By Iulia Gheorghe
A couple of days ago, I was chatting with a friend about the labyrinthal path to self-confidence, dragging through it and having to deal with its sinuous serpentines, flooded lanes, gloomy caves, soggy mud-holes. Whoa, what a view to boost the stamina of two girls galvanized by the desire to figure it all out and in the same time knowing that it’s undoubtedly impossible. We could have poured some real cocktails on our thoughts to forget about the self-confidence cocktail, but she suggested pushing the investigation further.
So I called, one more time, on my beloved friends, the books. Beware of whoever tells you that you will find the absolute truth in a book (you are allowed to cross the street next time you will meet that person). Anyway, even if they existed, absolute truths would be like sirens: breath-taking in one’s imagination, hideous in reality. This is why, when I face a burdensome issue, I search in books not remedies and recipes, but morsels of wisdom, a different approach to discover other angles, a new and unexpected trail towards an answer.
I got back to some of those I read or skimmed and tried to understand why the process of becoming self-confident was paved with burning rocks which ironically turned us cold feet. All authors agreed that you couldn’t become fundamentally self-confident without self-respect. Amy Alkon (popular columnist also known as the Advice Goddess) writes in her book “Unf*ckology. A field guide to living with guts and confidence”:
“I won’t bullshit you. The road to self-respect is paved with humiliation and setbacks. Most of mine involved my desperate attempts to be loved. We all want love, but I had ulterior motives. In fact, the last thing I cared about was all that lofty crap like shared goals, resonating values, and building a life with another person. I just wanted to be wanted.”
Alkon discusses the self-confidence element in creating and developing romantic relationships, but what she says relates also to our professional relationships and the persona we build up at work. Precarious work markets and prevailing totems as perfectionism and marathons of achievements push us to the edge of wanting to be chosen, credited for and appreciated.
We crave to be wanted and in order to arrive there, we are capable of forgetting about the common sense values like fairness, loyalty or solidarity. This is why a lot of accomplishments don’t make us feel accomplished in the end. Perhaps we’ve lost the main essence of self-respect somewhere on the road. That “wanting to be wanted part” gets us to do things that we labelled as unthinkable in our adolescence, when we were rebel and full of dreams. Things like eating shit. And the most terrible part is that, generally, we eat shit because of assholes - nice people wouldn’t put us through it.
One would be tempted to minimize an assohole’s influence on one’s life, believe that things could get better in time, or worse, that they could help assholes magically change (that happens a lot in movies, but even the Easter bunny has more chances to exist. Don’t get me wrong, change is possible, though is has to come from within the asshole and I know something about it ‘cause I’ve done some assholish things in the past. The only solution is to get the hell out of there as the “Asshole Survivor Guide” outlines:
When you’ve entered a den of assholes, you do everything possible to get out as fast as you can—or, better yet, to figure out how to avoid that lair in the first place.
Thank you, Robert Sutton (author of the guide and professor of management science) for insisting on prevention. Once we find ourselves involved with assholes (in no matter what kind of relationship) it’s pretty difficult to get out fast enough to avoid deep pain and trauma. If you feel stuck, try to focus on step-by-step solutions instead of ruminating on and on about the deep shit you’re in. Schedule time to think about those solutions – your first thought is rarely the best thought - instead of hurrying up to please every soul on this planet. There is a price to pay: maybe you will end up single, with less friends, facing a boss who hates you or not making so much money as you did before, but I guess when we find ourselves in this unwieldy situation, we’ve already experienced that feeling of “nailing it” and still feeling as empty as an abandoned champagne bottle after a New Year’s party.
If we build self-confidence only on the ground of perfectionism or serial achievements, we will probably finish by feeling miserable, because life streams are unpredictable, tumultuous and no matter how well we do, we can still hit rock bottom anytime. In those critical moments, we need something else than ephemeral successfulness to fuel that self-confidence engine.
In the foreword for Pema Chödrön’s (author and Buddhist nun) book, “Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better”, Seth Godin, bestselling author and former dot com business executive, pinpoints that going forward is to give up on “getting all the frogs in the bowl.” Getting all the frogs in a bowl is impossible (if you don’t want to euthanize them), as the frogs jump and you have to start all over again. Instead he suggests dancing while frogs continue to jump. Maybe you are telling yourself: “No, thank you, this would imply doing mistakes and witnessing messy outcomes. I will end up with a shattered self-confidence, that’s for sure”.
Naturally, the fear of failure is a terrifying place for self-confidence (the feeling of failing is goddam bitter), but eating shit is so much worse, a guided missile to ruin in the long run every ounce of self-worthiness.
If we look carefully enough in our multi-layered, multi-dimensional self, we can identify that version of us who can dance while frogs are jumping. That “me” who is confident enough - even when walls are collapsing and tornados are turning everything upside down. We can try to connect to that part of ourselves, by emerging in something that we love and makes sense to us. Life coach Jen Sincero, in her book “You are a Badass”, made it clear that this wasn’t necessarily about making fortune or solving the universe’s problems.
“Your calling could simply be to take care of your family or to grow the perfect tulip. This is about getting mighty clear about what makes you happy and what makes you feel the most alive, and then creating it instead of pretending you can’t have it. Or that you don’t deserve it.”
Going to that place, getting to know that “someone” inside us, already self-confident because he/she is doing something for the sake of it and not for validation or approval from somebody's ego, is essential for the trip to self-discovery. Ok, I agree, maybe it feels more like a bungee-jumping session than a real trip. But good news, that “someone” is ready to help us on how to say no to bullshit and focusing on doing instead of on being perfect. That “someone” is already in you, so give it a try and say hello. Who knows what can happen. Last but not least, take one more wisdom bullet (from writer Kathryn Harrison) for the road to fire it up when you find yourself discouraged and sitting in a puddle of wet Kleenex tissues:
“ We can’t control so much of what happens to us in life. Even our own actions unfold in time in ways we can’t possibly imagine. But there is someone inside who remains untouched by all of that. That person may not really exist in the light, but she is there, waiting, in the dark.”