Welcome to my series of posts about confidence! You’ve already heard from Caitlin Berczik and I have at least three more fine folks lined up to tell me what in God’s name confidence even is, which I hope is as enjoyable to other people as it was to me.
I tried for weeks to write something about my own confidence, or lack thereof, to share here and contextualize those pieces. My journal is full of thoughts on The Artist’s Way, failure, competence, and the lingering Catholic belief that all people, but especially this person right here, are inherently flawed or sinful, so I must forever compensate for those flaws. Nothing has really come together nicely.
I’ve listed times that I felt confident, when I’ve thrown myself into an activity with love
and enthusiasm because I didn’t know better than to feel so capable. Early school years, high school marching band, running, triathlons. Writing. These were escapes for me, ways of churning through times of otherwise extreme discomfort. By having these outlets, I could get away from the stresses of being a barely-tolerated know-it-all child, struggling with dramatic middle-school friendships, getting absolutely no romantic attention from boys, entering an entirely new world in college, hating college, and moving into a white-collar working world. I wasn’t innately talented at all of the things I used as escapes, but I did them anyway and felt proud of it.
On the other hand, I say I felt confident in these things but maybe I was more cocky. For many years, I stopped working on the things I considered strengths or passions. If you’re good at something, I thought, you’re just good at it. You either do it, and the writing or music or whatever flows out of you in perfect form, or you aren’t actually any good. I didn’t understand developing skills or nurturing talent or putting in the work. Instead, I tried to shore up my weaknesses, taking jobs I was only okay at, pushing myself to be less shy, fixating on my perceived flaws. While this was a good strategy for overcoming my crippling shyness (thanks, Toastmasters!), it was also a
good way of fostering terrible self-esteem.
Until recently, I could not articulate any of my strengths, but I could rattle off a litany of weaknesses. I hate working in teams. I don’t speak up. I’m bad at saying n0. I’m cranky and irritable and judgmental. I spent my adult life deep in this mindset, dwelling on it, mistaking my own meanness for honesty and authenticity. But every so often I felt that I was doing a good job. I could occasionally recognize moments of competence. At least competence felt real.
Confidence, in my mind, was a man in a suit bullshitting his way to the top on the labor of competent people below him (cough cough cough cough cough election joke, cough cough cough cough cough). Confidence was not knowing you were a complete asshole who was terrible. Competence was just fucking crushing it day after day, and maybe you toil in obscurity forever, but at least nobody could accuse you of arrogance. If you’re competent, you’re not terrible. If you’re confident, how would you know?!
I know I’m not the only person who struggles with this dichotomy. There’s a wealth of research on imposter syndrome, socialized self-diminishing behaviors, and others doubting women’s expertise in a way they don’t doubt men. Recently, I decided that if so much outside is working against me, it probably doesn’t need my help. Nothing and nobody is guaranteed to stand up for me except for me. So I’m practicing more positive self-talk, forgiving myself for mistakes, and trying to let go of the things I can’t force to align with my principles. Most importantly, I started asking other people what confidence is. I’m trying to relearn the concept with more positive associations and figure out how to demonstrate confidence so that other people acknowledge it. So. We’ll see how it goes.