How To Build Confidence – A Lesson From Steve Jobs And James Cameron

You are a dynamic person with unknown potential.

Your confidence is the knob that can maximize your potential, or turn it off completely. That’s right – your confidence level at each extreme is capable of producing two completely different people.

The average person wallows around in the middle-to-lower end of the confidence spectrum. They make a devastating assumption – that the difference between the “great ones” and themselves is massive. The assumption is true – but is its own cause – a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I watched some TED talks today. If you don’t know about them, TED talks are an incredible learning resource. Almost every speech I’ve watched is thought-provoking and smart.

The first speech I viewed today was by Steve Jobs – the creator of the undisputed leader in consumer technology (Apple). The second was by James Cameron – the mastermind behind the two highest grossing films in history. These men are the best of the best. They are the leaders in two highly competitive industries. They are confident.

We can learn from people far less successful than these men, but the elite tend to have the purest form of whatever it is that makes people amazing. Let me clarify something right now – Steve Jobs and James Cameron aren’t amazing because they’re rich – they’re amazing because of their creativity, pure desire, and significant contributions to the human race.

Monetary wealth is just a natural result of that.


Steve Jobs Confidence

Steve Jobs – How to live before you die

“…You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust something – your gut, destiny, life,  karma, whatever – because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.”

On being fired at Apple: “What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating. I didn’t know what to do for a few months…but something dawned on me, I still loved what I did. I had been rejected, but I was still in love.”

“I didn’t see it then, but being fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.”

Jobs went on to create Pixar and another company called Next that Apple bought (which brought Steve back and the rest is history).

James Cameron Suit

James Cameron – Before Avatar … a curious boy

“I was told by the folks at my company that we weren’t going to be able to do this for a while (speaking of Avatar), so I shelved it and made this other movie about a big ship that sinks (Titanic).”

“Secretly what I wanted to do was to dive to the real wreck of Titanic and that’s why I made the movie. And that’s the truth. Now… the studio didn’t know that.”

(In between Titanic/Avatar) “I made all of these documentary films for a very limited audience. So no fame, no glory, no money – what are you doing? You’re doing it for the task itself, for the challenge…and the thrill of discovery.”

How To Build Confidence

The confidence that these men have is extraordinary – and why shouldn’t it be with all they’ve done? They know a thing or two about how to build confidence. And while I didn’t get an interview with them, observation provided me with an answer.

Confidence begins with curiosity and courage.

Steve Jobs loved computers and was very interested in them from an early age. James Cameron was obsessed with Science Fiction and the ocean from an early age. They both had intense curiosity about the things they achieved greatness in. Do you think they even thought about confidence when they were doing what they love? No, it was embedded in their curiosity.

Curiosity includes confidence by ignoring it. If I have a strong curiosity to learn about beewolves, I’m not worried about failing or looking stupid – I just want to know about them. As a result of that, I’ll do whatever it takes to learn about this type of wasp. I may accidentally kill 15 of them and get stung in the face 53 times, but I’ll keep trying because I need to satisfy that curiosity. This type of perseverance is exactly what accompanies confidence and breeds success.

Not only did they have curiosity, but they had the courage to pursue their curiosities. What good is curiosity if you’re so scared or socially conditioned that you do nothing about it?

James Cameron lived 600 miles from the Ocean in Canada, but he still went to Buffalo, New York in the winter time to learn to scuba dive in a swimming pool. He has since spent 3,000 hours underwater (diving or in a submersible). He chose film-making because it was the best way for him to express his love.

Steve Jobs, as said in the quote, was fired from Apple and still had the courage to create Pixar – now the biggest animation studio in the world. He also created Next which led to his second stint with Apple.

Circumstantially, their decisions weren’t all that logical according to a conservative mind. Cameron “should have” waited until he was closer to the ocean to pursue scuba diving. After being fired, Jobs “should have” gotten a stable job at another company as well-payed executive with his credentials.

It reminds me of the big risk I took earlier this year. I’ve found that the deeper I go in this “risky direction” – the more curious, courageous, and confident I become. It’s getting exciting. My ideas are getting bigger and I’m starting to execute them.

So we learn from these great men that curiosity can spur us on to great things and build our confidence. I think this somewhat indirect way of building confidence is superior because of how natural it is. You’re not forcing the issue of confidence, you gain confidence by being so interested in something that you’re willing to fail over and over again as you pursue it in an inspiring, almost reckless kind of way.

