shoes and hair tonic for that just-right ducktail of the 1950s made Samís store the most desirable place to go. The previous owner also began keeping his eye on the storeís progress and liked what Sam had done to it, especially in the areas of size, appearance and greatly increased profits. He would eventually deal Sam Walton his first lesson in business. The previous owner had two aces up his sleeve. One, he was well-liked in the community and was a hometown boy. His own son was coming back from the war, having been missing in action for yearsÖ The boy returned with nothing to do but work for his father. But the father used a clause in the business contract to oust Sam Walton from the ten-year option in order to give the Ben Franklin store to his son.

A good book to read for more information is The Sam Walton Story by Austin Teutsch. See the references section for more information.

This is Sam Walton, the creator of Wal-Mart, the richest man in the United States at the time of his death. The quote is talking about his very first store. He had poured all of his savings and five years of effort into that store and built it up to a true success, only to have it taken away by a bad clause in a lease.

The third quote comes from the autobiographical book Be My Guest by Conrad Hilton:

I, personally, was living out of my suitcase, rushing from one hotel to another, from one town to another, borrowing my fare where I could, always trying to raise a dollar here, a dollar there and not having much luckÖ At that very moment the Moodys in Galveston were preparing to foreclose. They considered my position hopeless. I was clearly in default on payments on my $300,000 loan. The Hilton hotels were their collateral. Within a few weeks they took over my hotels. They now owned the roof over my wifeís head, over my motherís head, controlled the fate of my loyal partners. I had nothing left.

This is Conrad Hilton, founder of Hilton Hotels, a hotel chain that now has over 40,000 employees and serves 40,000,000 guests annually.

There are millions of stories like these from millions of successful people. What is my point? My point is that you feel unconfident, stupid and unsuccessful right now because you are looking at your "failures" and focusing on them. What you are missing is that Things go wrong, even for successful, confident people. It happens to everyone. It happens equally to successful and unsuccessful people. It happens to young people and old. It happens constantly. No matter where you are. No matter what you are doing. No matter how hard you try. Things go wrong. The difference between confident people and unconfident people is how they react to problems. Confident people dig through problems, rebuild and move on. Unconfident people wallow in them, are miserable and die. It is as simple as that. That is why you need confidence. Right now you are choosing to be unconfident because you are looking at your failures rather than looking at your potential for success in the future.

Confidence vs. Arrogance

There is a big difference between confidence and arrogance. Confidence is an understanding that you are OK and valuable. Arrogance is shouting it from the rooftops like you are the most important person in the world, and feeling that you are better than other people. You do not have to be arrogant to be confident. They are completely different things. Most truly successful people have confidence but none of the arrogance.
The difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that the successful people keep trying and keep trying and keep trying until they succeed. Then we look at them and say, "Oh, that was easy for you!" But it was not. People do occasionally win the lottery. That is luck. The rest of the people on this planet work to achieve their goals and dreams. And they work hard. Confidence in your own abilities and self-worth is what gives you the strength to keep slogging through the hard times until you see a light that says you are on to something. Whatís funny is that if you look at it the right way and recognize it for what it is, the slogging can be interesting. The slogging is what makes the goal worth achieving. You can focus on the journey rather than the destination.


One thing that is the opposite of confidence in yourself is hatred of yourself, or self-hatred. This is a very strange emotion, it is outrageously common in teenagers and it can be extremely hard to get out of the rut it creates. However, you cannot hate yourself and be confident. The two things are mutually exclusive.

The alternative to self-hatred is self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is, quite simply, accepting yourself as a good and worthwhile person and loving yourself the way you are. You are just like any other person on this planet: just as good, just as worthy of love and success, just as talented, just as important. When you can accept that for yourself and start liking and loving yourself, you can become confident.

