Where Confidence Comes From

The rock wall and the wild pitch.

John Gorman


Photo by Ahmed Carter on Unsplash

A ways back, I was learning to rock climb. Or, more accurately, learning to “boulder,” since there’s a distinction. I won’t go far as to say you should try it, but it’s a helluva workout.

You stare at a wall, assess oddly-shaped colored pieces jutting out, then attempt to climb to the top.

Each day in the rock gym, I saw chiseled, limber bros with man-buns — the kind of men you see in Michelob Ultra commercials or under a string of Edison-bulb Christmas lights on a rooftop in Bushwick — scaling walls like upside-down spider-monkeys in the blink of an eye.

Each time, I’d immediately tense up and think, “Fuck this shit. I’m gonna get laughed out of this joint. This is going to be just like the day I did CrossFit.”

Anyway, when you “boulder” — sorry, it’s a stupid verb and you know it — fear starts to take hold as you rise ever higher, and you start sweating the possibility of missing your mark and tumbling to your doom.

Knowing this, I decided to embark on a bold and seemingly capricious strategy: I would fall on purpose after each successive rung. So, climb one rung, fall, climb two rungs, fall, climb three, etc., etc.—y’all can count, y’all get it.

Now, why would I intentionally short-circuit my progress each time?

Because I wanted to know what it felt like to fall from the very top. I wanted to know how badly it would hurt. I wanted to know it would never be as bad as I’d feared. I wanted to learn how to fall.

If the first time I fell was an accident, I might be too afraid to climb well or to get back on the wall. I wouldn’t be as … confident.

What Confidence Is Not

Often, we imagine confidence to be endemic — a “maybe-she’s-born-with-it” / “maybe-she’s-just-hot-and-rich-and-no-one-tells-her-no” cocktail of adventurousness, optimism, and a zen-like calm. An overarching sense of, “I’m going to do this thing because I want to, and what’s the worst that can happen?”

Still, others believe confidence is a byproduct of success. That after you’ve worked at something long enough and gotten good enough at it, the real trophy was the…



John Gorman

Yarn Spinner + Brand Builder + Renegade. Award-winning storyteller with several million served. For inquiries: johngormanwriter@gmail.com