Confidence Myth #4: Money boosts confidence

What’s the myth

We often think that the more riches we amass, the more confident we will become.  We rather incorrectly infer that having a hefty back account and a higher education from an Ivy League school are pre-requisites for higher self-esteem.

Why it’s not true

Certainly, the link is not hard to make.

A bigger bank account generally gives you more security. And it’s barely a secret that a diploma from a renowned university can go a long way—it can increase significantly your chances of finding a higher-paid job, which, in turn, will give you certain financial freedoms and the ability to afford a nicer lifestyle, and nonetheless—higher self-esteem.

And although the connection between money and confidence may be present, true, its strength is often incorrectly inflated.

Simply put, confidence, more often than not, is not an aftermath of having a better job or making more money—it’s the other way around.

Here is why.

**In a previous post I wrote about the affair between money and confidence. It’s certainly not vanilla. Psychologists tell us that it depends on our social standing or status. Status, in turn, is made up of two elements—socioeconomic and sociometric.

The former relates to things as our income, education and occupation, while the latter is linked to intangibles as the respect, influence, recognition and admiration from close others—friends, family or co-workers.

And what research has found is that sociometric status is the one that is truly “priceless” when it comes to boosting our confidence levels. In fact, the link between “others”-respect and self-esteem is nearing an impressive 50%.

That is, as studies unequivocally tell us, sociometric status can predict social well-being and happiness more strongly than socioeconomic status.

**“Externalities” are not a sustainable source of self-esteem. The reason for this is the famed Hedonic Adaption phenomenon, or our ability to get used to the “good life” rather quickly, which can throw us in a relentless pursuit of the next “high.”

To be fair, spikes in socioeconomic status (income, education, occupation) may produce an elevation of our confidence levels, but the honeymoon period is short-lived. We tend to come back to our baseline levels of contentment rather quickly.

Case in point—if money and prestigious education were sustainable sources of self-esteem, then why so many affluent individuals are so highly insecure? Wealth should provide immunity against the Impostor syndrome and shield against the confidence yo-yo up and downs “regular” people go through with the caprices of life.

And yet, riches don’t automatically equal higher self-esteem.  Something just doesn’t quite square.

**High income or a great job are not guaranteed for life, so basing your worth on these external variables may produce a very unstable sense of self.  But what will happen if the stock market crashes, for instance, and you lose everything overnight?

Does this mean that your self-esteem should go down too, that you are less than a person now than you were the day before? Therefore, basing your worth on the value of your possessions is a flawed way to measure your worth.

**Finally, unless you have been lucky enough to be born into wealth (which doesn’t always guarantee high self-esteem either), you wouldn’t be able to climb up the affluence ladder if you didn’t believe in your own abilities. High income and prestige education may lead to higher confidence, but to get to them, you often need high self-esteem as a trampoline to these success perks.

What to do instead

It’s possible to bump up your self-beliefs, of course. But if you are hoping that more money and luxury goods will make up for your low sense of worth, you will likely be in for a disappointment.

But here is what to do instead—with much greater chance of actually succeeding at becoming more self-assured.

**Look to improve your sociometric status.

Those high in sociometric status, studies have discovered, also have more friends, enjoy greater popularity and are invited to more social activities.

To get there, you need to be perceived (i.e. may not actually possess it) as competent in a certain area, and to have what’s known as a “instrumental social value”—personal characteristics that are deemed importation by others in the achievement of collective goals.

Therefore, to gain a greater sociometric status, which, in turn, will boost your esteem, you need to simultaneously be seen as knowledgeable and be wiling to help others achieve their aspirations or agendas. It makes so much sense—if people believe they can gain something from you, they will award you with a higher status.

**Education is a better booster of confidence than income.

As I mentioned, socioeconomic status can produce temporary bumps in self-worth. The effect is longer-lasting and more sustainable when education, not income, is used to measure the link with self-esteem. 

Research confirms that occupational prestige and education have a stronger links to confidence than does income. In terms of numbers, prestige contributes to 21% and academia 16%, while salary—only 8%. Perhaps also not surprisingly, individuals who are employed in good jobs, characterized by high autonomy, high prestige, and low routinization have higher levels of self-esteem.

Therefore, the benefits of education seem to go beyond the “better job and more money” adage.

**Develop sense of mastery and self-efficacy.

The Theory of Self-efficacy was introduced by Prof. Albert Bandura, a professor of psychology from Stanford University, in the late 80s. Self-efficacy is our ability to believe in ourselves and our abilities to complete successfully our goals. Multiple studies link these self-beliefs to greater confidence, motivation and perseverance.

There are several ways to get more of this good stuff, Prof. Bandura reveals. Greater self-efficacy comes from our own success record, having role models and learning from them, the encouragement and support we receive from significant others, and finally—our emotional and psychological states.

The basic idea is that the more we start believing it’s in our power to control and change our outcomes, the higher our sense of mastery (and self-efficacy) will be. And greater our confidence.

~ ~ ~

So, let’s wrap it up with a bow.

Our society often seduces us into believing that a higher salary, an Ivy-League education or a prestigious occupation may bump up our confidence.Although there are sprinkles of truth in this, what transpires upon closer examination is that none of these elements are a sustainable source of self-esteem.

Study after study confirms that it’s the strength and quality of our relationships, not the value of our possessions, that are the real keys to longevity, fulfillment and happiness.

Building self-confidence should be the beginning position, and not a consequence of money and credentials.

While college degree is generally worth pursuing, what’s even more important is to never stop learning, growing and developing our knowledge and competencies. That’s the right way to go about earning the respect and appreciation, which can truly move the needle when it comes to confidence-boosting.

What self-help gurus have gotten right, though, is that all successful people do have one major thing going for them—they believe in themselves. Some of the world’s most important accomplishments have truly started with only an idea and a belief. Nothing more.

So, please don’t fall into the I’ll be more confident when I’m rich” mental trap. It’s very much like the “I’ll be happy when I…” fallacy.  It’s wild-goose chase, psychologists tell us. You’ll likely never be rich enough to feel confident enough, exactly as you are never happy for long when you get the material things you thought would give you your “happily ever after.”

If you want to become more confident and maintain it, you need to think and go about it the right way. Otherwise, you won’t succeed.

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