There are a number of things you can do to get out of the self-hatred rut and build your confidence. They take time, but they are worthwhile. Here are several:

  • Make a big list of your strengths. List all of the things that you are good at. If you can think of absolutely nothing you are good at, then start extremely small. Think, "I am good at setting the table." How can you not be good at that? And if somehow you feel you are not, figure out a way to get good at it and accept that you are good. Get a book on napkin folding or center-piece arranging and set the nicest table you can imagine. Think, "I am good at putting on my socks." How can you not be good at that? Think, "I really brushed my teeth well this morning." Of course you are good at a huge number of things, big and small. Make a huge, long list of all the things you are good at. Read it and update it every day.
  • Accept compliments. I mentioned in the preface that this was really hard for me. When someone gives you a compliment, any compliment, large or small, for whatever reason, say, "Thank you." That is how you accept a compliment. If you are feeling good that day, say, "Thank you, I really feel good about the way that turned out." Accept the compliment. Then reflect on why you received the compliment. DO NOT say, "Well, he sure was an idiot to compliment me on that." Think, "Wow, this is great!" Reflect on the compliment and replay it and accept it and understand why you got it. No one gives you a compliment without a reason.
  • Confidence can be boosted by a win or a success, so try to increase the odds of success. That is one reason why athletes are confident. They win games, and they accept those wins.
  • Each day when you come home, make a list of at least five things you did well during the day. Some days that will be hard. Dig deep on those days; "Today I helped Mrs. Jones with her groceries." "I got to all of my classes on time." "I did a good job studying for the test." Whatever. Keep these lists in a notebook, and occasionally go back and read your lists of things you did well each day. Look for patterns and add them to your list of strengths.
  • Every person has a super hero power. You may find that hard to believe, but it is true. Think of yourself as a super hero. What are you best at? What is your super hero power? Ask your parents or other adults what they think.
  • Lead with your name. EVERY time you meet someone lead with, "Hi, my name is John Smith." That will feel EXTREMELY uncomfortable the first 100 times you try it. DO IT ANYWAY. On the phone. At the store. Everywhere. Say, "Hi, my name is John Smith," until it is comfortable and natural and easy. You are John Smith. You are proud of that fact. You are confident and honest. That is what you are saying. Even if it makes you feel completely stupid, DO IT. Smile when you say it.
  • Some people have a real problem with mistakes replaying in their heads. You are walking along, living your life and this BIG STUPID MISTAKE that you made two years ago replays in your head and makes you feel like an idiot for five minutes. Why does that happen? It happens because you see something or hear something or think something that somehow triggers the memory. It happens to everyone. It happens a lot when you are a teenager. Let it pass. It is just random debris in your head and it is meaningless. Instead of letting it make you feel bad, just say, "Oh, here is one of these silly memories replaying itself; letís just let that tape finish up and then we will load a better one." Remember that mistakes replay for everyone. You are not alone. Then write it down. Keep a journal and write, "My mind replayed that memory of me spilling orange juice on Mary Sue at Kennyís party and her screaming at me in front of everyone." Look at it. Yes. So. It happened. Thatís life. Get over it. It is meaningless. Next time you will be more careful with your juice.
EVERYONE makes mistakes. Mistakes hurt because they are embarrassing. The difference between confident people and unconfident people is that the confident people say, "Wow, that was dumb. Letís figure out a way to not do THAT again." Confident people also are able to laugh at themselves and their occasional stupidity. Unconfident people think, "God that was such a stupid idiotic thing to do and I am worthless and stupid and ignorant and no good and why am I like this and God I hate being me and when will I ever learn and Ö" See the difference?

The thing is: IT IS YOUR HEAD! Let me repeat that:


You can control what your head says to you. Confident people have it say one thing. Unconfident people have it say something else. Get yours saying good things instead of bad and you are on your way. When your head says stupid things (like replaying stupid mistakes), let it get past that and then plug in a good thing. A strength. A win. Replay something good. Do not forget that IT IS YOUR HEAD and you control what it says every day.


Fear is a fact of life. Like anger and love, it is an emotion wired into your brain that you cannot get rid of, but that you can do a lot to control.

