How Much Confidence Do You Need to Start?

A colleague is supposedly writing a book. He’s amassed research, taken and written notes, and told (too many) people he’s writing. But he’s not writing. No book excerpts, no blog posts, nor articles. His “writing” is invisible to other people.

Another colleague thinks he wants to run a marathon. He researched the “right” way to run a marathon. He’s got excellent running clothing. I am no marathon expert, but I’m sure successful marathoners run almost daily. He’s not.

I know a lot about how to write nonfiction books, but not how to write fiction books. So I just finished writing a novella. Only 15,000 words, about a quarter of what I expect a fiction book “should” be.

Am I uncertain about that novella? Oh, you bet. I’m waiting for the first reader to tell me if the story hangs together. I’m nervous because I started before I was ready.

If I wait until I’m ready, I will never be ready.

We become ready by starting—and with frequent-enough practice. And many of us need feedback to see if we’re practicing “right.”

That feeling of needing to be ready is the problem that my writing and running colleagues share. How can they start before they feel ready?

If we don’t start, we can’t use practice to gain the self-confidence to declare, “I’m ready!”

Instead of that vicious cycle, how can you find your self-confidence—or start without it?

Find Your Self-Confidence

Here’s how I find my self-confidence: I start small and ask for feedback.

When I started to write nonfiction, I asked several people for feedback, first on articles, then on newsletters. (I always ask for tech review on my books.) As I received feedback on smaller pieces, I learned from that feedback and became a better writer.

Now, for fiction, I send my short stories to magazines or publish them as collections. Yes, I write in public. What’s the worst thing that could happen? The editor rejects my story.

I don’t aim for perfection in either kind of writing. However, because I write and publish (write in public), I can receive feedback. And my daily practice helps me gain self-confidence.

For me, that’s the value of starting small.

Notice that I did not say, “Just start.” That “just” demeans my courage. When we start small and ask for feedback, we build courage from our practice.

This start is the kind of courage that I use for almost everything.

Sometimes, small starts with feedback don’t work. We need to “commit” to an action. That’s when we start anyway without sufficient self-confidence.

Start Without “Sufficient” Self-Confidence

Consider these questions if you think you don’t have enough self-confidence to start:

  • What are the risks, the worst thing that happens if you start?
  • What fears prevent you from either committing or taking the first step?
  • How can you break this problem down into something you can start with a small step?

With most things, no one notices when you start. You can take classes to manage risks. Or identify your fears so that you can manage them. Or choose something with less risk to practice.

But most of the time, no one notices when we start something new. That allows us to create a safe place to start.

We can publish that blog post, deliver that talk, or do something we’ve never done before—even if we don’t feel ready.

You don’t need to be fully ready before you start. Start small and deliver. Gain confidence by doing the work in public.


I’m leading a session at the Leading Complexity series of masterclasses: Modern Management: Position Yourself to Take Advantage of Complexity. Yes, it’s about the ideas in the Modern Management books, but you’ll recognize many of the ideas. Use this coupon for a 20% discount: ROTHMANFRIEND20.

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Till next time,


© 2022 Johanna Rothman

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