Parenting Guide: Confidence vs. Competence

By Greg Baer M.D.

December 7, 2023

From a great many interactions with human beings, I have learned how hard people are willing to work to achieve a feeling of worth.

Some people acquire extensive education and expertise. Others rise to positions of authority through the exercise of intelligence, social skills, creativity, management skills, and more.

These pursuits give them a feeling of competence, which nearly everyone confuses with self-worth or confidence. Even money is little more than quantifiable evidence of competence.

But I have also witnessed a consistent—nearly uniform—pattern among those who seek competence. They never have enough.

They always have to have more: more money, more knowledge, more power, more authority, more recognition for their achievements, and so on.

Competence Does Not Produce Genuine Happiness

Competence alone does not produce the deep gratification of genuine happiness.

If you examine your children carefully, you will see them pursuing competence and recognition for the purpose of feeling worthwhile—in academics, athletics, physical appearance, social media influence, and so on—and if you understand that competence is a counterfeit of confidence, you’ll be able to help them avoid the pitfalls of the former.

What is the Difference Between Confidence and Competence?

To highlight the nature of the counterfeit, let’s examine the nature of genuine confidence.

If you feel unconditionally loved by those who matter to you—including God, for many—you realize that you have the most important thing in the world. If you have the most important thing, you win. You always win.

You’re confident of the value of what you have no matter what happens, because the love you possess—and the happiness that follows—is unconditional. You become a kind of invincible.

Let me be even more direct and clear.

The characteristics of confidence:

  • It’s a firm, solid faith in the love you have already.
  • It’s knowing that your confidence doesn’t depend on success or failure.
  • It’s knowing that you’re free to make mistakes without losing your confidence.
  • It’s understanding that you’re free to LEARN, rather than being RIGHT or avoiding being wrong.
  • There is no constant effort to reach some identifiable goal or position.
  • It inevitably leads to happiness.

The characteristics of competence:

  • It’s a feeling of strength derived from what you can DO, not an assurance of who you ARE.
  • It’s conditional, fleeting, easily lost, undependable.
  • You have to preserve and protect it, always fearing mistakes that could remove the appearance of having it.
  • It’s a sense of control and often arrogance, which are pale shadows of true confidence.
  • It does not produce genuine happiness.
  • It’s counter-intuitive at first, to see that competence does not produce either genuine confidence or happiness, but it is nonetheless a true principle, one we can learn for a certainty only with practice.

Confident Children

You must love and teach your children, which will enable them to feel loved, to be loving, and to be responsible. They will know who they really are—with all their gifts—and will experience a kind of confident joy that cannot be shaken by their own mistakes or by the disapproval of others. 

Such children are truly powerful, full of confidence, and your role in helping them to develop these qualities is unspeakably indispensable.

Want to learn more?

Raise Truly Powerful, Confident Children.

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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