Self-Confidence

W. John Murray
The Astor Lectures
Divine Science Publishing Assoc.
New York, 1917, 8th ed.

“If ye have the faith of a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it shall obey you, and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” –Matt. 18:20.
[73] Cicero says, “Confidence is that feeling by which the mind embarks in great and honorable courses with a sure hope and trust in itself.” Self-confidence is the essence of all true achievements. He who has lost it has nothing more to lose, for without self-confidence a man is as spineless as a banana. If one could analyze the causes which make for so many of the failures in life, the lack of self-confidence would surely head the list.

Not only failures in business, but failures in every department of life are more or less attributable to this pernicious mental condition. As bacteriologists seek for antitoxins to offset every poison in the physical organism, we should do likewise in the realm of Thought. A foe to peace, such as lack of self-confidence undoubtedly is, should be met and mastered if there is ever to be real happiness in the world. When an actor [74] tells me that he loves his art, and that he never has any difficulty in memorizing the most difficult parts, or playing them at rehearsals, but always falls down when it comes to public performances, I am not astonished. Stage fright is a malady, and it is not confined to the first few months of a man’s career, as some may imagine. All too frequently it is the unseen force which attends some actors all through life, making them appear mediocre, when in reality they should be magnificent.

Here is a woman with a rare voice who needs an opportunity to bring it before the public. Much time and money have been spent in its cultivation, and it ought now to be of some financial value. Managers are interviewed and appointments made, but when the fateful day arrives the woman with the glorious voice is in a state of collapse. If the appointment is not called off with some lame excuse on her part, it is kept with fear and trembling, and since fear and trembling are not helpful to the vocal organs, the trial is a dismal failure. The world is full of capable actors and singers whose abilities are crippled by a consciousness of fear that amounts to terror.

Lack of self-confidence, however, is not limited to actors and singers. A lawyer, whose written briefs display a most profound knowledge of jurisprudence, becomes a veritable infant when pleading a case before the bar. A shyster lawyer with a smattering of law, but with an abundance [75] of self-assertion, confuses the scholarly attorney to such an extent that the most important points are frequently lost sight of, to his subsequent chagrin and his client’s detriment.

Here is a saintly character in the ministry whose written sermons are the source of inspiration to all who read them. Put him in the pulpit and he stammers and stutters. He has confidence in God, but not in himself. It is not that he is physically unfit, for in his study he recites his sermon in stentorian tones, but once in the pulpit, it is a different matter. He suffers from loss of memory, and the sound of his own voice appalls him. He thinks he is shouting, when as a matter of fact, the people in the rear pews cannot hear him, and wearying in their effort to do so, they not infrequently fall asleep. He has all the confidence in the world in the Truth embodied in his sermon, but he lacks self-confidence in his own ability to preach it. The consequence is that his well-written but poorly preached sermon is more of a narcotic than a cure.

Lack of self-confidence is not limited to men and women whose professions bring them most prominently before the public, for we find it killing the joy of those who live the most secluded lives. In fact, I am persuaded that countless thousands live secluded lives, not because of personal preference, but because of this particular form of unconscious cowardice. Lacking self-confidence, they not only lack initiative, but they dread to meet people.

[76] One can understand an ill-clad, unlettered person hesitating to obtrude his personality into the society of the well-dressed and cultured, but how often those with every excellent qualification retire into the background of solitude! They crave human companionship and the appreciation of others, but they have no appreciation of themselves, and since the tendency of others is to appraise men at the value they place upon themselves, it is not to be wondered at that invitations are few and infrequent. Any coxcomb with a lot of self-confidence may be kept busy through his social engagements, while a really clever person without it is almost completely ostracized.

Not all the loneliness in the world is due to lack of interest and hospitality on the part of others. While we are chiding society for not being interested in us, and perhaps harboring thoughts of jealousy because others are invited where we are not, it might be well for us to ask ourselves the reason. Is it because others are not interested in us on general principles? Is it because we are unconsciously uninteresting? A friend of mine is a veritable storehouse of knowledge, gained from many years of close companionship with the best literature; but one might as well expect a sphinx to tell a humorous anecdote as expect him to be interesting. He is shy, timid, and non-communicative. It is a pleasure to read his books, but to be with him for more than a few minutes at a time would be subjecting one’s own stock of self-confidence to a severe strain. [77] His lack of self-confidence in the presence of others is painful not only to them, but to himself as well. It is not that he disdains his associates, as some think, [as] he is so uninteresting, but because he suffers from this all too common malady. He has confidence in his ability to write, but none in his ability to make himself entertaining.

