They say that Confidence is Key

Here’s a long post that I wrote a while back and then decided not to post because, well, it’s fairly personal. But mostly because I decided that it was too me me me to be interesting–which, given the subject of the post itself, has a sort of irony to it.

I’ve thought about it twice this week. The other day, Kait posted about The Value of Random Compliments. It was lovely, and part of what I got out of reading it was that I think a lot of compliments I don’t deliver because a) social interaction, but b) I’m uncomfortable receiving compliments, so I’m nervous about inflicting them on others.

And that is very simply explained by the fact that I have a ridiculous amount of trouble believing the sincerity of compliments delivered, and it’s been hard to say Thank You for something I don’t deserve. As a young adult, I found that some people are kind of offended when you try to turn aside their compliments, however, so I had to practice accepting them with studied grace. Even though it often feels very wrong, as though in saying Thank You, I am saying, Yes, I agree, I DO look nice today. Which often feels not only like lying, but also like vanity and pride.

And that all comes back to the topic of this post I never posted.

Well, I said there were two things. The second popped up this morning when a friend, who should recognize herself, was feeling discomfort in a social situation, and I realized that the reason she wasn’t putting herself forward was because she didn’t feel she had the right. She didn’t feel important enough, worthy enough, to trouble those people with her existence.

And that’s sad, because my friend is pretty fuckawesome. And of course nothing I could type at her would sway her thinking because that feeling is too well ingrained. I get that.

So anyway, as I’m working on it, maybe she’ll work on it, and if this is you, maybe you’ll work on it too. Here’s the post…

Two months ago, Kait talked about chosing “steady” as her focal word for the year. She got the idea from fellow author, Jessica Corra. If you don’t follow Jessica, I recommend her. She’s intelligent, charming, and good company. You’ll find her on Twitter @jessicacorra and we’re finally going to get to read her AFTER YOU when Dial releases it, expected Spring 2013. But enough about Ms. Jessica, this is about the word thing.

So when Kait chose her word and explained the concept to me, I liked it. Not enough to jump on the bandwagon instantly, I guess. But I’m sort who often needs to mull things over and let the right thing come to me.

Confidence is what came to me.

Confidence is a concept so lacking in my way of life that for most of that life I’ve tended to consider it a synonym for arrogance. I’ve had this sort of love-hate thing with the confident people in my life. I admire them for the way they go out and do things. I appreciate the things they do for me that I’m not willing to do for myself. I’m jealous of what they accomplish and the ease with which they seem to be able to do things that make me panic. I’m puzzled by what right they feel they can just go and do stuff, and by what logic they assume they’re welcome when they walk into a room. I am often grateful and resentful at once.

This is not something I’m proud of. It’s what is. And I need to be clear about what is so that I can remind myself to be otherwise.

Because to just be, to not think, is to go on in the same way. Changing habits of thought and behavior requires thought, and that’s what’s appealing about the focal word thing. It’s shorthand, a reminder, a signal to remember to think rightly.

See, I get that it’s not good to go through life feeling apologetic for one’s existence. Being surprised by welcomes, by friendly overtures. It’s certainly inefficient to let it get to a point of being so fearful of approaching others that you instead hone skills of developing intermediaries to help you get through life. Not to mention panic-inducing when you’re caught out on your own without someone else to go through the door ahead of you, make the phone call to get the information for both of you, tell you exactly how they did the thing you need to do so you’ll know the exact right way to say it, the right way to act, so you won’t confuse anyone or irritate them or waste their time or inconvenience them in any way.

Shy? I don’t think that’s the right word.

Now, if you ask me, I’m doing really well these days. I have spent years facing down these things I couldn’t do. I can now walk into any store, any restaurant, whatever, by myself. I can make phone calls. Don’t like it, avoid it like the plague, but I can. And I can now usually do it without rehearsal/pacing/deep breathing beforehand. I greet strangers. I make eye contact. And unless something goes wrong, I don’t get that sensation of oh my God my throat is closing I can’t breathe and my face is red and what am I going to do when I have to speak to someone.

So yay. Bonus.

All this blah blah blah is basically to explain that Confidence has been a problem.

But part of me focusing on the word right now is trying to make that leap in understanding that confidence is not arrogance. I’m understanding that intellectually, but in my gut it’s harder. Just like I know it’s okay to walk into that room full of people, but my gut wants to turn around and run home again. I want to believe that these issues are learned behavior patterns I can shake, but sometimes it feels like part of my DNA.

I’ve talked before about how I have a tendency to filter things through my own experience and to forget to remind myself that the way I see things is merely a perspective. While I realized that the way I am is neither ideal nor normal, it didn’t follow that confidence is, like, normal. It’s normal to walk into a room and receive a welcome. It’s normal to speak and expect to be heard and acknowledged. And generally, when you do these things, people are actually not watching you at all. They’re not wondering why you’re there, or judging your appearance, or waiting for you to say something stupid.

The world is basically a hell of a lot more me-neutral than I made it out to be. In fact, if anyone was ever arrogant it this equation, it was probably me for worrying about being watched and judged in a world that was too busy to notice me.

The other thing I realized is that all those normal people are filtering the world through that perspective. And when they come across someone who so studiously avoids contact with them, what are they supposed to think?

