Our lives are made up one simple cycle: Doing, feedback, adjusting (repeat). Within this cycle, the balance between feedback is key to our self-confidence. Everyone has a unique mix of internal and external feedback in their lives. The difference between us is in the ratio between the two—how much confidence we earn in either the public or private sector: Do we primarily seek approval through our own critiques or through the opinions and evaluations of others?
Like the financial world, individuals often gravitate toward one confidence sector more than the other. As people frequently fluctuate between the two, it is impossible to know the motivations of those around us. From the scantily clad bombshell at the bar to the high-achieving, future Madam President, we cannot know if they work primarily for their own approval or the approval of others. We can only know ourselves (and even that can be tricky).
Some of us earn the majority of our confidence from outside accolades. In fact, this is how all of us start in the confidence economy. As infants, the outside world is entirely new, so we explore it for signs of encouraging feedback—a parent’s loving voice, a bright colored toy, or, alternatively, a not-so-delicious handful of dirt.
As we get older, we begin to develop our own internal assessment of how we’re doing (private sector), but public feedback can continue to guide us. The Confidence Public Sector can provide a sense of reality that we would not otherwise have. After all, no one’s perception of reality is 100% accurate. We use others’ input to improve and help validate our actions. (A fresh set of eyes can make all the difference after spending countless hours on a project.) That being said, there are downsides to focusing too heavily on the opinions of others.
Relying on public feedback for our confidence puts us in a vulnerable position: Others’ preferences—not our own—dictate how we gain approval, how we earn our confidence. Surround ourselves by honest, moral, hard-working people, and the Confidence Public Sector can provide a lucrative stream of income. But if death and destruction are what our surroundings seek, then death and destruction are what will be rewarded.
Unfortunately, when our self-esteem is running low, we may be “low-confidence” for that very reason: Our surroundings are not ideal. And having low-confidence can make internal validation—a private sector job—difficult (or even impossible). There is a minimum confidence requirement before we have the space to self-evaluate. We must have enough self-confidence before we can trust our internal judgements. Just as an infant must first learn to crawl before he walks, we must build up our Confidence Bank Account with public feedback before moving into the private sector.
For those of us who work primarily in the private sector of the confidence economy, we enjoy the control that comes with creating confidence for ourselves. Like growing our own food rather than relying on others, private confidence can protect us against negative outside forces. One example of this protective mechanism is the internal pep talk.
If our daily grind is relatively negative, it can be helpful to periodically stop and remind ourselves that we’re “on the right track,” that our efforts are not in vain, and that we can and will achieve our goals. This type of internal validation can be extremely productive. We are making small, frequent deposits into our Confidence Bank Account, which grow into a substantial sum over time. But, as with all things, there are limitations, including at least two caveats to private sector earnings:
The first caveat is that self-delusion is a real risk of private confidence. When we make an unfounded confidence deposit (ex. telling ourselves how great we are at work, when there is considerable evidence to the contrary), we are using borrowed confidence points; we are, in essence, taking a small confidence loan that will need to be paid back. And “paying back confidence” means performing to the level we’ve stated we would. When we are unable to deliver on our claims, a confidence default occurs, and the negative consequences far outweigh the confidence boost of the initial loan. But more on that next time.
The second caveat to the Confidence Private Sector is that our natural temperament makes a huge difference in how effective internal validation can be. If a person is inherently negative, working in the private sector may backfire. Crippling self-doubt can blind us to positive praise and external accolades, forcing even the most laudable deeds to go unnoticed. Confidence earned with a negative mindset goes undeposited, like earning a large paycheck and leaving it in our wallet forever.
If we are unable or unwilling to accept our good deeds as positive, then whether we work primarily in the public or private sector makes no difference. But ultimately, we need both internal and external feedback to have a balanced Confidence Bank Account. Too much internal validation and we lose touch with reality. Too much external feedback and we fall victim to the opinions, values, and desires of others, in turn, taking away one of the most important components of the Confidence Bank Account—ourselves.
- C = pF – nF , Confidence = Positive Feedback – Negative Feedback
- pF = eVL + iVL, Positive Feedback = External Validation + Internal Validation
- nF = eDS + iDS, Negative Feedback = External Disapproval + Internal Disapproval
*Disclaimer: The Confidence Bank Account is in no way scientific, mathematically sound, nor inclusive of quantitative data, so please sit back, relax, and enjoy the thought experiment.