I was talking with Synyster Gates, the virtuosic guitarist of Avenged Sevenfold, about the nature of confidence

"What always blows my mind is that our singer (M. Shadows) is incredibly intelligent and extremely extroverted, yet he gets the most nervous out of everyone in the band," he said. "I'm probably the least nervous... but then again, I start up wondering if any great guitarists are in the audience... and I always wind up having this 'am I good enough?' complex.

"In the end," he laughed, "everyone is all sorts of f-ed up." 

He's right. At times, we're all at least a little insecure. A little bit frightened. A little bit messy. 

No matter how hard we try, we're all a mixed bag.

Sound depressing? Sure.

But also empowering.


I was really nervous the first time I interviewed Richard Branson.  

After all, he's Sir Richard: Quintessential entrepreneur. Noted philanthropist and humanitarian. World-class adventurer. Influencer of world leaders.

And I'm... me.

But I didn't need to be nervous. He turned out to be gracious. Thoughtful. Considerate. (He even gave me half his sandwich.) Even though personal reality rarely lives up to public perception, Richard was exactly what you would hope he would be.

And then there's this: As I was leaving I heard him say to the PR rep, "Do you think that was okay? I'm not sure I did some of his questions justice."

And it hit me: Even though he's incredibly successful, incredibly intelligent and accomplished and influential, he's also insecure. He wanted to do well in interview: To come across as smart, and insightful...

Just like me.

Just like you.


Granted, some never show it, hiding their insecurities behind a cocky, aloof, or forbidding facade.

But many do show it.

After our interview, Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett told me he had been nervous because he "never imagined he would ever be in a magazine like Inc." (He's an entrepreneur; why wouldn't he be?) Ashton Kutcher reached out after our interview to say he would be happy to give me a do-over if I felt his answers were weak. (They weren't.) Jack Welch paused after a question and said, "Let me think about that for a minute. I don't want to sound dumb." (Dumb is the last thing Jack sounds like.)

I can list plenty more.

Because we're all just people: No matter how talented, how celebrated, how successful or influential or connected someone may appear on the outside... on the inside, people are just people. We all share the same doubts and fears. 

That high-powered VC you're about to pitch? She's smart. Savvy. Successful. Naturally, you're nervous. Even intimidated. You're afraid your vision, your plans, your foresight, and your passion won't be good enough?

You're afraid you won't be good enough.

But so is she. No matter her track record, she's still insecure about the future: Whether she can spot the next group company, the next great entrepreneur, the next great opportunity... deep inside, she worries that she won't be good enough.

Underneath the trappings of success lies a man or woman just as nervous and insecure as you are.

Symbols of success are just that: Symbols. Because we're all just people, the playing field is a lot more level than it might appear.

The next time you find yourself feeling nervous about meeting someone, pitching someone, selling someone, connecting with someone... make sure your nervousness isn't misplaced.

It makes sense to be nervous about how you will perform, especially if you aren't prepared. (Confidence is all about preparation; the more prepared you are, the more confident you feel.)

But it doesn't make sense to be nervous about the person. No matter how successful on the outside, on the inside they're just like you: Scared. Nervous. Insecure. Messy.

As Synyster would say, all sorts of f-ed up.  

Which is a very empowering thought. Use it to calm your nerves when you meet someone impressive. Use it to inspire confidence when you take on a daunting challenge. 

Use it to remind yourself that you can be just as successful -- in whatever way you choose to define success -- as the people you admire.

Because deep inside, we're all the same.

In a very good way.