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The Truth About the Cool Kid in High School

The Truth About the Cool Kid in High School

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
2 min read

There are immensely talented and competent people in the world.

Why do some become outliers in their extreme success, and others don’t? What separates them?

I recently spoke to a friend whose theory is that the difference is largely in confidence. The theory goes like this: if we take two people of equal talent (natural ability) and competence (learned ability) we’d likely observe a difference in confidence. The person with more confidence would almost certainly be the person who achieves more success.

My friend went on to say:

You know the cool kid in high school who just exuded confidence? How’d they get that?

To which I responded, “I was that kid.”

I was the MVP of the basketball team and was First Team All-League. My high school sweetheart was a cheerleader. I wore baggy pants and listened to hip-hop music. I know, I know. It doesn’t sound cool by today’s standards, but my Wu-Tang shirt was pretty cool back then.

The truth of the matter is that I only appeared confident. Maybe some of my peers thought I looked cool. But inside, I assure you there wasn’t much to envy. I never felt confident, and often worried that I wasn’t cool enough. I tried to emulate the people who I thought were the cool kids. I didn’t love myself, and certainly didn’t believe there was much reason to be confident.

“Natural confidence” is real. Some people are more confident than others, without doing anything to proactively build their confidence. The problem is that most people who appear confident don’t feel nearly as confident as we think. They feel exactly the same we do.

Even if you don’t have natural confidence, you can build it. It might be tempting to document the ways in which confidence is perceived, and emulate them. And you could fake your confidence, because the perception of confidence is based partly on physical signals like speech, body language, posture, and appearance.

But it’s also based on genuine feelings and beliefs you have. In other words, you couldn’t sustain “faking it.” It might be a start, but you’d just be me in high school: giving the appearance of a confident person while feeling like a complete fraud inside.

Real confidence comes from a lot of different places. According to Psychology Today, confidence is defined as “the belief in your ability to succeed.” More specifically, this article posits three dimensions to confidence:

  1. Belief in your competence.
  2. Belief in your ability to learn and problem-solve.
  3. Belief in your own intrinsic self-worth.

All of these can be developed with the right intention and practice. Competence comes from skill development, and problem-solving comes from real-world experience and repetition. Intrinsic self worth can be developed in a lot of different ways, but I personally believe the most powerful is in serving others.

In other words, you can become more confident but it requires a tremendous amount of effort. Then you won’t have to fake.

It’s work. It requires that you face yourself, and your feelings of inadequacy. And it’s the most worthwhile thing you can do for yourself.