The Truth About Success & Confidence That You Don’t Want to Hear

Napoleon Bonaparte spent almost every waking hour learning. A boy born into a family that lacked any semblance of status in a country that had recently lost its sovereignty, being conquered by the French, Napoleon despised the elite, those who were given a rank in the army or a place in society not because of merit but because of who bore them. (Read this: How to Lead, Succeed, and Other Lessons from Napoleon Bonaparte).

It was a very different time than we have now. Changing your economic class didn’t happen. You family dictated what you would do with your life. Yet, Napoleon rose from obscurity to become the most powerful man in the world. It really is one of the world’s greatest success stories if success is defined by a comparison of the starting point and the heights of power gains.

If he could do it then, amidst this rigid political society, imagine what he could do now? Though the man clearly wasn’t perfect, there’s a lot to learn from him, a lot to take away. Again, if he could rise to those heights back then, imagine what one could do with his qualities in today’s society? It, then, helps to understand what qualities helped him rise so meteorically. Simply put, it was ambition, a hunger for greatness, something that was fed by his desire to prove others wrong.

Michael Jordan used this same tactic. No matter how successful he got he still managed to use any perceived slight – heavy on the perceived – to motivate him. Someone said he couldn’t win a championship, done. Someone said he couldn’t lead the league in scoring and win a championship, done. It wasn’t merely a list he’d check off, he hated, deeply, the fact that someone didn’t believe in his greatness, a greatness that wasn’t a belief on his part, but knowledge. He needed to show the naysayer their ignorance (read: Why Michael Jordan Didn’t Fear Failure)

And when success was his, and he was widely known as the greatest basketball player to ever live he would still go back to the varsity basketball team he was cut from in high school, or being drafter third overall in the NBA draft and not first, or the MVP he wasn’t awarder or respect he wasn’t given if he ever needed a kick, a push, added passion. It never ended, this desire to prove others wrong, and what it led to was greatness.

This desire to avenge one’s honor, in a sense, isn’t relegated to those who’ve developed a somewhat murky persona, like Napoleon, who killed a lot of people including his own, or Jordan, who’s extramarital affairs are the stuff of legend. You don’t have to lose yourself in the hate or weaken other aspects of your personality to become ruthless. A good man can be a ruthless man. Look no further than Tom Brady, good ol’ Tom Brady, the guy who got drafted last, in the last round of his draft year still uses that slight, that lack of belief in his ability to propel him to work harder and win more even to this day.

The guy is known as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, he’s married to one of the most beautiful women in the world, he has money and fame and it appears, happiness, and yet he still ventures back to the embarrassment of his draft day during his workouts, pushing him to train harder, to watch more game film, to prepare like maybe only Peyton Manning has equalled.

It’s more than being pissed off. In fact, it’s not being pissed off at all, it’s not a chip on the shoulder, its an underlying sense of belief in the Self, a believe, proven through practice, that you are – they are – great, and anyone who doesn’t see this is ignorant and stupid and needs to be put in their place. It’s a knowledge of greatness even before anyone else is aware of it. It’s a fact, not an opinion.

It ventures far beyond the world of sport or conquering continents, and into the business world as well.

The Great vs The Good

Talent can make you good at something. Hard work and persistence and focus, these are the things that will make you great. Greatness is a lifelong pursuit. It’s the quality of your hours that are just as important as the hours. The great, those who have maximized their talent and then some, are those who are able to get more from their bodies and their minds, and its motivation that aids them in this quest.

While habits rule, it’s the ability to create the right habits and stick to them for a long period of time, persistence, that will lead you to master your craft. We need passion of some sort, either a love for what we do, a desire to simply become great, or the aforementioned ability to use basically anything as motivation, if we want to master our craft (Read: 5 Worldviews You Need to Conquer Anything).

The good, they practice. They may practice a lot. The great, however, have passion. Their practices are relentless, their attention to detail, unmatched, and for many of those we’d classify as “great”, this ability to constantly do more even as they become a true success is closely related to their desire to prove others wrong.

[Tweet “What separates the good from the great is consistency.”]

Many can play great for a game or a season, few, however, keep their tenacity alive when they’re making millions, when success is already theirs.

Marvin Hagler said something one time, I can’t find the exact quote, but it was to the effect that, It’s a lot harder to wake up at 5am and run when you’re sleeping in silk pajamas. 

When most people find success they also find an excuse to relax, to rest on their laurels. It’s when you’ve already accomplished something good, that your ability to consistently find new ways to get motivated, becomes even more important and vital to your continued improvement.

You can’t simply get pissed off when someone doesn’t believe in you, you have to be mad that they don’t see how great you really areWeak people get pissed off when people don’t believe in them and then wreck their bodies or their minds to spite those who have little faith in them. They take this lack of confidence as an excuse to give up, to lie down, or to even go one step further and destroy any semblance of talent they’ve been given.

