How to Have Unshakeable Confidence in Yourself

Downtown LA, 2014
Downtown LA, 2014

Dear friend,

I wanted to write you this letter in terms of how to have unshakeable confidence in yourself. The problem that I see is that there are so many talented people in the world, yet their talents come short because they lack the confidence in themselves. They expect other people to believe in them— but if they don’t believe in themselves, how do they expect others to believe in them?

Confidence is the bedrock in which we build our lives. Confidence is what gives us the courage and confidence to pursue relationships, to pursue business ideas, to pursue photographic ideas, to publish our artwork, and share our creative endeavors.

A lot of society’s role is to keep us from not sharing our opinions, thoughts, and views on the world. Society wants us to be a docile worker, that listens to the rules, and works his/her specialized job to keep the world economy ticking along. Society doesn’t want us to be unique and express ourselves— otherwise how would we have all these human cogs necessary to to turn the wheels of society, commerce, and politics?

There’s only one of you— why waste your talent?

Photo by Michael Steindorfer
Photo by Michael Steindorfer

To start off, know that you’re unique— and there is nobody else like you in the world, with your life experiences, gifts, talents, and viewpoints.

I know it sounds a bit wishy-washy, but it is true. Nobody has been through the shit you have been through, and I do believe you have a gift to share with the rest of the world.

To have unshakeable confidence in yourself, you need to be unreasonable, and you need to violate some social norms. Probably the best thing I learned in school through Sociology was that a lot of these societal “rules” which we cage ourselves in are self-imposed. Meaning— we can control our destiny by changing these rules. By stepping outside of our comfort zone, and challenging what others say is “right” and “wrong.”

For example, there are very few societies in the world that are encouraging to entrepreneurs— people wanting to start off their own business venture. Luckily enough being born an American, I was always encouraged to think for myself, to express my talents, and to change the world. Also the tax/business laws in America are quite entrepreneur-friendly. I heard it’s difficult to start your own business in Europe, Asia, other parts of the world.

I’ve had a lot of confidence in myself ever since I was young because I had amazing mentors who believed in my talents, and encouraged me to share it with the world. This included my mom, my church leaders, my teachers, my sports coaches (my tennis coach Greg Lowe was like my kung-fu kid guru), my community leaders, and my Boy Scouts troop leaders. I also believe that the American school system (at least the one which I grew up in) encouraged individuality.

I also feel that many of us are idealistic when we are young— but we become jaded as we become older. We start off with these grand plans of changing the world, but when we realize we need to settle down for a boring 9-5 job to pay the bills, many of our dreams and hopes vanish, and we start to lose confidence in ourselves.

It is your duty to be confident in yourself

Downtown LA, 2016

What if you’ve never had anyone believe in you? How do you dive deep and pull out that confidence in yourself that may lie inert?

Another tip— know that it is your duty to share your gift with others. When we have a strong sense of duty, our fears become less real.

Many heros, saints, and martyrs have put their lives at risk to stand up for their beliefs. They sacrificed their lives for the collective, to drive the human race forward. To stand up for something bigger than themselves.

Everyday it is a struggle for me to write, and to do creative work. There are many days that I don’t have any ideas, am tired as hell, and frustrated that I have nothing to contribute. I start to question myself— “Am I out of ideas? Do I have nothing left to give to others? Am I done writing?”

But remembering that the information I produce and share can help empower others— I myself gain more confidence in myself. I have confidence because I know that this thing that I’m writing right now can help one individual— somewhere in the world, achieve his/her fullest potential in photography or in life.

Realize all your needs are met

Berkeley, 2015 #cindyproject
Berkeley, 2015 #cindyproject

The other day it struck me how fortunate we are. We live in a world with massive abundance— where all of our basic needs are met. We have food, water, shelter, and warm clothing. We have cars, smartphones, internet, technology, digital cameras, and laptops.

By modern standards, most of us will probably live to be 80-90. Assuming most people start contributing to society at age 18, that gives us close to 60-70 years of helping others.

Which made me wonder: if someone spent their entire life doing creative work, helping others, and building something bigger than themselves— how much can one achieve in a lifetime? Assuming we didn’t get distracted by earning more money to buy a nicer car, a bigger house, wanting to buy more designer shit, and wasting our hard-earned money with superfluous things and activities.

What if we directed all of our creative energy to self-actualization, and not worrying about petty emotions like jealousy, envy, and hatred?

Many of us are afraid to do our life’s work because we are afraid that our needs won’t be met, that we won’t be able to pay the bills, and perhaps that we might be ostracized by others.

