Self-confidence is too often a cover for incompetence

Why We Fatally Over-Estimate Ourselves

Before I address this important issue, a quick reminder that my next live course, Inquiry For Awakening begins this Thursday, March 30.

Are you good at what you do?

There are many managers in the world.

In my experience, very few know what they’re doing. And for good reason, because leadership is so rarely taught that we’re left to assume you can just “pick it up.” How’s that working?

If you manage people, how do you evaluate how well you’re doing?

Is the business making money? That could be a function of the market, a growing industry, or that you’re doing many things correctly besides management.

Do your people seem happy? They know they’re supposed to appear happy, right? Especially when they’re not. Every employee learns how to appease their boss and look the part.

I once worked with a leader and four of his key employees in a highly successful $100+ MM revenue business. The employees confided in me that their boss had severe micromanagement issues. They felt disempowered and trapped, unable to do their jobs without arbitrary intervention. They put on great faces, but were miserable inside.

They didn’t tell their boss, though, out of fear of rage and retribution.

I carefully opened the leader’s mind to the idea that he wasn’t impacting people the way he thought. At the same time, I gently encouraged his employees to give direct feedback to their boss. I tried to get them all in the same room to facilitate a discussion, but the leader nixed the idea.

Eventually, the employees agreed to tell him the truth if he asked, so I convinced the leader to ask.

He did, and all of the employees withheld their truth(which is a nice way of saying they lied), and gave him no negative feedback whatsoever. The leader lost trust in me and ended our work together. Looking back on it, I rushed the timing and didn’t work enough with the hidden emotional dynamics. But on their side, when people put comfort over truth, unfortunately, limits to competence are inevitable.

Do you know about the Dunning-Kruger effect?

You really should.

It’s the tendency for people of low ability in a specific domain to assess themselves too positively. Studies show, on the other hand, that people with real competence tend to assess themselves lower than what is true.

This phenomenon is well-accepted and repeated studies reveal its truth. As a lifelong pursuer of truth and awareness training, I find it fascinating.

What I find most fascinating is there is no agreement about why this is the case. In my last article, I spoke about the fear of not-being/death, which is addressed by the process of awakening.

The root of Dunning-Kruger is a different soul-level fear: the fear of being. The primary emotive tone of this universal, existential fear is unworth. Most people go their entire lives never feeling it, but like the fear of death, it observably drives people’s actions.

Core unworth leads to a downstream sense of shame, and the more superficial expressions of this are felt as guilt and/or unconfidence. Then our protection mechanisms look for ways to assuage guilt and build confidence in order to ameliorate the symptoms without ever dealing with the root cause.

Overconfidence, then, is always a compensation for underconfidence, which comes from situational shame wounding in childhood, which recapitulates the existential soul level fear of being.

This is why we overestimate ourselves in domains of incompetence, because the alternative would be to face extremely painful emotions that our protections vowed will never see the light of day.

This is also why, when you try to get someone to see their incompetence, they typically resist. Logic tells us that if you can see your weaknesses, then you can improve. But our protection mechanisms tels an entirely different story: they have us hide our weaknesses, even from ourselves, and focus on our strengths. That’s a negative feedback loop that maintains incompetence.

The reason why competent people tend to underestimate themselves is because the only way to arrive at competence is to never relate to yourself as fully competent. In other words, competent people investigate their weaknesses with curiosity and acceptance, and improve. They feel whatever pain comes up as deeply as they can and move through it.

The principle of continuous improvement is well-known, but less known is that it requires moving through emotional pain.

Incompetent people make excuses and otherwise resist the truth of their weaknesses because they cannot yet tolerate the embarrassment and shame, so they must maintain the false confidence story.

So if you want to be great at something, you proactively look for your weaknesses and are never satisfied. You never rest on your laurels, because you know that protection mechanisms love to use “celebrating a success” as a ruse to avoid looking at what isn’t working.

If this sounds like a recipe for misery it’s because you still have a significant amount of unhealed shame. The more shame you heal into innate goodness, the less you identify your self-worth with performance of a task. Disidentifying from your mind via awakening helps as well.

In other words, it’s not only entirely possible but healthy to always want to become better without having low self-esteem. And it is unhealthy to hook your self-worth to how good you are at something, contrary to what we’re often taught as children. You know, like “Sports build confidence” or whatever other outside-in, performance-based, pop psychology we’re taught.

Real confidence comes from the inside as an expression of existential self-worth experienced in relationship to one’s soul and the Divine, not because you’re good at hitting a ball with a stick. Such things are good to build superficial confidence, though, which helps a bit.

But superficial confidence is not nearly as useful as the ability to bear the discomfort of unconfidence. The quest for confidence is usually a protection mechanism that grinds evolution to a halt. Constant self-doubt and self-trust equally lead to real competence.

Positive psychology is extremely popular in our society today and has infiltrated many different models, including many forms of business coaching. It’s so much in our culture that “Think positive” has become a cliché and it’s a foregone conclusion that it’s a good thing. I strongly disagree.

While using the mind to reframe something positively has its occasional uses, it’s too easily co-opted by our protection mechanisms as a way to keep core unworth buried and it enables the Dunning-Kruger effect. It values comfort over truth.

Authentic reframing is about perspectivizing in a way that is truer and so inherently feels better on deep levels, not a superficially better-feeling way that isn’t true.

Manipulating one’s mood and reality with the mind does work to some degree, and that’s the problem. It’s seductive like junk food. Tasty, but non-nourishing over the long term. Eventually, the mind, downstream of core emotion, dead-ends its ability to repress core unworth.

The older we get, the less energy we have for this manipulation and Life less and less rewards it. Ultimately, we must find the courage to turn toward our greatest pain and prove to our protections that it won’t kill us. This is the path to authenticity, greatness, and real strength.

While my upcoming course, Inquiry For Awakening focuses on the fear of not-being, there is crossover. All healing requires curiosity, metaperspective, and stillness. And as I said before, disidentifying from your mind means you’re less likely to be fooled by it. I’ll train you in real-time in this course.

Whether I see you there or not, don’t ever stop evolving. Sometimes the pain means it’s working.

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