It is a fact, that it isn't easy to provide exact definitions for these matters, because these are delicate issues that one experiences internally and I believe that sometimes they are more subjective rather than objective. What we can say, is that when we say that one should be self-confident, it doesn't mean that the person who is about to do something in his life - one who really wants to do something, to put all his strength into it, so to speak - has an egotistic self-confidence. He would normally say that he will try to do something, that he will do his best, and God will help.
This reminds me of the service for monks taking their vows; there, the element of discarding the egotistic conscience is far more intense - there is a series of questions that the candidate monk is subjected to by the priest:
"Will you remain in ascesis and in the monastery, until your dying breath?"
To which the candidate replies: "Yes, with the help of God."
"Will you guard yourself with prudence and reverence etc...?"
"Yes, with the help of God."
"You have come here, to preserve obedience until the death."
"Yes, with the help of God."
In other words, the individual is asked some very powerful questions, which are sometimes even beyond his human abilities, and that is why the individual - who is supposedly at the stage of rejecting everything, even himself - replies with the positive response of: "yes, I will do what you say, but only with the help of God". This indicates that the person's freedom is by no means abolished, and that along with that freedom, we do not also abolish our own person, our personality. When we say our being, our person, we of course imply that we are predisposed, that we are in possession of our powers and our will; that it is my desire to do this, and may God help me accomplish it. And if I do not achieve it, then I humble myself and ask God for forgiveness, and with humility and repentance, I cover the void that is created by the inability to enforce in practice whatever I had stated.
And this applies especially to younger ages - it is very important, because, well, when one is an adult, older in years.... what kind of self-confidence can one have? One might as well bid farewell, then and there... if a person is past 60, and 70... From 50 one begins to prepare himself, pack his belongings like someone who wants to move into a house - he has stayed there for a month, then the holiday is over, two or three days are left, I have to pack up finally, collect my things, my clothes, fold them up, wash them, arrange them in a suitcase, ready to leave in two or three days, as we aren't going to remain here...
You act entirely differently when you go someplace in the countryside for a vacation from the very first day, where you know you will be staying there for a month or two, and entirely differently when you go there on the last days of that vacation period. On the last days, it's over - you just pack your things...
When one is at the beginning of something, one has to have that enthusiasm and vision: how he will embark on his studies, how he is going to do something with his life, how he is going to get married, have a family, move on, ask for loans, build his house... all these things.... If he deprives himself of that vision for the future, if he removes that from himself, saying "I can't do anything", then that is not good - it is unhealthy, it is a sickly defeatism and God does not want us to be like that.... God made man to stand proud - in the positive sense of the word "proud" - that is, to be the king of all Creation and to rule over the entire world... God made us kings, He didn't make us to be defeatists and servile - but of course, only after we have ruled over our own passions and sins which render us servile. Only then will our spiritual freedom become - let's say - a free and spiritual kingdom in nature also, and therefore in our decisions also.
Everything that we do, we do because we want to: that is, I follow Christ in my life, because I want to follow Him... of course I want to, without a doubt...to relinquish my own will.... So, do you really want to be a Christian? OK, I want to be a Christian, I may not manage to succeed, but I want to - with the collaboration of God. With God's help, and by invoking God's help, yes, I can. I only need to deposit my intention, and God will give me the strength required - which reminds me of the wonderful quote in the Gerondikon (Book of Elders) that the Fathers used to repeat very often: "Give God your intention and you will receive strength from Him"...
What God wants from us is our will. We do not possess the strength; we may have some or have very little, but we do have our will: "yes, I want to do that thing, I want to be a Christian, I want to follow the Gospel, I want to keep my word and my promise, on the day of God. Will I be able to? I don't know, but I know I want to. So, if I want to, I submit my will and God will give me His strength, so that my freedom and God's power will work together for a person to progress."
In this way, we will not sense any dilemmas afterwards: "Do I have self-confidence, or do I have egotism?" If I do or don't have egotism will not become apparent here. If I do or don't have egotism will become apparent by other things also, isn't that so? Because you see, sometimes a person needs to show resistance.... how can we explain this? He needs to persist in what is his. Many will say "you are stubborn, you stick to your own will". So? What if I do? Am I supposed to be a reed that can be swayed here and there by the wind? Do you mean that if you commanded "Hey! Come down here!" I must come down? Or, "let's move on, let's go around there" I'm supposed to go there?
That is not how things should be. You need to have the personality to say: "NO, I will NOT go to that place; that is NOT in my mentality, I do NOT WISH to go down there, but you can go...." You should allow the other person to have his freedom: "You can do what you like, I respect your freedom, I cannot interfere with your freedom, but I most certainly do not bind my own freedom for any reason whatsoever, to do things that I don't want to. That's final"
As we all know from our own lives, a person needs to sometimes be so stable, so immovable in his stance, that his entire environment may even crush him, even with threats, like "if you don't do this thing, everything will be blown sky high..." or "if you don't intend to agree with what we say, and listen to us, everything in here will be......." and yet, he will respond with: "I will not budge from my position, and you can do what you like!"
A person needs to have this kind of personality; he shouldn't demolish his person - he simply shouldn't, just because he would supposedly be acting out of humility. That kind of stance is not humility; humility ensures the fulfilment of his personality - it doesn't decapitate him, a person is not a headless being. Humility makes us complete; humility provides us with the discretion to understand where we should stand fast and where we shouldn't stand; where we should say "NO" and remain steadfast in place, and where we should surrender fully to the other person, without conditions.
