Confidence vs. Self-Confidence (And The Will To Power)

Greta has a meditation up today on the topic of seeking new adventures, doing things you don’t think you’ll like, and generally expanding your horizons. It reminded me of something I think and say a lot but don’t think I have yet recorded on the blog. And of course, everything I think and say has to eventually go on the blog. (Or on Facebook where shorter thoughts are all dutifully logged for posterity—or for psychological assessment. Today I dwelt on the meaning of my obsession with hoodies. Friend me for such daily updates on, and insights into, my psyche. What’s that? Did you call me a narcissist? I’m a blogger, this surprises you?)

But anyway, I digress.

The thought I want to get around to recording is about my experience of the difference between confidence and self-confidence.

When you are good at something you develop an innate trust in your own abilities in that general area. You rely on numerous past experiences of success and so begin to implicitly know that you can succeed again. You have also surmounted hurdles in order to grow in that area and so you know that you will figure out the future hurdles too. I think this is how confidence in some specific area goes. You get some success and it is a rush and so you dive back in confidently and you get more success and then you try a more daunting challenge and when you beat that you become even more confident, etc., until you are readily and eagerly taking on really challenging tasks in your area of skill. You are confident—at something in particular.

But this is different than being self-confident. You might be super-confident in the classroom or on the ball field or on the stage or in the operating room, but not otherwise self-confident and so freeze and fall flat on your face in numerous places where you are outside your comfort zone. Why might that be and how might this be overcome?

I think that what separates self-confidence from regular confidence is that self-confident people learn from their growth in specific skills to trust that they are capable of learning skills in general. So, just as I might learn from teaching success that I can gain new teaching success and be a confident teacher who confidently takes on harder teaching challenges to grow as a teacher, a self-confident person learns from success in teaching and in tennis and in making new friends and in carpentry and in learning German, etc., that she is good at meeting challenges in general and at growing as a person in general, and so takes on new, hard challenges as a person because she trusts her general abilities as a person to learn and to grow.

 This virtue of self-confidence is crucial to all sorts of growth in life. Learning new skills or new virtues or new tasks, etc. can be extremely hard. You struggle with adjusting to challenges you don’t have any literal or metaphorical “muscle memory” to guide you through. You feel like you are starting from scratch. When you are dealing with a challenge in a skill or a virtue you have had success with already, during the hard times you can recall your past successes and reassure yourself you are capable of overcoming the new hurdle. But if you’ve never learned a foreign language before and you’re struggling sluggishly to figure one out for the first time, you can’t just feel like this is something you know you will eventually get based on past successes with languages, so you have to feel like this is something you know you will eventually get based on past successes with challenges in general. You have to think of yourself not just as someone who is powerful at a finite set of things and bad at everything else, but as someone who has the potential to perpetually improve at everything you put your mind to.

This is also a back door way of introducing what I mean when I say the will to power is one of the supreme human goods. The will to power, as I interpret it—following and possibly modifying Bernard Reginster’s formulation of it—is the insatiable drive to perpetually seek out new challenges, new resistances to your existing strengths, so that you can constantly be overcoming them and therein growing in your abilities and in your overall excellence. It is about an orientation towards life which does not seek to avoid conflict and difficulty as much as possible, but rather which actively craves and embraces those struggles that will force you to discover, develop, and create powers beyond what you presently even think are possible for you.

A life of the will to power is ideally a life in which you do not rest on your laurels, comfortable within a cautious, complacently confident cocoon, only ever perfecting by increments what you have already mastered and made easy for yourself. Rather it is a life in which you go beyond confidence to self-confidence and to its constant cultivation—a life in which you perpetually challenge yourself and trust yourself to be someone who is not merely good at replicating past successes but creating ever new kinds of successes in ever new kinds of pursuits.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • John Morales

    I consider that I lack the will to power, yet am rather self-confident.

    (My drives are very satiable and life in itself is sufficient challenge)


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