“But failure has to be an option in art and in exploration – because it’s a leap of faith. And no important endeavor that required innovation was done without risk. You have to be willing to take those risks…

In whatever you’re doing – failure is an option, but fear is not.”

~ James Cameron

Be curious. From that, be courageous enough to take risks to satisfy that curiosity. And finally, let your confidence flow naturally as you make progress towards your dreams.

About the Author

I'm lazy, but you can call me Stephen. When you're as lazy as I am, you need superior strategies to live well. My strategies are so effective that I'm productive every single day. As the world tries to figure out how to always stay motivated, I create strategies that don't require it.

Angela Irvin

Having the courage to pursue our curiosities is an attribute that many leave of us leave behind in childhood. Have you noticed that when following a natural curiosity, it rarely feels like work – even if it is work?

Thumbs up, Stephen (using both of my thumbs) 😀

Oh, and I agree with you regarding the TED talks; they’re awesome.

Archan Mehta


Thank You. Wow: what an inspiring post. It took my breath away: it is that good.

Reading this post made me feel like you are a genius. It takes a genius to write a post like this one. I think you have a bright future because I think I am good at spotting talent.

Steve Jobs I have admired for the longest time. If memory serves, Steve dropped out of Reed College in Oregon. Reed is a private, elite school and Jobs did not have the money to pay for tuition and other expenses. You don’t need a college education if you are a genius.

I think Steve was also bored by formal education and wanted to do something on his own. However, Steve was adrift for some time and was clueless because he could not put his finger on it; he even sought out sages in the Himalalays in India. Steve meditated, contemplated, was broke and did not have any money. On Sundays, Steve was happy to get a free, vegetarian meal outside the Hare Krishna temple in the Bay Area.

You can imagine what Steve had to go through before he achieved. Today, Steve is one of the wealthiest on planet earth, but it is his innate sense of curiosity and wonder that allowed him to reach that goal.

When you are curious as a child, you just pursue your curiosity. You are in a zen like state. In that state, you do not think about fear and confidence: you just want to satisfy your curiosity.

If you observe children at play, they are just at play and nothing else. As adults, we do not think like that: we create a prison in our mind and fall prey to it. So, your post resonated with me. You have a way with words and ideas, cut to the chase. Your writing is fluid, analytical and your observation is accurate and perceptive.

Ideally, curiosity should be pursued for the sake of it and not because it will make you wealthy and will land you on the cover of Time magazine like Steve Jobs and James Cameron.

To paraphrase Albert Einsten: curiosity has its own reasons for existing. Do not question why you have curiosity. Never lose a holy curiosity. Pursue your curiosity and satisfy it.
Even if you fail, so what? So what if you do not become rich and famous? That’s not the goal.


Stephen Guise

I agree that we can lose it in childhood. I believe the school system has a lot to do with that. We’re taught boring things in a boring way, and our imaginations are hardly encouraged.

Thanks Angela. 🙂

Stephen Guise

Wow Archan, I’m flattered! Thank you very much for those encouraging words. 🙂

In that speech I saw, Steve said that he (paraphrase) “didn’t want to spend his parents’ life savings on something (college) that he didn’t really see helping him make progress towards what he wanted to do.” So while I’m sure he was broke too, he did it to save his parents’ money. He mentioned eating at the Temple you mentioned in the speech.

Yes, like Angela was saying, we tend to be very curious as children and lose it somewhere along the way. James Cameron said that his curiosity and fascination of the ocean is “as strong as it ever was.”

I definitely try to be concise in my writing. I could be wordy (i.e. verbose) and use fancy words, but that doesn’t benefit anyone.

Ah, great quote by a great man! Einstein was also intensely curious. Wealth and fame are a lousy goal in such an interesting world – agreed. 🙂

Thank you Archan.

Riley Harrison

That’s a great post Stephen (might be your best to date). I’m into insights that are actionable or so motivating that they lead directly to action. Thank you. It’s back to the drawing board for me.

Stephen Guise

Awesome Riley, I’m happy you liked it! This post was particularly fun to put together. I’m a big fan of what these guys have done, and I can especially relate to James Cameron’s love of the ocean and Science Fiction – though I’m more into fantasy myself.

It’s back to the drawing board for me too! I’m curious. 🙂

Benjamin K.