There are some people, gifted with enough sensitivity, who will say, aw, she’s shy, I should try to include her. There are some people who are just so naturally gregarious that they can hardly help themselves. But there are a lot of people who are just going to assume that I don’t like them or that I’m a stuck up bitch, and it is hardly their fault that I didn’t give them anything else to go on.

Gene tells Joss, “The best way to seem normal is to be normal.”

The focal word thing helps remind me to be normal. To break out of my bad habits and think like normal people think. That I have as much right to be here as anyone. That it’s okay to participate because I have things of value to contribute. That I have value and it’s even okay to think that. (and OMFG why is thinking that so hard?)

I’m working on understanding Confidence as Okay To Be. And sometimes when I say it, it feels a little easier.

“Be normal,” I thought. “It’s just that easy.” ~Joss Marshall, Hush Money

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “They say that Confidence is Key

  1. Hi, Susan,
    You go girl. I read Hush Money, and it was good. I don’t usually read young adult books, but you captured the teen world for me even though it’s been many years since I was one. I don’t have a problem with talking to people or speaking somewhere, but sometimes I wonder if my books are good enough. So far I’ve only sold There IS Life After Lettuce, a book for heart patients and diabetics, but I’m submitting fiction.
    Take a lesson from Paul Myer, the motivational speaker, Put a piece of paper that says “I have confidence” on your mirror, look at it and say it every day, and you will get it.
    Carolyn Williamson

  2. wntrrr

    Susan,

    Even if you can’t see it yet, you are freakin’ awesome. Just sayin’ 🙂

    I love your posts. “Hush Money” rocked my world, and it is one of the very few books that I keep on my nightstand, permanently, to be re-read, bit by bit, any time, all the time. The way I see it, your books are an incredible gift for us readers, and I feel just so fortunate that I clicked on that Buy-Now button and got to know you and your work. You are just lovely. From the bottom of my heart, Thank You 🙂

    • Well, goes both ways. Your kind words and support have meant the world to me, and help me push through doubt and keep trying when I think it’s all been a fluke and I should just give it up.

  3. Mags

    ‘they say that confidence is key’ – what a striking and heartfelt post! I also think this way of thinking that ‘we’re not worthy’ is a hard one to break but it’s definitely worth trying to do so, as to feel ok/normal in your own company in a public place is skill no one should be without. Keep on going as we all have it in us somewhere! 🙂
    p.s. very much looking forward to your next book !!

    • Thanks, Mags. In college, I would easily skip eating rather than show up in the dining hall by myself. I’m glad I forced myself to do things like go out to a restaurant by myself and take myself to a movie, and proved to myself that the world wouldn’t come to an end.

  4. The only thing that bothers me just a little about this post is that you suggest you’re not “normal”. What IS normal anyway? You are one of the kindest, most giving people I know. If anyone SHOULD have confidence, it’s you. But there’s nothing WRONG with you. I admire the fact that you’re working toward having more self-confidence because it does make life easier. It makes social situations easier. But you need to love yourself for who you are first so you’ll think you deserve having the self-confidence. You don’t know how much I admire, respect, and love you. Good luck on your journey to more self-confidence. I’m here to help any time you need me. 🙂

    • Aw, thanks, LL. I really appreciate all of that. Not being normal isn’t always bad stuff. The Talent Chronicles is about taking the things that make you not normal, sometimes the things that make your life hard, and using them to make awesome. When I was younger, I desperately wanted to find those missing pieces, the things I lacked that could make me like everyone else. Just as good as everyone else. But most of what I lacked was the understanding that I am as good, and that being totally like everyone else isn’t even what I want.

  5. Wow, like looking in a mirror. This reminds me of when we went out to dinner. Everyone was having wonderful conversation while I just . . . listened. That’s my default state because I always have a hard time jumping into conversations with more than me doing the talking. Either that or by the time I do think of something to say, the moment has passed. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to look across the table and see you “just listening” too. Apparently this is odd behavior because my wife had to assure people who didn’t know me that that was just how I was.

    I don’t know why I have such a hard time being confident. I’m definitely not lacking in the support of others category. And when I do get a compliment I believe the person giving it, but then my brain jumps in and messes it all up. “Oh, come on, I’m just an ok guitar player. Thanks, but there a much better bloggers than me. Handsome? Ha! I’m ok looking.” I never thought of me equating confidence with arrogance unitl I read this, but I guess in the back of my mind I thought the total acceptance of a compliment without a self-depricating comeback was somehow wrong.

    I’ve tried other people’s normal and I’m pretty sure it came out about as natural as the terminator trying to smile. Now I just try to understand what those normal people do and thanks to my wife, I manage way better in social situations. My normal’s not your normal. Okay, no problem.

    Don’t get too normal, I think you’re fuckawesome the way you are.

    Please note: The last compliment was 100% true and should be believed.

  6. I want to throw something else out there. I used to always brush off compliments and say “No, I’m not really ____” fill in the blank. But I don’t do that anymore because I started thinking about how it was a insult to the giver of the compliment, as if their opinion was wrong or wasn’t to be believed. So I try to accept the compliment gracefully so the person giving it won’t feel like they said something wrong. Does that make sense?

    • It does. I’ve been bitched out a few times for not taking them well, which is why I made an effort to learn the right things to say. I get how some people would be annoyed, especially in light of Kait’s recent post where she likened complimenting to other good deeds. I guess it’s kind of like saying, “Can I get that door for you?” and a reply of “Screw you.” Not really, but sort of.

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