Self-esteem and confidence

Is it lack of confidence or low self-esteem that holds us back from being more visible? 

Picture the scene.

You have an opportunity to do a short presentation at an event.  You know it would be good for building your credibility, visibility and connections. 

You have an interesting story to tell and you know your stuff but…

something is standing in your way.


Is it a lack of self-esteem or lack of confidence that holds you back?

What is the difference? 

Let’s test this out.

To do the forensics – you need to explore beyond the ‘words’.

What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem is the disposition to experience oneself as competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and as worthy of happiness. Nathaniel Branden – The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem

A robust definition. Nothing fancy.

But it might be helpful to mention what self-esteem is not!

Having self-esteem is not thinking you are better, brilliant and indomitable! There is research that suggests having high self-esteem is associated with arrogance – not so good.

Self-esteem is about being who you are and not feeling the need to be better than someone else.

It is about being present – able to give yourself a talking to rather than falling into the squasher-spiral of impostor syndrome.

The seminal work of Nathaniel Branden identifies six pillars of self-esteem.

  1. Living consciously
  2. Self-acceptance
  3. Self-responsibility
  4. Self-assertiveness
  5. Living purposefully
  6. Personal integrity

I would add that paying attention to the task in hand – however mundane – helps to cultivate self-esteem. Being present – being in ‘flow’.

I will come back to ‘flow’ in a future article. 

What is confidence?

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage.  If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it.  Go out and get busy.  Dale Carnegie

But what is it?

The kind of confidence that applies to this exploration – is self-confidence.  

There is ‘having confidence’ in someone or something. There is ‘displaying confidence’. But this is about having confidence in yourself. 

Self-confidence – as defined in the Oxford dictionary, is :-

‘having a belief or assurance in oneself, trusting one’s abilities, judgements, or decisions, either in general or in relation to a specific situation or activity.’

It does not involve power dressing and hands on hips!

Confidence and self-esteem

Confidence involves competence

As your competence in something increases, so does your confidence.

That is a confidence based on, and in, reality. 

But is this a ‘chicken and egg’ conundrum?

If you lack confidence doing something because you are not yet competent (public speaking for instance) – how do you get competent?

You get that the more you do something the more competent you will get – and hence confidence grows.

But without confidence you are reluctant to do that thing in the first place! 


It is true that there is an element of discomfort to go through as you grow your self-esteem and confidence – but nobody said life was easy! The point it – it’s well worth the effort.

Where to start?

Small steps. That is the annoyingly simple solution.

Do that ‘thing’ (like public speaking) at a friendly event – possible informal – supportive group of people – real humans!

Learn from the experience – invite feedback.

Note that you survived!

Keep building.

Can you build a greater sense of self-esteem and confidence?

Good news. 


Self-esteem and confidence are not fixed at birth. They are not even fixed in your old age!

They can be worked on and they can grow. They can come and go too – so being aware of your triggers is a crucial part of the journey.

With all this in mind –  let’s return to the story of the reluctant public speaker.

7 steps to grow your self-esteem and confidence and break down your public speaking reluctance.

  1. Find a message that gets you enthusiastic – you want to share – you know it will resonate and give value/entertainment/perspective insight/practical knowledge…
  2. Prepare a short talk – with and without some slides (don’t make the slides the important bit). Consider doing a few posts and even videos – on a key aspect of your topic – soft launch by posting on your favourite, friendly platform.
  3. Find a ‘try-out’ opportunity – with audience. Informal, fun, your tribe etc.
  4. Learn, observe, try again – repeat.
  5. Recognise your competence – own it – let it be part of your confidence.
  6. Be nicer to yourself!
  7. Don’t fall into the comparisonitis trap. Value your value.

Small steps remember.

You are not lumbered with low self-esteem or confidence – you are an evolving work-in-progress.  Enjoy the evolution.