Re-visiting the ‘self’ in self-confidence

September 15th, 2020

Last month, we hosted dinners on “Self-Confidence” in 14 cities around the world. From Amsterdam to Caracas, Lisbon to Vietnam, women gathered (many virtually) to share and listen to our experiences on this topic. Here is what we learned.

And now, our key takeaways…

How much “self” is there in the notion of self-confidence?

The wellness and personal growth industry tells us that confidence comes from within — so feeling good about ourselves is therefore in our control. Yet, the reality for most of us is that our level of confidence is influenced by external validation and recognition (especially coming from people who are in positions of power).

As children, our sense of worth is shaped by our caregivers — were they confident or were they insecure? Did they boost our self-esteem or did they bring us down? Did we receive the right tools to cope with feelings of self-doubt? In school, some of us internalized “I am not smart enough” if we happened to struggle in class or failed a test. As adults, some of us stepped into a new relationship or job feeling strong and optimistic, but when our expectations weren’t met we began to question our worth (i.e.: we were ghosted or received harsh feedback).

The more we love and fully accept ourselves, the less emotionally dependent on our environment we’ll become — as all sources of love and worth will start coming from within. While this is a beautiful thing to aspire to, we also need to realize — as a society — that external factors have a significant impact on our confidence. This way we can put less pressure on an individual level and try to look at this from a collective lens.

Opening up this important conversation could invite more kindness and compassion in all of our interactions. Because we can recognize that how we show up will have a big impact on one another.

Our confidence is intertwined with societal expectations and cultural norms

Three key societal expectations directly influence our self-confidence:

1. Our body image. All over the world, many of us feel we need to fit into a certain mold (weight, breast-size, skin color etc.) –because those who do, receive more praise and validation (i.e.: lighter is perceived as “better” in Vietnam and that many other places — search “colorism” to learn more). Some of us struggle to get fully naked in front of a new partner or we carefully choose our clothes/bathing suits to disguise parts of ourselves that make us feel “small” and particularly self-conscious.

Younger generations seem to be challenging the traditional “beauty stereotypes’’ and are trying to normalize a more realistic and “imperfect” beauty. But we are still a long way off from a true celebration of all women’s bodies.

2. Meeting milestones + expectations. If we don’t meet the cultural / familial expectations or the goals we have set for ourselves (having “X” tittle or “X” number of followers, having a partner, etc.), many of us wonder if something is “wrong with us.”

3. What we “do” vs. who we are. We are obsessed with doing more because the more we do, the more validated we feel. Imagine if, as a culture, we were valued and celebrated for how much empathy, love or courage we showcased instead of tangible achievements. How would the education system and workplace change?

Constant comparison prevents us from showing up authentically

Because our self-confidence is tied to meeting a certain “standard,” many of us are constantly judging our lives in comparison to others. We know this is “not right” but breaking the loop can feel challenging — particularly in the era of social media.

What would you do if you truly didn’t care about what others thought of you — not from a “f**k them” perspective, but from a place of real commitment to being your most honest and real self?

How can we turn comparison into inspiration? How can we lower the outside/external noise and increase the volume of our inner voice?

While building our confidence is a personal journey, we found common themes across our tables that can help us become stronger

  1. Taking risks — Overcoming our fears and embracing new challenges makes us feel proud and more resilient.

  2. Having flexible vs fixed expectations — Having a “north star” but not being attached to the outcome. Seeing failures as learning opportunities.

  3. Realizing that confidence is not set in stone — Knowing that there’s no such thing as a “confident person”–it’s more about a state of mind that comes and goes. Our confidence is constantly evolving and many of us feel more self-confident as we age and experience life.

  4. Living freely, like nobody is watching you — Many of us feel most confident and liberated when we’re traveling because nobody knows us. This sense of anonymity allows us to escape labels and societal expectations. How can we bring these liberating moments into our daily life?

  5. Embracing more humility — Accepting what we can and can’t control leads to more confidence in owning what we don’t know. It helps us become better listeners.

Lastly…. When women come together our confidence REALLY GROWS

At the end of the night, we all realized how interconnected and dependent we were on other people to build our self-confidence. Accepting this can help us choose communities that uplift us (and hopefully stay away from those who bring us down).

When we feel trust and love in a community we can be more vulnerable. And through that vulnerability we build deeper intimacy, we show up in more courageous ways and have harder conversations with openness and care.

Embracing communities that celebrate difference with kindness is liberating. As Audre Lorde said: “Without community, there is no liberation…but community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.”

Covid Nuance

Going through a global pandemic is rocking our identities. Anxiety is rising across the globe. We are doubting ourselves and some of us are getting lost in social media. How can we be more mindful around the content we consume and the people we surround ourselves with, especially during this time?


  1. Be realistic about the promises you make to yourself — are you setting up goals that are attainable? Keeping the promises we make to ourselves is a way of valuing self, which helps build our sense of trust and confidence.

  2. Get clarity on what past experiences are impacting your self-confidence today. If you think you are terrible with finances, ask yourself what exactly is at the root of this narrative — Was it because you failed math in school? Is there’s a more empowering way to share that story? (i.e.: I’m not good with numbers because I haven’t given them a chance. I have two choices: ask for help or try to learn)

Written by Julie in Annecy, Roxanne in Edinburg, Veronica in Miami, and Mariasu in Buenos Aires in collaboration with Dinner Confidential hosts Rosalind in San Francisco, Alexandra in Amsterdam, Caroline in Nairobi, Yolanda in Singapore, Vanina in Buenos AiresAlana in Lisbon, Esther and Antonella in Caracas, Sage in Vietnam/Miami and euni in San Diego.

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