Therefore, we shouldn't imagine that it is inappropriate to have a will to do something in our life - to have a vision - especially in our youth - for example to have an "ambition", like becoming a doctor, say a heart surgeon... right? Well of course I want to! Can another tell you that it's not possible for your will to be done? Well? What should it be? Should I not want anything? Well of course it's not possible to not want anything; only a dead person wants nothing... even the major saints had a powerful will... what was it? It was God's will. Although the saints normally gave way to everything, when it came to doing God's will, they became immovable. They were not perturbed by anything, and even if the whole world fell upon them, they would absolutely not succeed in moving them in the least. In everything else, go ahead, take everything....
Remember what Saint Kosmas of Aetolia (lived in the 400-year Turkish occupation of Greece) used to say? "When you see Turks and they demand silver, let them take the silver; if they want lands, let them take the fields; let them take everything - do not resist. Only don't ever give your soul to a Turk. There, you must remain steadfast. There, you need to teach your personality what "NO" means, remain immovable and say "NO" to that thing."
Because unfortunately - but I can't say for sure and I don't want to generalize - this phenomenon has been observed in many youngsters nowadays, who have friends and are prone to saying "...but, they are my friends - what else can I do? They are the ones that keep me company - can I say NO to them? Can I disappoint them and oppose them? Can I ruin the group's atmosphere?"
Well, it can't be otherwise. If we want to have some degree of consistency in our life - and not have any consistency in matters of the faith, in our relationship with God, or have any relationship whatsoever with God, well, there are some things in life that can't be done. There are limits to our relationships with other people. How can there not be? As the wise saying goes, you don't allow any other person in your bed; ok, he can enter our living room, let him enter our kitchen, but he simply cannot be allowed into our private quarters. Strangers simply cannot enter there. We have boundaries there; you will say NO there, you cannot enter, you WILL NOT enter this area.
We need to learn this thing about placing boundaries. And as I mentioned previously, true humility bestows personality to a person; it is extremely powerful, but does not harm anyone. It harms no-one, just like God - Who governs the world yet doesn't harm anyone. No-one is as humble as God....
You see, God has given us freedom to do whatever we want. We have the freedom to reject Him, to spit on Him, to insult Him.... He has given us this freedom, because He doesn't harbor any feelings of insecurity. A humble person likewise doesn't harbor any feeling of insecurity, nor is he prone to feeling suspicious or weak; he allows the other to do as he wishes, but he himself remains fixed in his positions. He is also stable and harms no other person.
Egotistical self-confidence is in the one who claims: "I can do everything on my own and I have no need of anyone." THAT is an egotistical self-confidence. But NOT when you say "with God's help, I will do this - I will attempt to do this, I want to succeed in achieving it, and I beseech God to help me..."
The criterion - I believe - is apparent in the following example: We say "I would like to have passed these exams; I did my best, I studied, I did everything that should be done, but I didn't pass." Well, this is what reveals what is inside you - if you are spiritually healthy. OK, you will feel disappointed - humanly - but you will not feel despondent or desperate and drop everything. You will say to yourself "OK, I accept this, I accept this failure, I accept failure in my lifetime, I regard failure as a possible outcome. It doesn't scare me, it doesn't cause me to panic. Failure doesn't crush me. It is quite possible for me to encounter failure; it can't always be negotiable... I am a human, I have my limits, I am not perfect, I am not infinite, I can't achieve everything, and of course I will fail..."
You see, that is why - even when they sinned - the saints had the strength to stand up again with a simplicity and a healthy attitude; if they did sin, they would repent from the depths of their heart, and to the death, but they never succumbed to feelings of oppression and depression. We, however - if there is a sin within us - begin to ask various "whys" : Why did I do it? Why did I think of it? Why did I commit it?.... As if committing a sin is something weird.... I mean, why wouldn't you commit it? Who do you think you were? Did you believe yourself to be so important, so infallible, that you could never have failed, or committed a sin?
Sin and failure are right next to us at any given moment; we are "kneaded" together with them. This is a very natural thing, and that is why even the humble person should be cautious. He will say to himself "hey, I must be careful, I must not expose myself - I will be careful". A humble person will act cautiously, whereas a haughty person will say that there's no problem, and then... whoosh !!! down he goes.....
But still, we don't act fatalistically, even when we do place our lives in Christ, because Christ Himself will not allow us to become so self-indulgent. "Placing my life in Christ's care" doesn't mean you can sleep away your life and everything will go smoothly without a care. No. Life near Christ involves a serious struggle; it means that you must pay the price of your freedom with your blood. Your saying that "I will follow Christ" is not an easy thing, nor is it something quaint. It is extremely costly and oftentimes extremely difficult. To achieve it - to succeed - you need to apply all your strength to it, and it still won't suffice... In other words, it has nothing to do with fatalism: you do not resign yourself and expect fate to take you where you wish. It means you must struggle. Life in Christ is a struggle, or else don't bother, because you will not last - it will be impossible....
** Most people know that the famous "Fr. Maximos" in "The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality" is the Metropolitan of Lemessos, Athanasios. He was a monk on Athos, who had the opportunity to spend time with such holy elders as Elders Paisios and Ephraim of Katounakia and others. He was, at the time of the writing of the book, the Abbot of the Monastery of the "Panagia Machera". Since then, he has been consecrated Bishop of Lemessos (or Limassol).