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Lessons I’m Trying To Learn: Confidence Is A Burden

This is part of Fire! Ready! Aim! Series: Essays on Lessons Learned by an Enneagram Social 8w7

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been way too confident. I was in my early teens when my mother looked me in the eye and said, “you know Nathan, there are so many great things about you, and I love you so much, but the worst thing about you is how damn cocky you are.”

Just the other day, one of my business partners looked at me exasperated and exclaimed to the whole room, “I am so confused because you are talking about this idea as if it should be so obvious to all of us, and you just came up with it two minutes ago.” I have this tendency, that no matter what I’m saying, to say it as if it’s an absolute truth, even if I’m coming up with it on the spot. My posture inevitably leads most people that I interact with to assume that I’m either a know-it-all, uncooperative, or that I actually do know what I’m talking about when I don’t.

I believe that Eights project equal confidence whether we have it or not, and most people can’t tell the difference, and eventually, neither can we. My hope is to show how this trait can have consequences and share some tips for how to regulate it. There are some blind spots that come with this unintentional confidence that I’ve been burdened with:

  1. Burn out is inevitable.  Everyone that lacks confidence ends up latching onto your confidence, and you will surround yourself with yes men who will happily go along for the ride. Inadvertently you will end up cutting off most people that have confidence because they will feel like they are creeping into your domain.  
  2. The potential for loneliness is great. You become a strong and reliable resource for everyone over time, and you have ignored learning to build relationships where there is mutual benefit. Eventually, you start to interpret the number of people that depend on your confidence to mean that you don’t need anyone, but everyone needs you. You end up priding yourself in being a support for others but have no idea how to be supported. When you end up being surrounded by people who just listen to you, who you don’t feel is equal, the power imbalance will make you feel like no one gets you and understands you.
  3. The best ideas don’t get playtime.  Ongoing confidence is not very hospitable to new ideas. While this is usually unconscious with an Eight, talk to any people that are regularly around us, they will share how they often don’t speak up because they didn’t feel that we would listen. We naturally are not great listeners, and this makes it a lot worse.
  4. People get hurt.  Every Eight I’ve met has deep regret for times where they accidentally bulldozed someone over in a conversation or whose passion caused hurt. Confidence tends to come out quite powerfully and knock people over.
  5. Arrogance is the final destination. This confidence is usually unintentional at first, but then we start to believe it ourselves because it ends up being a self-reinforcing cycle where everything that happens around us we believe to be acceptance and approval. We end up believing our own confidence. There is nothing more arrogant than someone who truly believes they are right about everything.  

I’ve had unfortunate mishaps with all of these, and I continue to catch myself displaying unearned and unfounded confidence in situations where I shouldn’t. There are a few tips I try and be mindful of to try and curb these habits, become more aware of myself and how I affect those around me.

  1. Ask questions rather than make statements.
  2. Invite often and directly the opportunity for someone to disagree. Don’t assume everyone feels comfortable to do this.
  3. Preface conversations with terms and phrases of uncertainty like “I’m not sure about this but…” or “I just started thinking about this, so I’m still not sure what is right.”
  4. When you enter into a new situation, don’t be the first one to initiate the direction of the conversation.
  5. Find people that you need, and tell them that you need them.
  6. Reach out to the quietest voices in private to ask them how they see things
  7. Make restitution with those you’ve hurt or intimidated in the past, no longer how far back.

There is no silver bullet for this, but I think with regular practice, these suggestions can help smooth out the rough edges of an Eight and bring us to a more holistic and aware way of carrying ourselves.

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