Fear is the opposite of confidence. Instead of being confident that you can do something well, you are afraid you will mess it up or that something bad will happen. Hereís an example. Letís say I ask you to walk down a normal sidewalk that is a block long, and I offer to pay you $100 if you do it without falling off the sidewalk. The sidewalk is four feet wide. This is the standard width of any sidewalk in any suburban subdivision or park. You would say to me, "No Problem!" You can obviously walk on the sidewalk without difficulty. You do it every day. You would probably run to the other end and then collect your money.

Now letís say I take that same sidewalk and I put it between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and I ask you to walk across between the towers. You are now 1,400 feet in the air. The wind is blowing. The simple, obvious act of "walking on the sidewalk" becomes suddenly terrifying. Whatís the difference? There is no difference, conceptually. But if you trip on a suburban sidewalk you skin your knee. Trip when you are 1,400 feet in the air and you plunge to your death. Your brain factors the risk in and produces a large "terror" signal.

That same terror signal kicks in in a lot of different situations. Anytime a mistake will blow something important you have the potential for fear or anxiety. This is why we admire great athletes. Think about a golfer. He is on the 18th hole of the Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia. Fifteen million people are watching. If he makes this putt he wins. If he misses it he loses. The thing we respect at that moment is not his ability at golf. We honor him for controlling his fear and making the putt. Sports teach you to control your fear under pressure when the stakes are high (see Chapter 38). It is not easy.

One thing you can do to control fear is practice. If you were to practice walking on sidewalks at various heights and work your way up to the World Trade Center, rather than trying the World Trade Center first, it would be a lot easier. You could start at 10 feet, then 20, then 100, and so on until you were ready for 1,400 feet. By practicing you build your skills and confidence. You learn about different situations that can arise and you learn how to control them. Eventually, you get to where you have seen all the possible failure points and have faced fear hundreds of times and you can handle it.

Confidence gives you the ability to look at fear, understand it as a human emotion and use it.

The Mind of a Confident Person

What I would like to do here is give you some insight into the differences between the minds of confident and unconfident people. By seeing how they differ and seeing how much more comfortable a confident mind can be, you may be encouraged to switch over to confidence. The big thing to keep in mind is that there is nothing to keep you from being confident. It is all in your head. If you decide tomorrow to be confident, you can start the process of becoming confident.

Letís start with the first big difference between a confident person and an unconfident person. In their minds there are two completely different things happening. Here is what an unconfident personís head is saying:

My God, I am the dumbest, stupidest person ever to be born. I cannot believe how stupid I am. I canít believe that idiotic mistake I made today. That was so stupid! I wish I was dead. I will never be able to do anything rightÖ

Compare that to what is flowing through the head of a confident person:

Wow, today is going really well. I really like the way I was able to talk to Jerome today. I think I really made an impression on him. It is really amazing the way I am learning to handle those kinds of situations. In another year I will be a master of diplomacy! I think my goal for the next time I talk to him should beÖ

There is a very simple difference. The unconfident, self-hating person is focusing on the problems, the mistakes and the stupidity and ignoring what went right. The unconfident person replays mistakes from the past constantly and beats himself with them. The confident person is focusing on the good things and the things that went well and is looking toward the future and how things will get better. There is no magic. It is a simple choice: focus on the bad from the past or focus on the good in the future. If you are unconfident you have made the negative choice. Start the process of switching to the positive side and you will see a big difference. A confident person is simply saying, "I am good. I am normal. I am OK." All the time.

A confident person gets those messages from a simple source. Look at any celebrity or famous person:

  • Any US senator or representative
  • Any TV or movie star
  • Any sports star
  • Any Olympic athlete
  • Any successful businessperson
A confident person looks at people like these and thinks, "They all started out as infants, just like me. They all learned things as they went along, just like me. They all made mistakes, just like me. They all had to start at the bottom, just like me. Look at where they are now. I will be there, just like them, one day. What can I do today to help myself get there?"

An unconfident person looks at those same people and says, "They are SO lucky! I could never be like them. They have all this natural talent and I am SO stupid! I hate being me."

The confident person is the one who has it right. All of these people were born as infants, just like you. There was nothing special about them when they were born. They had talents, but they also had problems and difficulties. They all went through the process of being children and then teenagers. What made them successful? They simply found something they were good at and worked and worked and worked until they got where they are today. EVERYONE has talents. Your goal is to find yours and start developing them.

