Self-Confidence and Career Success

By Oxana Bristowe

What is Confidence? How do you get it or become Confident? And why is it one of the most important things behind a successful career?

Confidence is linked to self-esteem and happiness. Is there any point being successful at work but being unhappy? The world of entertainment provides endless examples of highly-successful people who find happiness elusive. They feature in the popular press virtually every day. And in his book “Topgrading: How leading companies win by hiring, coaching, and keeping the best people”, Dr Bradford Smart explains that out of 4000 executives he coached and interviewed, more than half of them - in their own opinion - sub-optimised their success-happiness balance. Dr. Smart says:

“Their career was progressing nicely, but when asked about life overall, there were significant problems. Their lives were quite devoid of joy, deep love, real meaning, quality relationships, even wellness”. 

This matches the findings from my own coaching and headhunting work with senior executives. I believe it is very important for all of us to develop and cultivate healthy levels of self-confidence and to achieve balance in our lives.

So what is self-confidence? The dictionary definition of self-confidence is “a feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities and beliefs”. I think the word self-esteem provides further explanation of self-confidence and is defined as “a feeling of one's own worth or abilities; self-respect”.

So we see that self-esteem and self-confidence are feelings and beliefs that we have about ourselves. These things are highly subjective, rather than objective, and they derive from “stories” which we tell ourselves about our abilities and our worthiness. People who have positive self-talk or stories in their minds about themselves will display self-confidence - and people with negative stories will display a lack of self-confidence.

And here is a more poetic and inspirational quote on self-confidence from inspirational author Marianne Williamson:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?”

As a career coach I see lack of self-confidence being a major barrier for many clients. Lack of self-confidence can be deeply rooted in individuals and be caused by early childhood experiences and programming throughout the educational period. But people can also be thrown off course because of a workplace environment which makes them lose their confidence and cause them to doubt their abilities. When this happens people can feel “I am not good enough” or “I am an imposter and sooner or later they will find out that I am not that good”.

Whatever the cause, lack of self-confidence causes serious distress and prevents positive and effective actions to achieve personal goals. There needs to be a transformation, inner conversation or “story” which moves the person toward genuine self-belief and confidence. And since it is a subjective thing which depends upon what we believe, we can change the stories in our heads about ourselves and thus provide a foundation for actions that will take us to the results which we seek.

Self-confident and successful people display some of the following:
  • They have a clear vision of what they want to achieve in their career
  • They are not afraid to take risks
  • They seek and take advantage of opportunities where they can broaden their skills and their exposure through gaining in experience or through professional development training courses
  • They are more likely to take on challenging tasks and do everything they can to make a success of them
  • They are not afraid to have a point of view and share it with their bosses
  • They are happy to ask their bosses if they are promotable and how they compare to other colleagues working at their level
  • They are actively working on being visible in their organisation and in broader professional circles.

It is easy to describe such things, but rather harder to achieve them. I know that is the case from painful personal experience, when I relocated to another country and wasn’t able to gain traction in my career. It hit my self-confidence. And that was despite having an MBA. Fortunately someone whom I trusted helped me to see my strengths - and that allowed me to take the positive attitude which I needed.

Here are some things which I would like to suggest that people can do to increase their self-confidence.

Recognise what you are good at - and praise yourself

All of us are good at something! Find what it is. We tend to enjoy doing those things. Britain’s no.1 therapist Marisa Peer has worked with thousands of people from all walks of life - and from her 30 years working with clients on a range of issues she says that helping people to have high level of self-esteem and self-confidence is the key to their success. Marisa recommends praising oneself and turning “I can’t” sentences into their “I can” opposites. Say to yourself “I like myself, I am good at my job, I have great coping skills, My boss likes me, I have unique talents, I have value, I am a valuable person”. The words you use form your reality.

Visualise your success in pictures

The way you feel about anything is down to two things - the pictures and the words you use. So if you want to be a more confident person say nice things about yourself and see pictures in your mind that bring you success, that make you feel good. Visualise getting the great results that you seek.

Be around confident people

Some people tend to create negative responses in others. Spend less time with them, if you can. Or if that isn’t possible, tell them about how their actions or words make you feel. Associate with positive people who appreciate you. Try to be around confident people and observe their behaviour - what do they say? What body language they show? What choices do they make? How do they treat themselves and others? What do they do?

Master your skills

Confidence increases with skill - identify what can help you achieve your goals. For example: if you think being more visible will help you in your career - start with making small steps speaking in public - first in front of a mirror, then asking a question in a small meeting, then asking a question in a bigger meeting, then volunteer to give a small talk to your team or at a conference. As you are focusing on improving your confidence in public speaking - with each opportunity you will get better. As you master your craft your confidence will increase. Try new things.

Use Affirmation and Assertiveness

Affirmation is the practice of positive thinking and self-empowerment which fosters a belief that "a positive mental attitude supported by affirmations will achieve success in anything.” Instead of saying “I cannot do it” - say “I will try to do it, I am capable of achieving anything I put my mind towards! I am good at what I do”. And telling people “no” when you don’t want to comply with their requests is important.


Appreciate yourself, other people and everything in your environment. You can change how you feel by focusing your thoughts and attention on what pleases you. The more positive emotions you feel, the more confidence you will have. You will start believing in yourself and other people will believe in your too.


Ask yourself what would you do, be and have if you had strong self-confidence? What would that confidence mean for your career? Start working on your self-confidence, do whatever it takes and whatever works for you. You might not be able to do that alone - find someone whom you trust and work with them. And as you transform from within, your outside world will change dramatically. I know it!

I will conclude with a quote from inspirational and motivational speaker Mark Victor Hanson which I hope will inspire you:

“Don’t wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles, and less than perfect conditions. So what? Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident, and more and more successful.”

Oxana Bristowe is the founder and Managing Director of international executive search and coaching company "Oxana Bristowe".