“We were all rooting for you, but none of us thought you were actually going to make it.”

That’s a quote from my wife about how people from my hometown reacted to me becoming a Navy SEAL. We weren’t married when she felt that way, and this was revealed to me many years after I had finished working in special operations. Their opinion wasn’t completely unfair. At the time, I was a promising pitcher who fell very short of his potential just months before the professional draft. In the weeks leading up to the end of my collegiate career, I ended throwing a record-setting number of wild pitches due to performance anxiety.

You can see how my journey from that outing on the mound to becoming a SEAL seemed like a big jump for some of my hometown friends. My pals who knew me on a deeper level thought it made perfect sense. Well, that was 20 years ago, and this is what I’ve learned about confidence along my journey.

What is Confidence?

Confidence is feeling certain, and certainty is gained from where we place our trust. The challenge is, we have a tendency to place our trust in sources we can’t control. The two sources that are the biggest obstacles to competing with confidence are critics and low odds. We allow the opinions of other people and low probability to define or even imprison our belief in what we’re capable of accomplishing.

It’s a well-known fact that BUD/S classes have a failure rate of 70 to 80%, and my class was no different. Going into it, there was no shortage of people who doubted my ability to pass, but I didn’t focus on if I would make it. I focused on why I wanted to do it

Do “The Odds” Really Matter?

With this, as in life or in business or in athletics, it is important to understand that critics and low probability are a given. “Odds” should define our process, not our potential – while keeping in mind it’s the difficulty of the task that makes it special. Rather than focus how many people have failed, focus on how the successful ones have succeeded. What do they do differently? What kind of person are they

The Courage to Try

I believe everyone is born with purpose and the ability to accomplish something great, and you don’t need anyone’s permission to honor that, just the courage to try. Losers find excuses to cower. Winners find an excuse to win. Our previous failures don’t define our ability. They increase it by forging us into more capable people. Failure in baseball strengthened my resiliency and determination.

After baseball, I learned to have confidence by creating trust in internal sources that are free from external dependencies. The first, is in our preparation. If we apply attention to detail and relentless effort in our preparation, we will be able to trust it in the moment of competition. 

Just before Hell Week began, one of our instructors said, “Today there is a man training to kill you and one day you will meet that man. When you do…you’re going to be certain that you, and every man next to you, is better prepared for that day than he is”.

Fast-forward some time, and he was right. One night, a call went out over the radio that I was pinned down. During that fight, I was able to shift focus off of the adverse circumstance and into the action needed to win. My mind was able to make this shift because it trusted our preparation. We already knew what to do. The instructors who trained me saved my life, as fights are often won before the first shot is fired.

We also trusted each other. There was a point at which my teammate could have left me, but I knew he wouldn’t, and that gave me certainty. I trusted him to hold the line no matter the circumstance. Winners surround themselves with the right people. People who trust each other to act in accordance to a standard, no matter what the environmental conditions may be.

Character Above Talent

Hell Week is less of a test of physical ability and more a test of a man’s character. We never sacrifice character for talent, because talent is worthless when it retreats, and character is priceless when it’s time to hold the line.

Adversity is a requirement for reaching the next level of success and character drives teams through adversity. Elite teams value character in addition to skill in their hiring and promotional processes.

Conviction in Purpose

Even if humans were capable of perfect preparation with unflawed character, it wouldn’t guarantee victory. We do everything we can to eliminate the variables to competition, but this makes us very dangerous, not invincible. So how do we have certainty in uncertain outcomes?

Well, we can’t be certain what the outcome will be, but we can be certain there is purpose to every outcome. If we take the hits along the way properly then we get better through each one of them, and our lives become a constant evolution of getting better.

Confidence is all about trust, but where we place our trust is up to us, so choose wisely. Find a mission in life meaningful to your unique desires. Commit to a fight. Aim for the highest thing you can achieve. Win the whole thing regardless of any externally assigned value. If not you, then who? Stand tall and let the mockers mock from the safety of their retreat. Have hope, but don’t rely on hope, for hope is a beggar. Be on a warpath and hunt it down with confidence, because it’s how winning is done and it pays to be a winner.

“The cowards never started, and the weak died along the way.”

-Unknown American Pioneer after completing the Oregon Trail in 1845.