Books: Conf!dence: Overcoming Low Self-Esteem, Insecurity, and Self-Doubt by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, PhD

Wow, okay.

I could write a lot about this book. This copy I borrowed from the library is bristling with Post-it tags I've used to flag potential talking points. But the bottom line is: The book made me feel worse rather than better.

The argument here [in this book] is that low confidence is actually a good thing, and it's better to have low confidence than be, you know, arrogant and self-involved. Sure, I get that. No one likes arrogant, self-involved people (and weirdly enough, arrogant and self-involved people are convinced that everyone likes them).

See, people who believe in themselves are actually less inclined to make an effort to succeed at anything. Those who are not so sure of themselves will more often (a) take the time to learn more and prepare, and (b) make that extra effort.

Makes sense, right?

In this book, Chamorro-Premuzic is at pains to point out the difference between confidence and competence. That people who have high levels of confidence and self-belief are actually often more ignorant and less capable than those who are more realistic in their views of themselves and their abilities.

And anyway, it's less important how you see yourself and more about how others perceive you. Go back to Mr. Ego, who is so sure everyone loves him. He believes he is the life of the party, that he's funny and athletic and good-looking. Because he believes these things, he does not bother to try to charm those around him. He does not put any effort into listening to others; he is too busy telling his own great stories.

But people with lower confidence are more likely to try to be personable. Everyone wants to be liked, after all, and those who aren't sure they can be liked will work harder to achieve that goal. They might take more time with how they dress, and they'll probably let you do at least half the talking in a conversation.

In other words, people with lower confidence achieve more because they put more effort into things. And their modesty makes them more personable and palatable than people with an excess of self-confidence. (Bottom line: Be someone others want to work with, spend time with, etc. Duh. Focus on their experience of you.)

Chamorro-Premuzic goes on to write that the philosophy espoused by so many of those confident celebrities: "Be yourself, love yourself, don't worry about what others think," is ultimately detrimental to one's reputation. Because reputation, by definition, is built upon what others think of you. And that, in order to see yourself clearly, you must see through others' eyes. Because we are naturally biased when it comes to ourselves, whether we think we're awesome (self-confident) or not (low confidence). Though how I'm supposed to know what others really think of me is unclear. Should I send out an anonymous poll or something?

And I do have to take issue with any book that tells me NOT to be myself. While I understand the spirit of the message—that in order to charm others, I must hide my flaws (at least at first)—I take exception to being encouraged to be a big phony.

Also pointed out: Depression is evolutionarily helpful in that it gives people a more realistic outlook than false hope and optimism does. That sometimes persistence is futile, and knowing when to quit and give up is better than believing that if "you believe in yourself enough you can do anything." Because it's not true. Depression, as a response to failure, is a signal to avoid similar disappointment in the future either by (a) increasing your knowledge, preparation and effort so as to do better next time, or (b) not to waste time by trying again because the goal is beyond your reach.

You can see, perhaps, why the book began to make me feel worse about things. After many setbacks with my writing, and bouts of depression brought on by those failures, I must face the fact that I am unlikely to be successful. Chamorro-Premuzic would surely suggest I look to a more attainable goal, but . . . One can't stop wanting what one wants just because that would be easiest. If the base goal for all people in life is to have one's competence recognized by others (in whatever field or endeavor you hope to excel in), when one's competence is not recognized . . . Or when one must conclude s/he is not as competent as s/he would like to be, and there is nothing more to be learned, nor any hope of gaining additional competence/recognition/success . . . Well, that just puts you at the bottom of the barrel.

To make matters worse, Chamorro-Premuzic goes to some lengths to illustrate how physical attractiveness is really the chief element in dating/relationship success. Apparently if you are not attractive, you should try to make up for it by upping your personality: hide your insecurities (fake being confident); find things about yourself that are unique and play those up; and focus on your [potential] date, being sure not to monopolize the conversation—even if good conversation is all you really have going for you, the other person would probably rather talk about him- or herself. Oh, and flirting helps, too.

Okay, so after reading this book I'm (a) pretty sure I need to give up on my lifelong dream of writing, though I am not competent in any other area, and (b) am now equally convinced I am not attractive enough and no one will ever be able to love me for my true self. Chamorrow-Premuzic would then prescribe that I just try harder. (Yes, even though we've already learned that persistence is sometimes futile.) If I do that I'll become more competent (at life in general, I suppose), I'll maybe score a success or two in some way, and success is ultimately the cure for low confidence.

Um . . .

There is so much more to this book, seriously, I could parse it out by chapter or hold a book club meeting about it with talking points, but it's too much to go into here. Again, while a lot of it makes sense, the book did not help me except to encourage and support my already low self-confidence and -doubt, my belief that I will never amount to anything. Nor did it ever explain, while arguing against so many celebs' self-absorption and conceit, how these people managed to become so successful despite their debilitating self-confidence.

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