Does Self-Doubt Breed Success?

Our society rates self-confidence as a positive attribute and the key to success. Yet could too much self-confidence actually make us less successful? A controversial new view is that it’s actually self-doubt that drives us to succeed.


There has been a plethora of articles written lately, such as on the Harvard Business blog, in the BBC News Magazine, and in various health and lifestyle magazines such as ‘Healthy’ about whether or not self-confidence (that is high self-esteem and self-efficacy) really does breed success. Research suggests that it may be less confident people who are more successful.

Is confidence overrated?

I’ve got to say that, up until this point, I would tend to disagree with the statement that ‘less confident people are more successful’, as in my experience, I’ve always found the opposite to be true. My view is that confident people do tend to be more successful and moreover I believe self-confidence is the principle contributing factor to a successful career.

I’m not talking about those people who go around thinking that they’re someone special, are cocky, arrogant or hold narcissistic tendencies, but rather people who believe in themselves, their skills and their ability to succeed.

Here’s 5 reasons why I think self-confidence leads to success

Confident people:

  • Are not shy about making things happen; they make changes rather than just wishing things were different;
  • Are not afraid to grab new opportunities that come their way;
  • Are not paralysed by the fear of failure, but rather see problems as challenges to be overcome. They also cope well with setbacks;
  • Believe in themselves and have strong values. They know their strengths and skills set, know what is important to them and what they want to achieve in their life;
  • Set themselves goals which are probably higher than average and work hard to achieve them.

“Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings” Samuel Johnson.

“Giving people self-confidence is by far the most important things that I can do. Because then they will act.”  Jack Welch

Dr Rob Yeung, a psychologist, coach and author of How to Win: The Argument, The Pitch, The Job, The Race says that ‘confident people earn more, enjoy more fulfilling relationships and get more out of life. Confident people believe in themselves and because they believe, they achieve more.

Or, are less-confident people more successful?

However, the articles that I’ve read, such as the one in the Harvard Business blog entitled ‘Less-Confident People Are More Successful’, argue that self-confidence is only helpful when it’s low. Obviously not so low that it inhibits performance by inducing fear and anxiety but low enough to make goals that are realistic and attainable. People with low self-confidence work harder and are thus more successful.

Here’s  5 possible reasons why less confidence is thought to lead to success

Less-confident people:

  • Are more afraid of failure and so work harder to ensure that they don’t fail;
  • Are more likely to listen to negative feedback and are more self-critical, therefore they tend to work harder and prepare more for any given task;
  • Are less arrogant, less likely to take credit for others’ accomplishments, and are less likely to blame others for their mistakes, thus they are likely to be perceived as trustworthy, kind and empathetic people – traits which are highly regarded not just by individuals but also organisations and society;
  • Are more likely to set themselves realistic and attainable goals; achieving these goals motivates them to stretch themselves further;
  • Are more motivated to work on their weaknesses in order to achieve an acceptable level of competence, and often become very competent at what they do through their sheer hard work.

“To be human is to feel inferior.” Low confidence is the result of failure but the source of success” philosopher and psychotherapist Alfred Adler.

Dr Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic, psychologist and author of Confidence: The Surprising Truth About How Much You Need And How To Get It says ‘We’re obsessed with feeling good about ourselves’. He believes that high confidence can hold you back because the more you feel you’ll get what you want, the less you’ll work for it. If you’re afraid to fail, you’ll do better; if you perceive weakness in yourself, you’ll be motivated to improve.

Over to you.  What do you think? Is it possible to be  successful if you have low self-confidence?


2 thoughts on “Does Self-Doubt Breed Success?”

  1. I think you definitely need confidence. A lack of confidence is just one extra barrier to overcome, especially when interacting with people and networking.

    1. I agree James. Self-confidence is a definite advantage when networking. And networking is an excellent way to meet new people, put yourself in front of potential employers, find new opportunities etc. So as long as you don’t come across as being arrogant, having self-confidence has to be a positive attribute that is surely going to help you to succeed in every part of your life.

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