However, know that the biggest thing to fear is this: not achieving your fullest-potential. Let that fear guide you in a positive way— to develop all your talents, to once again— help serve humanity.

Don’t fear being foolish

Paris, 2015 #cindyproject
Paris, 2015 #cindyproject

Anyone who goes against the rules of society will be seen as foolish. Yet everyone who has made massive change in society was looked at as a fool or crazy. Otherwise, you’re just following the herd or the sheep.

Think to yourself: what is one thing that you deeply believe in, that nobody else believes? Or another question: what does everyone else believe in, but you think is absolutely bullshit?

For me, I believe strongly that information should be open, free, and should empower humanity. I’ve always thought that copyright laws (for the most part) are bullshit— and stifle creativity for humanity.

This is a radical idea that has created a lot of heat for me, and has raised a lot of controversy. But because I believe in the idea so deeply (having grew up with few economic resources), I know that it is worth putting my neck on the line. I have confidence in myself because I know that I am helping serve others, not myself.

For any creative work you do, or anything you do that is outside of the norm, you will be ridiculed. People don’t like other people doing things differently.

But I encourage you— be a misfit, don’t follow the herd, and pave your own path. Do things that you believe in— which scare you. Stand up for ideas you believe in.

Haters will make you stronger

London, 2015
London, 2015

Realize that when you have any radical idea, you will get a lot of “haters” telling you to shut the fuck up, and to sit down.

But don’t fear the haters. Rather, see them as a sign of success. That your ideas are ruffling a few feathers.

If what you’re doing isn’t raw, real, and against the social norms— you don’t have anybody say anything. That is the worst.

Know that once you have people “hating” on you — you are making a change. You are making a difference. You’re bringing up contrarian ideas that will make people feel uncomfortable. You’re challenging people to re-think their own belief systems, which is always painful.

And don’t be upset at people who hate on you. After all, they’re standing up for what they believe in— and what they believe in their hearts what is true.

And the best way to deal with haters? A smile, thank you, and continuing to do your life’s work.

What is the worst-case scenario?

Marseille, 2015 #cindyproject
Marseille, 2015 #cindyproject

In the past, we feared death if we stepped outside of societal norms. In traditional societies, being ostracized by the collective and treated like a non-human was worse than death.

Therefore it is deeply ingrained in our DNA not to say, do, or challenge societal norms. All of us deeply want to love and feel loved. If we don’t have support from others and the community, we feel worse than being dead.

But know that in today’s world, very few of us are at risk for standing up for our ideas. Generally the worst that we face is being yelled at, being insulted, and other forms of hate.

What are you really afraid of? What is your worst-case scenario? The more you vividly imagine your realistic worst-case scenario, the less likely you are to fear it.

For example, let’s say you want to share a creative idea or photograph. What do you fear? That nobody likes it? That nobody comments on it? Do you really fear that?

Let’s say you want to take a street photograph of someone. What do you fear most? Being punched in the face? Being called an asshole? Having the cops called on you? Feeling weird or awkward? Is that fear really that bad?

Let’s say you want to start a business. What do you fear most? Going bankrupt? Having people insult you when your business fails? Or the stress it will take to run the business? Is the worst-case scenario really that horrible?

Stare your worst-case scenario in the face, and know that when the time actually comes, it won’t be that bad. We have a lot more inner-strength than most people realize (psychologists call this a “psychological immune system.”) The idea is that we over-estimate how much pain that negative events will have in our lives, and we also over-estimate how much joy that “happy” events will have in our lives.

We are hard-wired to be risk-averse. But know that you can re-wire your DNA, your mindset, and your life.

Practical advice to build your self-confidence

Stockholm, 2015
Stockholm, 2015

Here are some practical assignments that can help you build self-confidence in yourself:

1. Practice whatever you want to improve everyday

This is cliche advice— but true. Whatever you want to improve, practice it everyday. Whatever you want to remove, practice removing it everyday.

For example, if you want to build more confidence in talking with strangers, push yourself a little more outside of your comfort zone everyday. Try to experiment doing a little more small-talk everyday with your barista, co-worker, colleague, bartender, or server.

If you are afraid to share your work with others, practice by publishing your photos everyday. Learn that you have nothing to fear by putting your work out there, and making yourself vulnerable. Another way to think about this: vividly imagine yourself wanting to get negative feedback on your work. If you seek negative feedback, what do you have to fear? Because that is what you expected and wanted.

2. Build your physical strength


I find with physical strength comes mental strength.