Stephen, this is brilliant. It is deeply motivating and definitely my favorite post thus far. Like Archan, Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein have been sources of inspiration to me for years. Here are a couple more quotes from Einstein regarding curiosity (and the educational system):
“I have no special gift – I am only passionately curious.”
“It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”

At times, even recent times, I have been frustrated that my curiosity has led me to being an unemployed, college drop-out. However, the lives of people like Jobs, Cameron, Einstein and a post like this, inspire me to keep pursuing my curious passion. It is encouraging to read this post and gain a better understanding of the inexplicable confidence I have in dreams that are so improbable.

Your insights seem to get deeper as your writing improves and retains its characteristic clarity. Thank you.


Stephen Guise

Hey Ben!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts (and those quotes from an intelligent man with great hair). I did think of Einstein when I was writing about curiosity, naturally. The more I think about it, the more I believe that curiosity is worth writing a book about.

What can we do besides pursue our passions? Sacrifice our core desires for money and comfort? I’d rather be poor. I am poor, so I’m not just saying that. 😛

Thanks – internally, I have noticed an improvement as well. I’m learning a lot as time goes on!

*holds up glass of wine*

“Cheers, to our dreams”

I just wanted to confirm that toasts are better in person. Confirmed.

Matt R

“Confidence begins with curiosity and courage.”
Does courage give confidence or confidence give courage?

For me, it’s when the passion to see your vision is so powerful that all failure is just a little rock in the way of you walking towards your end goal.
The passion, the courage, and the absolute hatred of fear can overcome all obstacles like failure and rejection. (Of course, if you have a plan that makes that vision easier to execute, then you’re even farther along.)

Stephen Guise

Hey Matt, that’s a great question!

If I had to say that any of the three mentioned was the precedent, it would be curiosity. But as I said in the article, curiosity without courage is pretty worthless. So I was essentially saying that curiosity leads to confidence (but that you need courage to explore your curiosity).

But to answer that question directly, I don’t know for sure. They are so connected that it might be a situation where gaining one boosts the other. Curiosity is something that can be completely independent from the others, which makes it special.

So it could be that you start out with curiosity and then gain confidence to have the courage to explore your curiosity. But it comes down to which is easier to control and I think that courage is easier to control than confidence, which is why I gave it the nod.

You mentioned passion, and that is certainly a factor in building confidence. This article was one way to build confidence – but I don’t see it as the only way. I certainly agree with the validity of the ideas you stated.

Thanks for that thought-provoking comment Matt. You really got me thinking. 🙂

Kelly Gloss

Martyn’s been meaning to comment on this article but I guess I’ll have to do it for him.

Confidence springs from courage. I’m pretty sure it isn’t the other way around. That’s a deep subject though, and I’m just on this level of existence. Cough.

In all seriousness, this is one of your best poses.

Stephen Guise

Sorry Kelly, but you’re a poor substitute for Martyn. Don’t tell yourself I said that.

I agree that courage leads to confidence. Confidence just doesn’t seem like something you can control, but you can muster up courage.

Haha, you must have a bad cough if it even comes out in text. Get well soon Kelly.

Thanks! I’m glad you liked this “pose.” 🙂

Ricardo Bueno

A mentor once told me that the formula for success is:

1.) Clear Goals,
2.) Hard Work,
3.) Unwavering Focus

I keep that in mind when I approach each new day, each new week and when I look towards the year (or several) ahead. I know deep down that I love what i’m doing, that we’re making progress and that I’ll reach my goals even if it’s one step at a time. That fuels my confidence and it keeps me moving forward.

Stephen Guise

I love that list Ricardo! It is very simple, yet undeniably effective.

Thanks for sharing that.

Is It Down

It’s funny – Steve Jobs and James Cameron have both been men that I’ve looked up to for quite a while, even before reading this post.. But reading it just reminds me of why I’ve looked up to them for so long! Thanks for sharing their stories. 🙂



Another great article! I think curiosity is something people often forget about. I agree – curiosity allows you to cast aside other peoples’ opinions and your own worries about how good you are compared to other people. I’m studying zoology at university (your college, Americans) for the sole reason that I’m curious about it and I feel like I can continue learning about it for the rest of my life. Embracing curiosity makes it so much easier to tap into what you want and avoid all the superfluous stuff.
I always find that the more scared I am before doing something, the more enjoyable that experience is at the time. Feel the fear… 🙂


the elite tend to have the purest form of whatever it is that makes people amazing…wow thanks for putting it down so beautifully!

Stephen Guise

Haha. 🙂

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