You haven't yet been challenged and succeeded. If I had to guess, I'd say 80% of the Western world falls into this category. It is possible, in our comfortable, egalitarian, bourgeois, soft society to live a life entirely devoid of struggle and real accomplishment. Go to school, get decent grades, land a decent job, then punch the clock until the age of sixty-five. The worst thing that happens to many people is when the cable TV goes out during Dancing With The Stars. Their greatest triumph and feeling of accomplishment is when a professional sports team of some dubious geographical association with them wins a championship game in some city they'll never visit. The only battle they ever fight is with whatever disease eventually kills them.
A wise man I correspond with told me "The way you get confident is to actually watch yourself deliver when it counts."
That's a great line to think about in your idle moments. Roll it around in your noodle for awhile. Figure out what "when it counts" means to you, then figure out what delivering is. You'll probably realize it applies differently to lots of different things. It's a very elegant concept, worthy of remembering.
Confidence is a funny thing. There are aspects of it that are so real and so important that you're lost without them, and there are others that are a complete farce.
Here's a really broken down simple example of the "watch yourself deliver when it counts" thing that Savage Henry mentioned: think of hitting a baseball. Think all the way back - remember when you stood at the plate, scared and unsure, wondering what was going to happen when you swung the bat? Before you learned to watch the ball, or anticipate the pitcher's release, when to start your swing, all the tiny little elements of connecting bat to ball?
Well, then you did it. And then you did it again. And again. And before long, you stopped thinking about the mechanics of it, and just let your muscles do their job. And you stood at the plate, ready for the pitch. Sure, you felt the butterflies in your stomach, but you weren't scared, you didn't feel like the possibility of hitting the ball was completely out of your hands, pure chance.
That's confidence. You aren't actually aware of it when it's happening, because if you are, you've blown it. You can't think about the mechanics of it while it's happening - whenever a basketball player is off his game, Walt Frazier always says, "he's aiming the ball instead of shooting it." You have to do it enough times that your body or your mind will do it without you getting in the way - once you're thinking too much, aiming the ball, you've blown it.
The other side of confidence is total facade. It's bullshit, and the sooner you learn this, the better.
I've been fortunate enough in a couple of pursuits that the people who were once my heroes became my friends and my peers. (It's funny how lucky you get when you work your ass off.) And getting to know those people, spending time with guys I was once in awe of, I've learned something really important.
They're just as fucked up as I am. And late at night when they're laying in the dark, the four walls talk to them, and tell them they're full of shit, and that they're not nearly as good as everyone thinks they are, and that everyone else has it all figured out and they're just flying by the seat of their pants.
Just like me.
It turns out we're all a bunch of bailing-wired and duct-taped jalopies, loping and bounding our way clumsily through the world, and praying no one finds us out. Every one of us. And anyone who tells you different is lying to you or to themselves, or both.
Here's a quote that I always liked, that struck me pretty profoundly when I first read it:
"It seems to me that you need a lot of courage, or a lot of something, to enter into others, into other people. We all think that everyone else lives in fortresses, in fastnesses: behind moats, behind sheer walls studded with spikes and broken glass. But in fact we inhabit much punier structures. We are, it turns out, all jerry-built. Or not even. You can just stick your head under the flap of the tent and crawl right in. If you get the okay."
- Martin Amis
I've met my heroes. I've beat them out for jobs and awards, I've won attention from them, I've surpassed the skills of some of them even in my own mind. They ask for my advice now. Not all of them, of course, but enough that it's clear I'm supposed to be one of them.
And I'm completely fucked up and full of shit, and I very rarely know what I'm doing, and I'm totally making this shit up as I go along.
But I've learned that I can, and that that's how it's done.
That's what confidence is.