Rethinking Confidence

“Be scared. You can’t help that. But don’t be afraid.”

William Faulkner

Have you ever really thought back on what being confident even means, and how can we actually get ourselves to be more confident?

After all, it’s easy to tell another person to just be confident, no different from how it’s like to simply say be positive, or be patient.

We tend to think of confidence through the lens of success. In other words, we tend to pump ourselves up into doing difficult things by wishfully fixating on the possibility that everything could go our way, as though we have any control over our desired outcome.

We like to tell ourselves that we are the best in the room, that we’re superhuman and that nothing could stop us.

But what if thinking of confidence in this way can be dangerously deluding? When you feel that you are already the best, what else is there for you to learn and improve on?

There’s a saying that “confidence is quiet, and insecurities are loud.” It can be argued that our usual way of trying to be confident isn’t what it is — rather, it is merely us overcompensating for our insecurities.

We don’t like that we don’t feel good enough. So we try to hide how insecure we really feel inside, by tricking ourselves into believing that we are the greatest at what we do.

With all of this being said, an alternate and healthier way of thinking about confidence is through the lens of failure. Confidence, then, is when you’re comfortable with the possibility of failure, of losing, of making an ass of yourself.

You acknowledge that things don’t always go your way, that the worst things could happen. Because you’re aware that there are plenty of things in life that aren’t in your control. You also aren’t denying your flaws and insecurities, but are accepting of them. You remember too, that you’re just one human being, and that you can never be free from making mistakes and failing. 

Something wonderful happens when you are able to have this sense of acceptance. Because when you aren’t obsessed with being the best in the room, you’re giving yourself the necessary space to learn and grow.

Not only that, once you let go of your obsessions, of the grandiose stories you tell yourself about yourself and your work, it’s much easier to just get started on whatever you’re working on.

From my own experience of writing on this blog, I could personally vouch for the fact that I write better when I’m “just writing”, rather than trying to come up with “a great piece.”

I’ve always maintained that I’m more concerned about writing, rather than having the word “writer” as a title, and that I prioritize being a good person more than I do about being a good “writer”, so to say. Because that frees me to do the thing that actually matters, which is putting in one word after another on a blank page.

It’s worth mentioning that this blog isn’t spared from moments of embarrassment and ridicule either. One instance has particularly stood out to me, which was about an article I wrote on Bob Dylan. I wrote the article when this blog was fairly new, and also at the time, I wasn’t yet well-acquainted with Dylan’s newer work, which I generally disregarded in that article.

Yet, years after the article was published, it suddenly gained some virality, when one of its readers decided to have it linked to their website, which was a popular aggregator of Dylan articles that they thought was worth reading. So for a while, I had comment after comment on that article from incredibly hardcore Dylan fans who slammed me for how ignorant I was on his newer music.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that you will always find yourself in utterly humiliating, embarrassing, and hurtful situations. That’s just how life is, and that really is a sign that you’re growing and challenging yourself.

Acknowledging this reality may not take away the pain, but it does equip you with what you need to go through it with more grace and humility.

Let me leave you with this one last thing: think back on the stories you tell yourself. Instead of telling yourself or trying to be the greatest whatever, try simplifying that narrative. Tell yourself instead that you’re just a student, or an employee, or a partner, or a son. Tell yourself that you may screw up, that even your best efforts could easily turn to shit — but you can always get back up, learn and be better.

That’s what confidence is.

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