On Confidence: A Letter to a Friend

I don't blog for SEO. I share here when the words pouring into my journal achieve that rare balance of "fit for human consumption" and relevant to others. Here is a letter I recently wrote to a dear friend. She'd asked a wise and deep question on sustaining self-confidence - how one made it a source of strength, not just a fleeting high. Now, my heart - like most of ours - is pockmarked with insecurities; I was honored, yet concerned I might be the wrong person to ask. After considering it carefully, inside and out, I penned this response.


Dear one,

You dear sunshiney soul. The world is so terribly lucky that you were born on this day one-quarter century ago. Through your brilliant wit, your zeal for adventure, and your selfless heart, you make each day the world turns better for all of us who get to share it with you.

But it’s not always sunshine. I know that, and you know that. And the truly beautiful and admirable question you asked me last week has been in my mind and in my heart, because it is something we should all consider more often and with greater depth and honesty. I am proud of you for identifying the question in your heart, and for being vulnerable enough to ask it out loud.

First of all – I am so honored that you feel I am confident – and badass – and elegant! Grateful tears to my eyes, my dear. Thank you for that gift. <3 And secondly – like nearly all of us, I don’t feel like I am necessarily those things often, if ever. So I gave a lot of thought to what you asked.

What is confidence? It’s not arrogance, or blind faith. It’s not a simple charging ahead no matter what. It’s quieter and stronger and more delicate and more forever than all that. True confidence, as I see it, is something like courage. And courage typically as more of a hope-this-works than an I-got-this-shit attitude.

Let’s talk about courage.

Courage acknowledges that something is a little heady. A little over our pay grade, perhaps. Maybe even fucking terrifying. But courage sees the end goal – the end DREAM - and tackles it one breath, one step, one move, one sentence at a time.

Courage isn’t necessarily about knowing you can DO IT. It’s more about knowing you WANT to do it, but maybe you’re scared, or the weather’s bad, or you didn’t get enough sleep, or you worry about what so & so thinks or what happened last week or last year, or whatever. Overcoming the subtle, not-so-subtle, demons or doubt. Courage is tackling the moment because you believe in your dream. And courage (unlike the action movies and highlight-reel-social media may throw a smokescreen of guns-a-blazing brazen fearlessness), is COMPLETELY rooted in vulnerability. In the still small voice that says “OMG WHAT THE LIVING FUCK ARE WE DOING HERE… this is scary. Let’s discuss.”

Conscious vulnerability is a goddamn ballet. It’s a balance between fear and courage. It’s scary and shitty and fucking beautiful.

To get anywhere near there, we’ve gotta release our grip. Let the corners of our mouths relax (maybe that means frowning – or crying).  I have a refrigerator magnet that says ‘LET GO OR BE DRAGGED.’

So to me, confidence is being okay with things going wrong. Of acknowledging how very little we have control over, and going for it anyway. Doing our best in spite of the limitless variables.

Confidence has shockingly little to do with knowing we can do “it” – it’s far more about trying to ride the dragon knowing full well our armor may fall off.

Because really, everything worth doing is outside of the comfort zone of confidence and guaranteed achievement.

Getting past that stuff – the fear and the doubt and the uncertainty – and going for it anyway – that is brave. If we shoot the big gap and stomp that landing? SO much bigger because we pushed past our fear. And if we flop? It sucks, it does. And we don’t have to pretend it doesn’t. But we can put every ounce of the experience in our quiver of “went for it big time and survived.”

Bravery IS vulnerability. But that doesn’t mean we should unzip our soul-armor for every jane shmoe. We love and trust a select few and unload our secrets unto them, as they share their fears and loves and dreams with us.

The reason I can be confident about some things is that I am vulnerable and weak and publicly or semi-publicly scared about other things. SO, when I really go for something, I have thoroughly examined and discussed my fears. Being upfront about fear is a big part of overcoming it. Not necessarily on the big wall or in the moment of exposure, but after the fact maybe, at the bar, in bed, on a run – wherever your safe place with that person is. “hey. This scares the shit out of me. Can we talk about it?”

Then when you go to tackle something – whether it’s with someone, with whom you’ve discussed the fear together, or it’s alone, and sometimes all that is required to get you up that wall is “discussing” the fear with yourself -  you can then simply worry about the thing itself – you are released do that – rather than worrying about the thing PLUS what anyone might think of you if you’re afraid / don’t do it / whatever that fear demon is whispering. I once read that we shouldn’t necessarily tell everyone all our secrets, but that at least one person should know each of our big secrets.  No secret should be entirely ours to hold. Secret things are powerful. For better or for worse. So we should choose our secrets carefully.

I believe that the act of naming something can take away – or give you – its power. That’s why so many old folk tales involve learning or saying the name of a dragon or a person or a force or whatever the antagonist of the parable is. And maybe the power is not simply in the name – maybe that was our ancestors archaic understanding and the way to teach their children that the power of the thing lies in its secrecy. Take away the shroud, take away the power. YOU – in your beautiful vulnerability - ARE the source of strength.

The danger for all of us is placing our identity in the hands of others. It can’t rest in what people think of us. Just as it can’t rest in what we might be able to do – because that will change, that will always change. Age and injury and surprises. So confidence has to be accepting uncertainty and doing things anyway.

So, how in the name of all that is holy do we manifest this in our lives? How do we, as you so beautifully put it, make this a constant source of strength?

We put our focus in the dream, our legs in the hard work, and our armor in the knowledge that there are souls with whom we don’t need to wear it. Confidence is grounded in the acceptance that things might go wrong, and going for it anyway because we believe in the importance of trying for the other side.

I am inspired by your delightful wit, your incredible heart for others, and your courageous authenticity. I love you, girl!