Math, Formulas, Math Formulas, Numbers

Confidence, Competence and Motivation

We have all heard the question, more than once, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” I will avoid evolutionary biology and not attempt to posit an answer. Instead, picture a guy shrugging his shoulders. The fact of the matter is, for most of us, it does not make a bit of difference.

However, in many things in life, the order of things does make a difference. For example, if we do not have basic arithmetic skills, it does not seem reasonable to delve into algebra or calculus. Knowledge seems to build on itself. Certain kinds of skills – reading and writing for example – are foundational in nature. Once we have developed those skills, we can use them to develop other skills.

When it comes to succeeding in life, a question arises about confidence and competence. Asked simply, which comes first? Does confidence generate competence or does competence generate confidence. *Quick note here: Why do so many of us – including myself – feel the need to approach things in such a binary, this or that, yes/no fashion?

Certainly, there is no doubt that competence leads to confidence. Take driving for example. The more practice we have driving, the more competent we become. The more competent we become, the more confident we are that we can drive.

Allow me to digress for a moment. I remember a discussion I once had with an educator who told me that it was not their responsibility to motivate or inspire students. “It is the students’ responsibility to learn,” this teacher insisted to me. I left that conversation shaking my head.

The reality is that parents, teachers, coaches, mentors and leaders must, if they are to be effective at what they do, inspire and motivate others. That inspiration/motivation helps the rest of us to surmount our own fears and have enough confidence to begin a given undertaking.

It is true; competence leads to confidence. Yet, we need enough confidence to begin something so that we might develop competence. Think of confidence and competence as part of a victorious cycle. We need some confidence to get the ball rolling. As our journey progresses we gain competence, which gives us more confidence to continue onward.

Often, it is a caring parent, teacher or coach who helps instill in us the initial confidence we need to begin something. From there, if we apply ourselves, the victorious cycle takes over.

Image courtesy of [MR Lightman] /

*Authors note: You might see this column pop up online in a newspaper, under the name Both Sides. I am publishing this column here first at For a bunch of years, I have been writing newspaper columns. Since my columns have received a good response on CYInterview, I thought I would share it with you. Hope you enjoy.

You can reach me with your questions and comments at Like today’s column? Check back frequently.