I can tell you a funny story about my sister. My sister did not have a really fantastic life until she was about 25. When she was 25 she went to work in a print shop as a gofer. While she was there she discovered a computer called a Macintosh. She LOVED this thing. She could use it easily and create great things and she felt good when she did. She developed her talent as a graphical artist and now has a great job in advertising. Finding her talent gave her the chance to develop into a successful person. What you are looking for is something in your life that makes you feel that same way. If you have not found it yet, then keep searching and enjoy the ride (see Chapter 6 for details).

What do unconfident people do when they make mistakes or get rejected? They wallow in it for days. A confident person accepts it and looks forward to trying something else tomorrow. Why wallow in it? What does it accomplish?

A confident person accepts failure and understands that it a necessary part of success. You cannot be successful unless you fail and learn from your failures. All successful people failed on their way up. The difference is they learned from their failures and applied the lessons in positive ways.

A confident person learns from criticism rather than dwelling on it and applies it to becoming better. If the criticism is invalid then the confident person simply ignores it and moves on. A confident person does not get defensive. There is no need to. Let me give you an example. Say someone walks up to you and yells at you, "YOU HAVE BIG GREEN HORNS GROWING OUT OF YOUR HEAD!!!!" Your response would be, "No I donít. Donít waste my time." There is no reason to be defensive or insulted because the statement is obviously untrue. Itís the same thing with invalid criticism. It is invalid, so you can ignore it.

A confident person is willing to try many times and many ways to accomplish a goal. An unconfident person tries once, and if that doesnít work he quits.

Finally, an unconfident person is constantly tearing himself down, directly and indirectly. "I am so stupid," is a common refrain. A confident person instead builds himself up with positive messages. Confident people do make mistakes, but they are perceived as chances to learn rather than chances for self-destruction.

Do you see how the minds of confident and unconfident people differ? To be confident you need to start from a basic foundation that says, "I am a normal human being. I have strengths, but I also make mistakes. I am no different from anyone else." Then, from that base, focus on the good things that happen to you rather than the bad. Since you have a choice, and since good and bad happen in about equal proportion, focusing on the good is much easier.

Confidence around Members of the Opposite Sex

A confident person deals with members of the opposite sex much differently than an unconfident person. Imagine that you are confident and you are sitting next to an attractive member of the opposite sex in the cafeteria. First, you would be completely comfortable. You know you are important and valuable, you know that there are many fish in the sea and you know the person sitting next to you has a life, too. You would say, "Howís it going?" Simple as that. The person would respond in some way. You might have a conversation from there or you might not, and it wouldnít really matter. If you seemed to be hitting it off, you might say, "Iím glad we met. Can I call you?" The person would say yes or no. There is no anguish, fear, pain or loathing in this picture. Confidenceóan underlying faith in your own valueógives you the ability to experience life in that way.

Here is one more thing to think about. Imagine that you were to go back to the third grade and retake all of your third grade tests. They would be easy, right? Or imagine that you are frequently accosted by a bully, but one summer you go through Army boot camp (including weapons training, martial arts, night combat and so on). When you got back to school in the fall, how would you feel if you had the opportunity to deal with the bully again? You would feel a lot more confident. That is what makes adults seem more confident. They have been through all sorts of situations, so they know how to handle things. It is also what helps athletes to be confident. They see the same situations over and over again in their sports and learn how to handle them. In your own life you can actually do things to help yourself become more confident. You can practice. You can try things over and over until you succeed. You can imagine yourself a year from now and then deal with the situations you see today from that perspective. Try some of the techniques mentioned in this chapter and see how they change your outlook over time.

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This is a chapter from the book The Teenager's Guide to the Real World, ISBN 1-9657430-3-9, published by BYG Publishing, Inc. For more information on ordering a copy of the book, click here.

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Keywords: teenagers, teenager, teen age, teenage, teens, teen, adolescents, adolescent, parents, parent