Saturday, November 27, 2004

The nature of confidence

Saturday morning. "A state of mind or a manner marked by easy coolness and freedom from uncertainty, diffidence, or embarrassment. Confidence stresses faith in oneself and and one's powers without any suggestion of conceit or arrogance." So says Webster's in defining Confidence. I have spent most of my life in pursuit of this quality and have rarely found it.

Generally, on those rare occasions when I feel strong and capable, I ruin things by also bringing along conceit, which just makes me look stuck up. Nothing further from the truth could be possible, but that is the impression that I give. Nine times out of ten, I walk out into the world feeling the very opposite of confident - full of self doubt and embarrassment (about my looks, my clothes, my body, my manner, the sound of my voice...everything) and wishing most fervently that I could know what others thought of me while also, simultaneously, dreading that information for the possibility that knowing the depth of their disdain would crush whatever passes for confidence within me.

Reading my words here, you might wonder what makes me so hesitant and reserved, as I do try to keep this site light and fluffy for the most part. Everything that is good and clever and entertaining about me is here, with as little of the dark and the ugly as possible, but that's not a very accurate picture of me.

I am the grown up version of the little girl who was teased and taunted by classmates from kindergarten straight through graduation from high school and beyond. I was fat, I didn't wear the right clothes, my parents didn't drive the right cars (and they were fat, too), I didn't go skiing with my family every winter, or head off to Hawaii each summer. I wasn't smart in the cool sort of way, I was a geek - although I don't think the word existed at that point. I followed rules, I behaved well, and I didn't do any of the things that the cool kids did. Everywhere I turned, I faced ridicule and scorn and those things burrowed down into my heart and made themselves a tight little home there, ensuring that confidence would never find its place. You can only hear things so many times before you start to believe them, too, and 37 years is a long time.

So, I sit here and wonder: will I ever - no matter what I do, how many pounds I lose, how much plastic surgery, how many charm schools - be truly confident? Is confidence something that takes root and grows throughout your life and, if so, isn't it too late after I've spent a lifetime wishing to be anyone but me, to try to cultivate it?

A charming stranger that I met on my recent trip to DC was so shocked at my blushing reaction to a compliment he'd paid me that he said, "you need someone to say nice things to you more often." I'm sure he's right, but I don't want my self-esteem and confidence to come through seeing myself through someone else's eyes because, and here's the important thing, no one else is forever. I can't keep building confidence through relationships only to see it disappear with the person who brought it.

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