When someone calls them a worthless alcoholic, they hit the bottle in an attempt to down their sorrows. The great man, the great leader, the Napoleon or Alexander or Theodore Roosevelt would aim to prove them wrong.

When someone tells the weak man he won’t amount to anything, he agrees. He hates the man for what he says, but he uses it as an excuse to give up rather than as an excuse to get motivated.

I’m not in the class of anyone that’s been mentioned thus far, clearly, not close, but to illustrate how you can use almost anything as a slight I’ll use my own story, and though I have many of them, I’ll use one specifically.

I had been at this gig for a long time, this writing on the web site, creating workouts and programs, hustling with no real direction, but hustling nonetheless, but I had nothing to show for it. My parents, even my friends began to get concerned. They suggested that maybe it’s time to get a real job or at least to do something to supplement my income (I went head-first into this, I gave away my training business, my bootcamp, quit all other sources of income, and nothing was coming in from the site).

I needed this. I really needed this.

This was the fuel that I needed to be tossed on the fire of my soul, my ambition. I needed this slight, this push, to take the risks that were necessary for success. By those close to me not fully having my back, in that they had my back but not in the way that I wanted, I was given the slight I needed to wake up earlier, work harder, and prove them wrong.

There was nothing mean said on their part. No harsh words, merely suggestions that came from a very kind place, a caring place. But man, I ran with it. I hated what they said and I did anything and everything to prove them wrong and I have and I am. There’s no animosity toward my friends and family, in fact I love them even more for saying this, for giving me this push, this sense of reality when I needed it most. I needed those words, and I’ve thanked everyone who said them for saying them. I needed that kick in the arse, that slight, that little spark to ignite an even greater fire. (Read: Would the 15 Year Old You, Be Proud of the Man You Are Today?)

Before Anyone Else, You Must Believe You’re Great

I was watching football this past Sunday, the Patriots vs the Raiders (I bought the NFL Live pass so I could watch football while I travel) game was on and Charles Woodson, Tom Brady’s former teammate at Michigan, a great player in his own right and now opposing him, playing defense for the Raiders, said something very, very interesting.

He said that Tom always knew he was great, he always acted like he was the leader, the winner, the legend that he is even when he was a back-up in college. That self-belief was never wavered by the naysayers like it is with most of us, it was only fueled.

If you don’t believe in yourself, in your own capacity for greatness, then you can’t find true motivation when someone else doesn’t. The words of others won’t inspire you, they’re depress you, they’ll temper your fire and give you an excuse to quit of take time off or relax.

Napoleon knew he was great even before he was. As did Michael Jordan and Tom Brady and Mohammad Ali. This belief in the Self didn’t happen over night, it can’t, it’s pure arrogance if it isn’t founded on some kind of reality. This belief in the self needs evidence, evidence that comes from practice (Read: Motivation is a Myth. Get Hungry).

Creating Confidence.

We read self-help books that puff us up and aim to give us an internal belief in ourselves. The problem is that these books don’t know us. They tell us nice things but these things aren’t founded on anything real.

Confidence comes from reality. It’s not merely a kind of faith or a belief, but a knowledge that yes, we do have the ability to do things that no one else believes we can do.

To become truly confident we need evidence, we don’t need words of encouragement or praise. Parents that tell their kids they’re great at anything and everything don’t develop confident kids, they create young adults that quit at the first sign of failure, at the first sign that, Hey, I’m not great at everything, their world comes crashing down.

I’ve seen this with people I know. Those whose parents had confidence in them but were real with them pushed themselves to prove their parents right or wrong and pushed through their failures and to success. Those friends who had parents who told them they were great even when they weren’t, quit when they failed, when they were proposed with the notion that they weren’t as great at they were led to believe their world came crashing down, they got depressed, lost faith in themselves, and quit.

[Tweet “Undeserved praise is one of the worst things you can give a child.”]

[Tweet “Confidence needs evidence.”]

It can’t be make believe. Sure, it requires faith, that’s a given, but more than faith your confidence must be fact. It will be shaken, but when it’s shaken there has to be push back on your part, a desire to prove the event or the naysayer wrong or else you’ll begin to believe them.

Prove Them Wrong.

When people tell you that you can’t do something you can either quit, or prove them wrong. Their words will either give you an excuse to quit, or a reason to succeed. It’s your choice which path you choose, and I’m sure you don’t have to guess which is the path that will lead you to success, fulfillment, and happiness.

Check out this video for a great example of someone who uses a past slight as constant motivation even as he becomes more successful. And know that the difference between the good and the great isn’t talent, but consistent improvement, and where consistent improvement occurs it must be accompanied by a burning desire to succeed. This burning desire is the fight to prove that you are as great as you know you are.


What gives you confidence?