Leadership Spotlight

Confidence in the Face of Challenges

Stock photo of a male business man looking out a window in a conference room.

We sometimes may doubt our ability to accomplish a goal or task. Perhaps as early as grade school, we wanted to try out for a sports team or school play, but felt intimidated by the risk of failure. Questions swirled through our head. What if I fail? What will my friends think?

Today, we face “adult” challenges and potential consequences both personally and professionally. Those same haunting questions and thoughts of inadequacy may return to our minds, causing us to avoid confronting a trial or taking a risk. Pursuing a promotion, trying a different job-related task, or beginning a new relationship may seem intimidating. Do we miss out on personal or professional fulfillment because of our fear of failure?

Of course, we may question our abilities as a heathy recognition of our own limits. However, feelings of inadequacy alone never should serve as a license to quit or an excuse not to try. They often stem from false beliefs about ourselves or an exaggerated view of the challenge itself.

Could it actually hold true that you have the strength to climb the mountain? Is the peak not nearly as high as it looks from your vantage point? Allow yourself to rise to the occasion, accept the challenge, and realize your potential.

Some simple suggestions can help you gain the needed confidence to face a given situation.

  1. Identify the specific issue. A job promotion seemingly may present an insurmountable hurdle. However, upon closer inspection, the promotional process—not the new job itself—could be the intimidating factor.
  2. Divide the challenge into manageable milestones. As the old saying goes, “When eating an elephant, take one bite at a time.”1 This applies to many areas of life. For instance, getting physically fit may seem daunting. Set reasonable goals to improve incrementally. The small victories along the way will encourage you.
  3. Set a schedule and prioritize accordingly. Does a huge project look impossible? Set definitive dates to reach objectives. Do not postpone completion dates because of things you can control.
  4. Leverage your strengths. Alternative ways to accomplish a goal may exist. For example, a recent NFL draftee wanted to play in the league, but felt he did not have the speed or strength. His previous success as a soccer player led him to focus on his kicking ability. He achieved his ambition through this alternative route.

How far can you go in your career? What would you like to accomplish? You will never realize your full potential by fearing failure more than striving for success. Take a chance—you may surprise yourself.

Supervisory Special Agent Donald L. Bostic of the Executive Programs Instruction Unit at the FBI Academy prepared this Leadership Spotlight. He can be reached at dlbostic@fbi.gov.


1 “Creighton Abrams Quotes,” Brainy Quote, accessed September 19, 2018, https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/creighton_abrams_207381.