The power of AUTHENTICITY… building confidence without being the Cool Kid

Admissions: I AM NOT a model, a tall man or even a man of average height. I AM NOT a great athlete or ever mistaken for one. I AM NOT a brilliant individual nor have delusions of becoming one. I DO NOT always make the most politically correct statements and don’t always speak the truth.

Affirmations: I AM a dedicated, faithful husband and father who is hanging on to his deeply, receding widow’s peak but will never adopt a comb-over. I AM a man who can fly coach with plenty of leg room and proud that I can wear an off-the-shelf Banana Republic slim fit “small” suit.  I AM a voracious reader, smarter than the average Joe, surround myself with people way smarter than myself and an extreme industrialist.  While I inherited no superior athletic genes, I AM one hell of a competitor and refuse to ever give up.  I ALWAYS tell people what’s on my mind, no hidden agendas, and you can believe at least 98.3% of what I tell you.

To be authentic… what does that mean?

Is “genuine” the first word that comes to mind? Perhaps “original” is more applicable if you’re the creative type.  Regardless of your choice, when applied to your moral compass, all words speak of being true to yourself – fully embracing all your faults and shortcomings and having no misconceptions about your abilities.  Let’s be honest, very few of us have what it takes to become professional athletes, fashion models, neuro surgeons or even great cooks in our own homes… and that’s OK.  That’s the way we were designed, with our unique skill sets and abilities, however unusual they may be.

WHAT IF you could suddenly be comfortable with all your defects, shortcomings and general idiosyncrasies and be at ease?  Does it even sound possible? IT IS POSSIBLE if you believe that you, and you alone, have the power to change how you feel about yourself.  People only see what you project of yourself.  If you truly believe you are the best version of yourself, regardless of how you compare to your peers, it will show in your daily walk and people will want to be around you.

Unapologetically YOU

Example: The burn scars covering 65% of my body are very noticeable and people’s facial expressions reinforce that reality. The fact I have a prosthetic ear is also noticeable, especially during triathlon season when I’m slimmer and there’s a ¼” gap between my ear and my face. I learned over 30 years ago my scars were permanent, prompting me to quit trying to hide the scars after spending my entire childhood hoping others wouldn’t notice.  Instead, as I accepted my new self and came to terms with the finality of my scars, I decided to adopt crazy stories detailing outlandish feats of defying death, leaving unbeknownst listeners stunned.

  1. Tossed overboard by a big wave while shark fishing. I survived the shark attack despite the shark ripping off my ear and taking a big chunk out of the right side of my body.
  2. Attacked by piranhas after capsizing my canoe in the Amazon. I survived but nearly bled to death on my 10 mile hike back to camp.
  3. Only survivor of a plane crash in the mountains. I survived but it was a close call as I endured the elements waiting on a rescue party.

*Facebook followers often read of crazy ear antics, even those involving unsuspecting TSA employees in my attempt to give them a little excitement.  

So many people are scared of being rejected by the world for being who they really are.  To mask those fears, they seek to emulate glamorous lifestyles seen in magazines or on TV – changing their wardrobe, changing their hair, getting tattoos and sometimes even changing the people they associate with.  The song “Cool Kids” by EchoSmith accurately describes what every kid thinks…”

“She sees them walking in a straight line, that’s not really her style.

And they all got the same heartbeat, but hers is falling behind.

Nothing in this world could ever bring them down.

Yeah, they’re invincible, and she’s just in the background.

And she says,

 I wish that I could be like the cool kids,

‘Cause all the cool kids, they seem to fit in.”

Should we really want to fit in? Fitting in makes grade school and high school easier but it doesn’t prepare us for the real world, where everyone is searching for their identity (authenticity) and trying their best to distinguish themselves from their peers.  It should be no surprise shows like GLEE and The Big Bang Theory are national sensations.  We can all relate to their struggles and the empowerment they feel by embracing their authenticity with their silent confidence and acceptance of their individuality.



Many associate confidence with arrogance, pretentiousness or a false sense of reality.  To the contrary, true confidence is a manifestation of being comfortable in your own skin – accepting what you can and can’t do and knowing the difference. Confidence is what allows us to take on challenges even when all circumstances tell us we’re not adequately prepared. Who is to say who is “prepared” until you’ve tried?  Many able bodied and able minded individuals have failed to accomplish great things for fear of ever trying.  In contrast, many of our greatest leaders and change agents overcame insurmountable circumstances because they believed they could and were willing to commit themselves to doing so.


I am a firm believer confidence builds from learning and knowing your own potential, an introspective inventory of your strengths and weaknesses.  Who would have thought being burned, despite losing my ability to compete in sports that required “touch” and “grace” would prepare me for competing in sports that rewarded high tolerances for pain and mental toughness.  My confidence grew as I committed myself to more activities where my strengths could be leveraged to create positive outcomes (Ironman, wrestling). Conversely, I also learned to avoid activities where the cards were stacked against me and no amount of hard work or effort will alter the outcome (golf, tennis).  My confidence also grew from learning my greatest weakness (perceived) could actually be my greatest asset with the right mindset.

Example: Being successful in Sales requires the ability to be memorable and statistics have proven that tall men and attractive women do well in Sales…they’re memorable.  Alternatively, I have burn scars over 65% of my body and have only one ear (real ear that is).  People very quickly notice the scars and realize something bad happened.  Most would agree having scars over 65% of your body is not an ideal attribute to be successful in Sales. I beg to differ. How many tall men and attractive women do you know in Sales… a lot.

But how many one eared burn guys do you know in Sales? ONE… and his name is Shay Eskew.  Now who is memorable!

Confidence comes from embracing your weaknesses and proudly broadcasting them to the world.  You may be surprised, but most of the people we look up to have insecurities that will surprise you.  No one is immune to the feeling but embracing it will definitely set you apart from the crowd.


It is our authenticity that attracts people, not our ability to emulate what we see others do.


Shay is an All American and World ranked triathlete, burn survivor with scars over 65% of his body and is a sought out national motivational speaker. Despite being told he’d never compete in sports again at the age of 8, Shay is living testament to “Anything is Possible”: 4x Ironman, 4x member of Team USA, ranked top 1% of Ironmen worldwide and has competed in 9 triathlon world championships, including the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. His mantra has always been to not merely be a “finisher” but to be a “competitor.” If you enjoyed this article, I encourage you to check out my other posts.

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