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Why you don't need confidence first to achieve your goals

Updated: Jul 12, 2022

What would you do if your wife openly cheated on you?

For Francis Macomber, in Ernest Hemingway’s short story, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, he did nothing. Francis was not a confident man, and his wife despised him. So when Francis found a new colleague named Robert Wilson to help him hunt. His wife had an affair with Robert.

Francis felt powerless and angry.

But he needed his wife and Robert for a big game hunt. So one day, all three of them went out hunting and found two buffaloes. They killed one but injured the other.

The injured buffalo started charging in Francis's direction. Francis stood his ground and shot at the oncoming buffalo but missed. Robert shot at the buffalo too but also missed. So Francis’s wife takes a shot at the buffalo and hits something.

The buffalo was not hit.

Francis died immediately from the bullet in his head.

Right before Francis died, he was happy for the first time.

Well, that’s according to the existentialists who analyzed this story. And they didn't come to this conclusion due to Francis possibly forgiving his wife or gaining internal peace. But because for the first time in Francis’s life, he was finally showing courage.

When it comes to living a happy and proud life, we need courage first. Yet, many people think you need to have confidence first. So they wait for a time when they will "feel” confident before doing all the things they wish. And for many, that time never comes. So in this article, we’re going to dispel this myth of needing confidence and show you why you need courage instead.

That being said, why don’t we need confidence first?

Confidence is about the belief you have in yourself and your abilities. But how can we have belief in ourselves at the very beginning of any of our pursuits? It seems kind of foolish to believe in yourself when you have no experience, skills, etc.

Yet, we just hear the lame advice of “just be confident.”

Babies are not confident when they first learn how to walk.

Amateurs are not confident when playing a sport for the first time.

New writers are not confident writing their first pieces.

But throughout time, we have seen babies become proficient walkers.

Amateurs go on to be high-level players. And new writers being able to write well.

Looking at all these examples and more, confidence was rarely in place at first. Even in the Iliad, the fighting generals trying to marshal their army never once mentioned confidence to their frightened soldiers. Because confidence was not the first thing needed when chasing a goal.

Instead, in the Iliad and with people in general, what was needed first was courage.

But why?

Courage is one of those things that are not understood very well. And as a result, it tends to fall back as something not needed in the modern day.

But throughout time, courage has been deemed the most important virtue. In the Iliad, courage is a virtue that is mentioned countless times. For existentialists, courage was the virtue that was discussed as the most important. And even Aristotle thought courage was the virtue to build all other virtues on.

But this doesn’t answer the question of why courage is more important than confidence. The answer to that is that courage is all about moving forward in your pursuits, despite doubt, fear, and anxiety.

Any person who exemplifies courage is showing that they are not letting doubt, fear, or anxiety hold them back. Even though the person can’t guarantee their success, it doesn’t matter. The courage they are showing demonstrates that the person is growing into a higher or more mature level of themselves. And as a person shows more courage through their lives, they start having experience and proof that they are capable of doing so much in life. And funny enough, confidence is borne out of all this.

The more you show courage, the more you will become confident.

Courage is based on taking action and confidence is based on experience. So you can see now why courage is first and not confidence.

Okay, but how can we start applying courage more

I’m not going to get too detailed here because it’s not complicated. You start applying courage by taking the small courageous acts on a daily basis.

What kind of small courageous act?

For example, if someone makes a small request for something and you don’t want to do it, practice the courage of honesty. Or if you see an attractive stranger, you can practice the courage of saying hi.

Whatever you feel is a little scary, this is a sign to go out and do it. And the more times you practice the courage, the simpler it will be to show courage in those bigger moments of life.

However, start small and go from there.

And if you want a rule of thumb, here is one: 5 bricks per day. Meaning, 5 small courageous actions per day. Then when you feel comfortable, you naturally progress those small courageous actions into 5 slightly bigger courageous actions.

That’s it. No hype, no affirmations, just the willingness to commit to courage on a daily basis. And sooner or later, you will start feeling more confident than you could have ever imagined.

But what if it feels hard to take courageous actions without confidence?

There is no nice way to put this. We all feel fear, doubt, anxiety when trying something outside our comfort zone. That’s just a fact of life. But what separates the people from getting a lot out of life compared to those that don't, is the willingness to move forward in spite of all those feelings. So you have to be willing to show courage to get more out of life.

Plus, you have to understand that there isn’t a single person who doesn’t feel like they are going to get embarrassed or fail horribly when trying to achieve something great. Even when the person is an elite professional.

Heck, Mike Tyson at his prime, had his self-doubt and fears.

If you don’t know, Mike Tyson was one of the elite heavyweight boxers of all time. He would knock people out with his power, speed, and overall skillset.

Mike Tyson was the youngest boxing heavyweight champion at 20!

Yet, Mike Tyson spoke about how before a fight he was scared. And you must be thinking, what does Mike Tyson have to be afraid of, he was one of the best. Well, Mike Tyson was afraid he would get embarrassed in the ring and fail miserably. He was fighting those emotions as he was about to enter the ring.

But as we can tell, he still went on to defeat almost all of his opponents. His fears, doubts, and anxiety did not hold him back. Yet, if Mike Tyson waited to feel confident before a match, he would have never shown his greatness as a boxer.

Now, it’s easy to feel motivated and start showing courage all over the place. Which isn’t a bad thing.

But one mistake to be careful of is to not be rash.

And when I say rash, I don’t mean go into situations with blind courage. Because this may lead you to get unnecessarily hurt. To get a little Japanese here, take a look at this quote from the fictional novel Musashi:

True courage knows fear. It knows how to fear that which should be feared. Honest people value life passionately, they hang on to it like a precious jewel. And they pick the right time and place to surrender it, to die with dignity.

Understand what it is you are doing before you show your courage.

So if you are thinking about talking to a cute stranger, then show courage.

If you are thinking about standing up for yourself to a toxic family member, then show courage.

But if you are thinking of physically stopping a mugging you see, do not show courage. Just call the cops and find a safe place.

Aristotle, one of the fathers of Western philosophy, also mentions showing courage at what is appropriate for your level. He went on to say that excess courage is rashness and a vice. And a lack of courage is cowardice and also a vice. He wanted his students to show courage at their subjective mean. Which is the level that is appropriate for them. If you want a refresher on the subjective mean, then you can take a look at this post I wrote.

Anyways, let me have the courage to wrap this article up.


  • Confidence is based on experience and belief in yourself. So waiting on having confidence first will paralyze you from taking action.

  • Courage is needed first because it is based on taking action in spite of fear, doubt, and anxiety. And funny enough, this fuels confidence, as confidence is based on experience.

  • The simple way to practice courage is to start with small daily courageous actions. A simple rule of thumb is 5 bricks per day. Over time, you will be able to naturally practice larger courageous actions.

  • People feel they need to be confident first before taking action. But like I said, confidence is based on experience. And if you are not taking any action, then you will rarely have the experience to feel confident. Courage is needed first to not only help you progress but fuel your confidence.

  • A simple mistake to make is to be rash and show blind courage everywhere. This will lead you to get hurt. True courage is all about understanding what to fear and not fear. Aristotle also mentioned that you need to aim at your subjective mean with courage. Not being too rash with excess courage, or a coward with a lack of courage.

I hope this clarifies courage and confidence in your life.

This is an important article that I will probably put in a future eBook, so save this article. Because you will have the secret edge in showing courage while everybody is waiting to be confident. And that alone will lead you to live a happy like Francis Macomber, but only longer.


The Charismatic Nerd

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