The last 10 years, I have practiced strength-training. It started off mostly because I had little self-confidence in myself and physical appearance. However as time has gone on, strength training (specifically powerlifting) is more about building my mental toughness, building focus, and knowing that I have no limits.

With powerlifting, the point is to increase the maximum weight you’re able to physically lift. I am not physically “gifted” in any sort of way— my dad was scrawny and my mom isn’t built like a bodybuilder. However it still amazes me how every week (on average) I’ve been able to add 5 pounds to both my deadlift and squats. I’ve hit points where my progress slowed down, but never fully came to a stop. Why? Because I had unshakeable confidence that I have no physical limitations.

Each week, whenever I increase my 1-rep maximum (the heaviest weight I can lift, once) — I feel empowered. I know that any life goals that I have are all limited not by my resources, but by my mind.

Anything that I set my mind to— I can accomplish. I do believe that to build more confidence in yourself, you need to look at yourself naked in the mirror and be proud. Build your physical strength, build muscle, lose fat— and that will be a huge first step in gaining unshakeable confidence in yourself.

3. Listen to empowering music

Stockholm, 2015
Stockholm, 2015

I’ve always been a huge fan of music my entire life— especially hip-hop music. Why hip-hop? Because it has empowered me my entire life. Hip-hop and rap music is all about growing up through hard times and struggles, and becoming the best you can become. I related with that, especially with my mom being able to barely pay bills month-to-month. I also felt that after listening to hip hop music, I felt emotionally and physically strong- that I was destined for greatness, and to help change the world for the better.

It makes sense— if you listen to “emo” or depressing music all day, how is your mood going to feel? Are you going to feel “pumped up” and excited about life, or gloomy and miserable?

It really doesn’t matter what kind of music you listen to— as long as it empowers you. Our minds only have so much psychic capacity. We have control in terms of what we decide to put into our minds, and what not to put into our minds.

Why waste any precious space in your brain for negativity, bullshit, and things that make you weaker? Find a playlist or a jam that empowers you— and know you have no limits.

4. Practice making eye-contact

Berlin, 2015
Berlin, 2015

For a lot of people I know who are timid, one of their weaknesses is that they’re unable to make eye-contact. They talk by looking at their feet, or glancing at the side. If you really want strength, you need to learn how to look people straight in the eyes.

Of course, you don’t want to make eye contact in an aggressive way to pick a fight with someone. Rather, learn how to just be comfortable making gentle eye contact with a stranger.

When you’re sitting on the bus, or in a public place, practice making eye contact with strangers. Once they look at you, don’t avert your eyes— keep staring back at them, and give them a gentle smile or head nod. See how they react.

When you start off, your heart will probably be pounding like crazy (from anxiety and fear) — but with more practice, that will eventually go away.

They say that eye contact is an essential skill when it comes to doing business deals, convincing people of a certain argument, or when courting someone romantically.

And most of all, be comfortable making eye-contact with yourself in the mirror. That is the most important person to be comfortable with.

5. Break a social norm

Manchester, 2015
Manchester, 2015

To build confidence in yourself, you must learn how to break social norms.

Try some crazy shit. When you’re walking down a busy sidewalk, randomly lie down on the ground on the side, stand up, and casually continue to walk. If you’re at a cafe, tell the barista that you’re having a bad day, and ask for a free (or discounted) coffee. If you’re at the grocery store, take an item from someone’s cart and tell them “thank you.”

When you step into an elevator, turn the opposite direction from the way everyone else is looking. Say inappropriate things at inappropriate times. Under-dress or wear strange clothes to formal events. Better yet, wear socks and flip-flops to a formal event.

Practice saying “no” when a “yes” is expected. Practice radical honesty (say what is really on your mind).

Everyday change your behavior— little by little, and know that you can create your own social rules for yourself.


Amsterdam, 2015 #cindyproject
Amsterdam, 2015 #cindyproject

I still don’t have 100% unshakeable confidence in myself. I still doubt myself, hesitate, and have a lot of unnecessary fears. But everyday, I try to eliminate my fears, and to build a little more confidence in myself everyday.

And it has transformed my life. I’ve been able to ask for permission from strangers, getting free stuff when unexpected, making new friends on the streets, winning business deals, building my inner-strength, and by being able to dedicate myself to my life’s purpose and meaning.

So friend, know that to build unshakeable confidence in yourself is going to take decades, and even a lifetime to master. Know that life is short— why live it according to the standards of others? Break out of your shell, and push your limits and boundaries. Why waste your God-given talents, through fear of being criticized?

Live at your fullest-level, and never doubt yourself, never have regrets, and always be strong.


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