Confidence and Expectation – There’s a Difference!

By Nicola Albini, J.D., M.A. -This article originally appeared on May 30 2017 on

Reflect if you will on your associations with the word “confidence.”  What images or concepts arise?  Is the phrase “expectation of success” tied up in your personal definition of confidence?

If so, you’re certainly not alone. Often the two – confidence and expectation – are interwoven, but as a Leadership Coach, I feel it’s important to understand and distinguish between them, as they come from very different states of mind.

Real Confidence

For the purpose of this conversation, let’s define “success” as your desired state of being. To me confidence is trusting yourself to stay focused on the Process Goals (tangible steps within your grasp that you know you can accomplish) that you must take to move toward success.

This is very different than the expectation of success, for when we start to focus too much on the outcome, we lose sight of the process. Process goals keep us on track; they keep us evolving and raise our confidence. Once we have that, we have the ability to continue to grow our sense of confidence – and at the end of the day, unshakeable confidence is much more valuable than achieving a temporal goal.

What’s tricky is that sometimes expectation can cleverly disguise itself as confidence. And more often than not, it overshadows confidence. Let’s take a closer look at what true confidence is, and how to identify it in yourself.

When a person is confident, he trusts his ability to thrive no matter what, and as a result has a trustworthy presence that others can feel. This presence is fully immersed in the present moment and very mindful. Real confidence is about trusting that our source of power comes from an unwavering place within, and not from the outside world where things rise and fall, succeed and fail. The Conscious Leadership Group speaks into this with one of their tenets:  I commit to being the source of my security, control and approval vs. I commit to living from the belief that my control, security and approval comes from the outside: people, circumstances and conditions.

A confident person has sharp focus of attention and the courage to do, be, and live, despite any fear. He has the courage to really trust in himself without limitations, because he is sourcing his own sense of value and has proven to himself repeatedly that he is trustable to do what he says he will do. Naturally, this air of confidence is noticeable and attractive to others.

Confidence is a state of mind and a state of gain. It sees the outcome as clearly as if it were right in front of its eyes. It merges action and awareness and can relax into the clarity of its goal. A confident person lives as if their goal has already occurred.

To further clarify, it’s important to notice that there is a difference between this authentic confidence – which is based on integrity and capability as a ways of being in the world – rather than false confidence that is based on an inflated self-image. This starts to look a lot like arrogance. It’s not real confidence because it is actually insecurity that wants to stay hidden underneath a confident mask. In truth, the more confidence you have in yourself, the more you’re tapped in to who you are and the more others will feel your trustworthiness and respond accordingly.

The Trap of Expectation

Expectation is based on the idea of perfection, which is often rooted in fear; it focuses on the outcome of a situation so intently, that as a result, the person will feel unhealthy pressure to create a specific outcome and be inclined to bypass being present for the journey of getting there.
When someone has an expectation, his attention is drawn away from the present moment and sucked into a rigid picture of the future. Expectation is judgmental (“If I don’t win this award, it means I’m _______!”) as opposed to the trusting, self-accepting nature of confidence.

Expectation is very supportive of comfort zones. To paraphrase one of my teachers: “Expectation can really suck the life out of confidence.”

It is true that expectation increases as we become more successful, because we start to demand more of ourselves... yet when our expectations become unrealistically high, we can damage our confidence.

For example, a confident athlete does not judge the quality of his performance based on prior expectation or outcome. Imagine a professional golfer who has previously won championships. Suppose that because he won last year, he expects that he will win this year, even though he is healing from a wrist injury. When he doesn’t perform as well as he expects himself to, his confidence – and future ability – may be damaged. Unless he can release the expectations, it will hurt his performance.

Confidence vs. Expectations in the Working World

So, how does this differentiation between confidence and expectation translate into your professional life?

Whether you’re an entrepreneur or an employee, you must lead and perform with a high level of confidence if you wish to find fulfillment in your work.

In the workplace, confidence comes before execution and result. It’s not judgmental. It thrives on momentum and good performance, and it’s focused on the present moment.  This means that you’re able to observe and adjust as needed. You’re flexible. You believe in yourself and your ability to move closer to the goal.

On the other hand, expectation in the workplace focuses on the results, which is very toxic. It can lead to drama, and it can ruin professional relationships.

Imagine a group of professionals working as a team on an important project. Each individual has different expectations of himself or herself and of the group, but those expectations may never be discussed. The group has never truly agreed about anything, which can be poisonous to the working relationship.

A confident team leader will ask for an agreement. Together, the group will negotiate their agreement so they’re all on the same page, and as time goes by, they can renegotiate the agreement if need be.

Put most simply, the sense of trust and presence that accompanies confidence happens when you’re tapped into yourself. It’s only when you’re truly connected to yourself, your emotional state, and your self-awareness that you are confident. It’s rooted in the soul, in who you really are, and it is felt by others.

Confidence is also directly related to your ability to keep your agreements and live in integrity with your goals, your process goals and your agreements with others. This is valuable because expectations in the workplace are ubiquitous, often difficult to uncover and can be the genesis of fierce conflict.

Real confidence doesn’t question its own value and worth. On a soul level, a confident person feels whole and complete, and the specific outcome of a certain situation doesn’t determine whether he or she is “good enough.” A person imbued with confidence is simply an unbounded, unconditioned, exuberant being having a physical experience.

You Are More Than Your Performance

Ultimately, pinpointing the difference between confidence and expectation is about recognizing that you are more than just the performance you give or the accomplishments you achieve. You are more than those results, whether they are money, clients and awards... or a golf championship.
Differentiating between the two is a reminder to know your goal while still being present and connected to current time.  It is an invitation to be in the Eternal Now rather than projecting yourself or others into the future.

This week, begin to notice where you may be more focused on the outcome of your actions rather than the beautiful experience of the process. When you uncover expectation, you have the opportunity to shift over into a place of confidence and enjoy the ride.