Cultivating Confidence: Use Your 20s to Build Skills

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Defining Decade" by Meg Jay. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What does cultivating confidence mean? How can you cultivate confidence in your 20s and why is it so important?

Cultivating confidence is a practice that takes time. By working on your skills and spending time on them, you’ll gain confidence in yourself and your work.

Read more about cultivating confidence and why it matters.

Cultivating Confidence Through Mastery of Skills

Real confidence doesn’t come from ignoring your anxiety or listening to friends and family tell you you’re wonderful. Real confidence comes from mastering skills, overcoming challenges, failing sometimes, and accumulating successes. You can’t bypass this process by hiding out in an easy job. Mastering easy skills will give you a fragile confidence that’s readily shattered at the first sign of stress. Genuine confidence comes from overcoming genuine challenges, and by cultivating confidence is an important part of your growth.

To become someone who regularly masters skills:

  • Cultivate a “growth mindset.”
  • Devote 10,000 hours to learning your skill.
  • Recognize the successes you’ve already had.

Cultivate a Growth Mindset

To truly be open to the opportunities you’ll find in your twenties, adopt a “growth” mindset, rather than a “fixed” mindset, to better equip yourself to get the most out of your challenges.  This is how cultivating confidence.

People with growth mindsets believe that their own skills and talents are in a constant state of change, and can be improved with practice and knowledge. This attitude makes them view failures as opportunities to learn and grow. They approach challenges by working harder or trying new strategies, and are more likely to come out of a challenging situation with confidence and enthusiasm.  

People with fixed mindsets see their own skills and talents as all-or-nothing propositions: they either have it or they don’t. They’re smart or they’re stupid. This attitude leads them to avoid struggle, as struggle is a sign that they don’t have “it,” whatever “it” is in that particular situation. People with fixed mindsets give up more quickly when challenged with difficult tasks and see challenges and failures with distress and shame. 

People with growth mindsets react better to challenges and setbacks than do people with “fixed” mindsets and are better able to acquire new skills. They generally outperform people with fixed mindsets and have rosier outlooks on life and work.  

(Shortform note: To learn how to develop a growth mindset, read our summary of Grit.)

Devote 10,000 Hours to Learning Your Skill

Research shows that the best predictor of a person’s success is not innate talent but instead, the amount of time she invests in the endeavor. Consistently, across all kinds of industries from medicine to music, mastery of a skill comes after about 10,000 hours of dedicated practice. At 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year, this means five years. This is also an important part of cultivating confidence.

Often, twenty-somethings are unprepared for this truth, expecting to start a job and immediately be not only good at it but also openly appreciated for it. This disconnect between expectations and reality leads to anxiety and causes many twenty-somethings to abandon their pursuits too soon because they are discouraged by their lack of mastery.

(Shortform note: For further exploration of skills development, read our summary of Peak.)

Recognize the Successes You’ve Already Had

Don’t discount the work you’ve already put into a pursuit. Take stock of how long you’ve been working at something and calculate how much longer it will take before you can start feeling mastery of it. Being aware of the process will help you not get discouraged by it because of unrealistic expectations.

Cultivating Confidence: Use Your 20s to Build Skills

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Defining Decade summary:

  • Why the twenties are your most important decade
  • How you were fooled into thinking it was an extended period of youth and freedom
  • Why you should use this decade to find personal and professional success

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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