In my early 20s, my best friend introduced me to an eccentric young man. For the purpose of this story, let’s call him Rob.
Rob was the epitome of Barney Stinson from the show How I Met Your Mother. Only instead of wearing suits, smoking cigars, and drinking good scotch, he wore shitty T-shirts, smoked off-brand cigarettes, and drank cheap wine.
The first time I met him, I was appalled by the entirety of his person. I told my friend that I will “never hang out with him again”.
Of course, this didn’t happen. In fact, the three of us started hanging out more and more. During this time, I saw Rob do some shit you wouldn’t believe. Between picking up girls almost every night, getting people to pay for his cab home, and making new friends wherever he went, the guy was a social animal.
Nobody could wrap their head around how this was possible.
The guy dressed like shit. He used cliche pick-up lines from the 1990s. He was always broke and looking for a handout. He had no interesting hobbies. When he spoke, he said the most outrageous shit, so bad that we felt embarrassed to be near him.
Yet, wherever we went, he was the life of the party.
When my friend and I would go out alone, we’d take the bus to the city, grab some drinks, then maybe talk to some girls at the club. When we went out with Rob, oh boy… it was a whole different story.
The party started on the bus. He’d walk up to a group of people, make new friends, and party until our destination. He’d stop people on the street and invite them with us. He’d walk into a group of girls, stone cold, and we’d end up spending the night with them.
It was crazy. One time, he approached a group of about 30 tourists from Kenya. Within minutes, he was borrowing smokes and getting them to chant my friend’s name as we marched through the streets of Zagreb.
For all his rugged exterior, he was the most confident person I knew. He literally didn’t give a single fuck.
It didn’t matter if people made fun of him, or judged him, or insulted him. He was convinced that he is awesome and there’s nothing anybody can do or say to prove him otherwise. He would walk up to a girl who’d tell him to “die in hell”, then turn to her friend and hit on her instead. Shame? Embarrassment? No time for that.
Those were very fun days. However, Rob looks pretty different today.
Somewhere along the way toward reaching his 30s, he started to change. He became less confident. He started constantly worrying about what people think of him. He became depressed and shy, just like the rest of the mortals who once saw him as a proverbial god.
When he was young, without a care in the world, the world was his oyster. He could go out every night. He could do whatever he wanted and meet new people wherever he went. And young, stupid kids like us thought he was the shit. But over time, those young, stupid kids grew up. They moved on to more serious things, like careers, families, and goals.
My best friend and I are no exceptions. At one point, we realized that continuing to hang out with him was detrimental to our own goals. We were growing and evolving; he was not.
Many think confidence is some magical internal power that makes you super social and fearsome. They think: “If I could just figure out how to be confident, I could go out and talk to that girl; or apply for that job; or stand up to someone who’s bullying me.”
This perception is, and always will be, completely wrong.
Confidence comes from actions, not the other way around. The only way to build confidence is to do things you’re scared of; the only way to keep confidence is to continue doing them.
When Rob was young, he didn’t let anything stop him. While me and my best friend overanalyzed and worried about what others think, he just did what he wanted and felt impervious as a result. He got his confidence through social actions and approval.
But somewhere down the line, the record stopped playing and he realized the horrifying truth: he has no hobbies, no career, no money, no relationships, no real friends. Things that made him seem cool at 20 make him seem creepy at 30. Girls that gave him attention now think he’s just a loser.
And just like that, his confidence shattered.
On the other hand, one of my other friends, also with ridiculously high levels of confidence, keeps crushing it year after year. Unlike Rob, he keeps pushing and evolving himself so his confidence comes from actual results. He keeps improving his career, his relationships, his knowledge, and best of all, he is aware of his shortcomings.
The only way to grow your confidence is through actions. Yes, at first it’s enough to “fake it ’till you make it”. Everybody needs to start somewhere. But at some point, you need to actually make it. Otherwise, you will be faking it forever.
If you want a more detailed guide on how to build real, lasting confidence, check out my book The Social Gladiator.