You Can Kill Confidence But You Can’t Kill Ambition

The title of this essay might sound like a quote from a Instagram account with the hashtag #MotivationalMondays or something like that. However, when I heard it from Whitney Wolfe (CEO and Founder of Bumble) on an NPR podcast it really resonated with for two reasons.

First, it makes an important distinction between confidence and ambition and the fact that the two are not interdependent. This might seem like a straightforward statement but it is not. Most people (including myself) tend to pair ambition with confidence and it’s close cousin courage. However, nothing could be further from the truth because both qualities are affected by different factors.

According to Merriam-Webster confidence is “the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust”. Thus, by definition confidence depends on how you react to external factors (e.g. other people). You might argue that you need to be confident in yourself in order to do something but in my experience you “need to be confident” when you’re afraid of doing something in the first place. If it’s pretty evident to you and everyone else that you can do easily do something then you don’t need “confidence.”

Ambition on the other hand is exclusively determined by yourself. Unfortunately, society can and does set expectations about how ambitious you should be based on your gender, race, and socioeconomic background but by and large it’s something that the individual decides for him or herself.

Why does this matter?

The implications of making a distinction between confidence and ambition are huge because it means that blows to my confidence are not reflective of my grit. If confidence is something that is not exclusively under my control, then I should focus on my ambitions because that will carry me forward regardless of my emotional state. I will go even further and say that in moments where I feel down or nervous ambition can do more for you than confidence because it helps you focus and get shit done.

Thus, If I can focus on my ambition rather than my confidence, I should be able to keep working on things that matter to me even if when times get really hard and people stop believing in what I am doing.