In well-meaning attempts to boost our confidence ahead of challenging moments, people often try to draw our attention to our strengths: our intelligence, our competence, our experience.
But this can – curiously – have some awkward consequences.
There's a type of under-confidence that arises specifically when we grow too attached to our own dignity and become anxious around any situation that might seem to threaten it.
We hold back from challenges in which there is any risk of ending up looking ridiculous which comprises, of course, almost all the most interesting situations.
In a foreign city, we might grow reluctant to ask anyone to guide us to the nice bars, because they might think us an ignorant, pitiable, lost tourist.
We might long to kiss someone but never let on out of a fear that they could dismiss us as a predatory loser.
Or at work, we don't apply for a promotion, in case the senior management deems us delusionally arrogant.
In a concerted bid never to look foolish, we don't venture very far from our cocoon, and thereby – from time to time at least – miss out on the best opportunities of our lives.
At the heart of our under-confidence is a skewed picture of how dignified it is normal for a person to be.
We imagine that it might be possible, after a certain age, to place ourselves beyond mockery.