A young man was offered the management of a certain department in a large concern. He had been with the company for years, and when the head of his department was promoted, he was chosen to take the place. He thought it over for a few days and then refused it on the ground that he did not think the men in the department would work as well for him as they did for the old manager. The firm had confidence in him, but he had none in himself. This is an exaggerated instance of what is taking place every day. Men exclude themselves from positions, and women shut themselves out of associations that would make for a fuller measure of joyful living, and all because of a lack of confidence in themselves which would make for a greater usefulness to humanity, as well as greater happiness to themselves.

We are told that timidity is as natural to some people as is the color of their eyes, and that there is no more cure for one than there is for the other. If this were true it would be lamentable; but it is not. Demosthenes, the greatest orator of all time, was a shrinking, timid youth, until he [78] heard an oration which quickened every emotion of his heart and thrilled every fiber of his being. At the close of the oration, he cried, “I, too, am an orator!” He was laughed at and ridiculed for his presumption until he hung his head in shame. Something in him, however, had been stirred and it would not let him rest. Despite great physical disadvantages and a voice which was most hard and displeasing, he went to work. He studied elocution under Satyrus, the noted actor of the day, and did not disdain to practice effects before a mirror. He improved his breathing by walking up hill, reciting as he went. He corrected an impediment in his tongue by speaking with a pebble in his mouth, and to give his voice the quality of far-reachingness, he declaimed by the sea in stormy weather. His first public oration, however, was a failure. He then shaved the hair off one side of his head so that he could neither visit his friends nor have them come to see him. For months he labored to perfect his art and to increase his confidence in himself. His next public appearance was a tremendous success, and from that time on he grew to be the greatest orator in Greece, and, indeed, the most eloquent speaker the world has ever known. With all the natural endowments of the orator, but with no self-confidence, Demosthenes would never have been heard of, but physically handicapped as he was, through self-confidence he became the model of all aspiring public speakers.

[79] Let us bring this question down into the world of trade, and what do we find? Two men start out to sell the same line of goods. These goods are of such reliable character and of such staple necessity that it would seem as if, in the sales manager’s language, they should “sell themselves,” but they do not, for the simple reason that goods have no intelligence. One man succeeds, and the other fails. We say one man is a natural salesman, while the other is not, but when we push the inquiry further, we discover that the reason for the difference in the results is not in the merchandise, but in the men. It is not a muscular difference, but a mental one, for it is the difference between self-confidence and the lack of it.

While, like Demosthenes, a man can rise above his limitations by a supreme effort of the will, there is a better and an easier way, and this is pointed out in the Bible reading of the morning. (I Sam. 17.) The triumph of David over Goliath is not the triumph of one man over another quite so much as it is the triumph of principles. When a man’s self-confidence is based upon his conscious connection with God in all the affairs of his life, nothing can intimidate him. With such an ally, one can meet and overcome the most formidable obstacles. David was not fighting in his own strength, but in the strength of Him in Whom there is no fear and no failure. Self-confidence which leaves God out of the question is egotism and is doomed to disappointment.

[80] When a man remembers that the unseen Guest at every table is God, and that the Silent Partner in every legitimate enterprise is the Holy Spirit, he becomes endowed with a self-confidence that nothing can destroy nor defeat. His strength is as the strength of ten. Experiences that would terrify without the spiritual self-confidence, become stepping-stones to greater things. Trials of faith are the growing pains of the soul teaching us, as they always do, that while we of ourselves can do nothing, through the Christ which worketh in us we can do all things.

To him who realizes his unity with God, the Wise man saith, “When thou liest down thou shalt not be afraid; yea thou shall lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet. Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked when it cometh. For the Lord shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken. My confidence is in Him in Whom I live and move and have my being.”

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