On the surface, it may appear that confident people never make mistakes and know what to do in any given situation. But when I started to pay close attention to the actions of someone I perceived as confident, I realized just how many times they failed during a single day. And yet, no one, including myself, seemed to take any notice of their failures. How did they get away with it? And what are the five prime blockers that stop most of us from developing that kind of confidence?
If I were to picture perfectionism as a person, it would work as a respectable gynecologist during the day, but at night he’d be performing illegal abortions to make some dirty cash on the side. He’d be there, scalpel in hand, coldly amputating any idea before it’s even born, or had a chance to develop a nose or an ear, or determine its own gender. Many of us have ideas, but they never get past the sharp scalpel of Dr Perfectionism. And the more we sacrifice our own ideas to the vicious doctor, the more we grow dissatisfied with ourselves, and start demanding perfection of others around us. In the words of Liz Gilbert, the best-selling author of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear ‘perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear.’
Most often our confidence is knocked down by fear. And, more specifically, it is the fear of an unknown outcome which can disguise itself as fear of failure. I’ve often wondered why people who like to proclaim that they ‘live in the real world’ where dreams are useless when trying to secure a good pension fund, argue that ‘the unknown’ will necessarily lead to a bad outcome. And that’s enough of a reason for them to never take a single risk. They fiercely believe that they live in ‘reality’, despite the fact that the odds between a good and a bad outcome in any given situation are pretty much 50/50. Why do we give into fear more than we give into faith that things will work out, if the chances between either outcome are fairly equal? And our biggest fear of the unknown manifests itself in the fear of dying – we are so afraid of death, although in reality we have no idea what lies on the other side. Quoting Socrates (allegedly the wisest man who ever lived) ‘No one knows whether death may not be the greatest of all blessings for a man, yet men fear it as if they knew that it is the greatest of evils.’
Let me say it again. Confident people make mistakes and fail ALL THE TIME. I we suppose for a moment that the term ‘mistake’ is nothing more than a myth, then believing in this myth reveals something about our own values. A mistake for one person could mean success for someone else, who grew up in a different family or cultural context. Believing we made a mistake implies that we also believe that there is a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ outcome. It suggests that we believe our system of judgement to be ‘the right way’, that we live in a largely ‘black and white’ world. We see mistakes in ourselves and in others – actions that disagree with our inner set of acceptable behavior. But it may be that none of our judgements even belong to us in the first place – most are just ideas we have inherited from our family or culture, and keep repeating because we don’t know any different. But when you push your comfort zone (which confident people seem to do a lot), you begin to discover what views are truly yours and what are the product of your past. Then you can at last have the confidence to build a life that will make you happy, rather than satisfy your family or serve the culture you come from.
There’s nothing hugely wrong with them. It’s just that they are absolutely useless, serving as one of the prime blockers in our capacity to learn, develop and become more confident. Thoughts we probably all recognise, such as ‘I don’t get it, I’m too slow, I’ll never be an expert in this’ are actually the root cause that stops us from progressing and becoming experts at whatever it is we are trying to master. I’ve often had the desire to learn the piano but before I even sit down at the keyboard, I have to fight off a whole battalion of negative thoughts. Each has a different flag they are boasting as they rush towards me: ‘You’re too old to learn,’ one of them says. ‘You’ll never get it,’ declares another. ‘You’ll never be able to compose music.’ Patiently, I let them argue and run their course, as I try to match each key to its depiction on the piano score – a rather dull and mundane task, with little creativity or positive thinking involved. But really, that’s all there is to becoming an ‘expert’ in a field – a desire to learn, persistence and patience. Remember Aesop’s classic tale about the hare that lost the a race to a tortoise? The tortoise didn’t have a positive mental attitude, or a distinctive personality – and yet he beat the hare to it.
The feeling of uselessness
Have you ever thought to yourself ‘why am I doing this, who is going to care if I do this or not?’ Well, I have for sure. Even as I write this post, I am consumed with the feeling that no one is going to read it, so why waste my time writing it at all? And the truth is that a lot of people probably won’t read it and won’t care. But someone just might. Either way, I’ve enjoyed the process of writing the post – it has helped me to identify and define my own blockers to confidence more clearly. And why should anything we do have much more purpose than simply the enjoyment of doing it? If we pictured the life-span of our planet as a clock, then we as humans would represent a fraction of a second – if that. Just picture what a tiny part of that fraction is your own individual life, thrown into the vast pool of all the others. Of course, our individual lives are important and we can make them very meaningful – but in the grand scheme of things, we are all doing useless things. So we might as well keep doing them!
What do you understand with the term ‘confidence’? What qualities would someone need to have in order for you to perceive them as confident? We are all learners here, students in the grand school of life, so feel free to share your views in the comments!
Ieva is a Bristol-based freelance writer, originally from Latvia. Having finished an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University, she hopes to feed her love of writing by completing novels, non-fiction, short stories and poetry, some of which can already be found on her blog at www.ramblings-of-a-latvian.blogspot.co.uk