Lessons in Building Self-Confidence from Helen Gurley Brown

Publishing legend and original Cosmo Girl Helen Gurley Brown is now 86 and overssed production of nearly 60 international editions of Cosmopolitan. Her secret: self-confidence. If you want to become self confident you need to do three things. 1) Become and optimist. 2) Face your fears and act. 3) Surround yourself with positive people.

Do you know Helen Gurley Brown? She is a publishing legend – the original Cosmo Girl. She became the editor in chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine in 1965. She held that job until 1997 when she became the editor in chief of the international edition of Cosmo. Now, she is 86 years old, and oversees the production of nearly 60 international editions of Cosmopolitan.


I read an article about Ms. Gurley Brown in the latest issues of SUCCESS Magazine. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I love SUCCESS. If I had to choose but one publication that I could read every month, it would be SUCCESS. If you’re not a subscriber, I suggest that you check it out at

In the article, Ms. Gurley Brown offers a couple of piece of advice that relate to self confidence.

“You don’t have to be brilliant. You don’t have to be a genius. But there is something you can do that’s probably pretty good, so just find out what that is and go in there and do it.”

This is great advice that goes to the heart of optimism. Optimists identify things at which they’re “pretty good”, and know that if they work hard enough at them, they’ll become really good – and successful.

“People think chutzpah is in the genes. It isn’t. It’s in the need and wanting and being willing to fall on your face. It isn’t fun. Who wants all that rejection? But life is sweeter if you make yourself do uncomfortable things.”

In other words, face your fears and act. Be willing to push your comfort limit. When you do, you might fail. When you fail start over, armed with the knowledge and experience that you gained from your failure.


Next year, Ms. Gurley Brown will celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary. She is married to David Brown, producer of movie blockbusters like Jaws and Driving Miss Daisy. Speaking of David Brown, Ms. Gurley Brown says…

“I owe him everything. Without him, I wouldn’t be who I am or achieved what I did.”

I think that Helen Gurley Brown’s work speaks for itself. She began work as a secretary in an ad agency in an era when she was forbidden to use the lobby staircase at the agency. That privilege was reserved for male executives and clients. She ended up being named a “Living Landmark” by the New York Landmark Conservatory. When she took over Cosmopolitan, it had sold 250 ad pages the previous year. By 1984, Cosmo was selling 2,513 ad pages a year. It still sells over 2,000.

While I believe that Helen Gurley Brown would have been a success with or without her husband, her comments on her marriage go to the heart of the third pillar of self confidence – surround yourself with positive people. When looking for a spouse or partner, choose someone who is positive, upbeat and supportive. Helen Gurley Brown did. So did I. Cathy is always there for me, offering encouraging words when I am struggling.

The common sense point here is simple. Successful people are self confident. Self confident people are optimistic. They face their fears and act. They surround themselves with positive people. Take some advice from Helen Gurley Brown, the woman who built Cosmopolitan magazine into a publishing phenomenon. Find something at which you’re “pretty good.” Use this as a launching pad for creating a successful life and career. Don’t be afraid to fail. But make sure that you learn from your failures. Finally, choose your friends and life partner well. Make sure that he or she is supportive of your goals and dreams. And, make sure that you support his or her goals and dreams as well.

That’s my take on what Helen Gurley Brown has to say about self confidence. What’s yours? Please leave a comment sharing your thoughts and stories with us. I really appreciate every single comment I get. As always, thanks for reading – and writing.


Self confidence is on the keys to success that I discuss in Straight Talk for Success.