At that moment, the main thing I felt was fear, but I also knew I wanted to do it anyway. Something inside of me was pushing me, hard. “Step up now,” a voice inside of me said fiercely to me, “and say it.”
I raised my hand, and then I spoke for maybe 17.4 quivering, stammering, but nicely contributing seconds. I was aware of each tenth of a second. When I got done, I was all shaky inside.
That night, after the group ended, someone told me that they liked what I had said. Nice. I hope so; it cost me.
It’s stressful when the impulse to be quiet is fighting with the impulse to speak. It’s stressful being immature, plus shy to the fourth power, especially if you also want to be heard so much that you are willing to be scared shaky and yet still try. Between the ages of 18 and 28 shaky was common for me. On my way to getting to know myself, I experienced a lot of rattled. Many of us do.
During our figuring-it–out years, the years between child and adult, between immature and mature, between amateur and professional, many of us suffer from a significant and debilitating lack of confidence.
I remember that in high school I was afraid of girls. I adored girls, but from afar. I had no confidence around them. They had grown into something too beautiful, and I was unused to that. When they were little, we could play games together. I had some grade school friends who were girls, but when they and their kind got all perfect, I didn’t know how to reply to their amazingness. It took me quite a while to recover from their awesomeness.
The transitional years are often defined by insecurity with the gender we are not. We are trying to figure out how to relate to other newly remodeled creatures, to know what’s acceptable, when we are with them, what crosses the line, the line that is invisibly drawn in some unknown place that we don’t know how to find. And we massively struggle with what to do with our infatuations, crushes and transient moments of pure and true ephemeral love.
In high school I loved Linda, a cheerleader, but I didn’t know how to tell her. I smiled at her across the room, and I enjoyed the electrical shock therapy I received from her, but I couldn’t walk up to her and have a normal conversation. In the college years I think I was for a brief moment adored by Valerie, a tall, leggy beauty, but I was never quite sure, and I think she didn’t quite know how to alert me to the possibility of us. The not being sure if they love you, it can torture you — playground to grave.
It was the same with academia. Early in my education, I knew I wanted to be a writer, to say stuff, in the classroom and to the rest of the leaders of the world, but I wasn’t sure I had it in me. After all, I had no manuscripts, and I had no adoring readers. I wrote a poem in grade school. I still have it. At the university, I wanted to step up and to enter the conversation, the centuries old discussion about the great ideas, but I didn’t because Shakespeare, Hegel, Plato and my literature and history professors were over-wowing me everyday.
Those of us who want to be included in the conversation, those of us who even want to go to the front of the room before we know what it feels like up there or what a leader is, we suffer. The want-a-be-contributors take it on their aspiring chins. Those of us who feel like we can be more but have never proven it — we eat it until we become the more within the less of the very us.
Hard — this was hard. There was no small amount of awkwardness and a truck load of social pain in my years of low confidence, and that pain lasted a good ten years, even, to some degree, ten more.
Why? Why do we suffer in the becoming years?
For one, it’s all the new stuff. New stuff makes newbies feel incompetent, and a bit of aloneness can pile in on us during those years. We keep graduating, into new levels, new roles, new kinds of relationships. We are incompetent transitioners because we are semi-incompetent in each new place, and also because sometimes we are too much alone when working out all the new stuff.
Between 18 and 28 or 35 or 43, or somewhere down the road, most everything turns into something new and perhaps a bit isolating for most all of us At 18, I moved out of my family home. It was new to go it on my own, to make dinner, to pay the bills, to not have a family to hang out with in the evening. I was lonely and couldn’t even admit that. There was no new safe place once my parents stopped parenting me. They wanted to stop, and I wanted them to stop, but that meant that I was navigating the new while newly alone.
Neo-solo isn’t confidence building.
I went off to college to study literature, philosophy, psychology, history and linguistics. There were suddenly new concepts, new world views, new ways of thinking which resulted in new excitement for learning and some new confusions. I found a new form of lostness, in ideas.
Plato’s Republic got me to questioning the Biblical world view that I grew up with. What was the ideal society made out of? I didn’t know, but now I knew there were options to the monolithic view I was handed as a child.
In my becoming years, I took new jobs. Every new job put me in the role of the fumbling beginner. I became a janitor. That didn’t turn out well. My boss fired me for not having a good attitude. I didn’t have a good attitude. A good attitude while vacuuming was new to me. I hadn’t always done my chores at home with a good attitude. I also worked building a freeway. I didn’t get fired from doing that. That job paid my first year’s college tuition, but it had some sucky working conditions, like moving every time we finished a new stretch of road.
Really, that’s what the transition years are all about, moving. We keep moving, while we build the highway that we will spend the rest of our lives driving on.
During the schooling years, I worked as a grocery store box boy, I shelved books in a library. Every job, every new social part to play brought its own social challenges. I became a part of a church; I met a bunch of cute girls; I survived them telling me that they liked me when I didn’t like them the way they liked me, That was awkward.
I found the right cute one that I liked, but she liked someone else. That was awkward, but after a bunch of drama I got past her awesomeness and saw her personhood, and we fell in love so hard that we got married.
Wow! My transition years didn’t flow; they bumped along, they pounded down the road, they careened into the ditch and they bounced back on to the highway, spun around and set me headed in the opposite direction. I brutally pounded and spun my way toward maturity.
Right when I got married, I began a career as a teacher, the front-of-the-room guy who I always kind of wanted to be. It threw me into a total nervous disarray. To stand in front of five classes everyday, to have a conversation with a whole room full of people, all day, it made my stomach hurt.
What can we do, to grow into our own skin, to become more confident, to grow into a professional status? I have some ideas, from my experiences.
I am no longer new or in the grip of the new as much as before. In fact, I am in a second career now, and my daughters themselves are in the transition zone. I have learned just a few things, and they make me want to help a little, because I know what it is like to move toward maturity, and move again while experiencing low self-confidence.
Here it is. Do this, my young friends, to get through it. I urge you to rush down the pipe, and kick down the door. Knock the steel door off its hinges and jump head-long into the sea of things that are in your hearts to do. Do this. Do the very things that make you feel incompetent. Try to be the thing you want and need to be even when you won’t immediately be successful at being it.
And if you can’t do that, if what you try is not your thing, if it is not within where you are going or really can go, then you will find that out by trying. If you do learn that something good is not your good something, then you must have the courage to drop it and move on to the next good thing.
I always wanted to be a musician. I practiced and practiced the guitar. It was not my thing, and I learned from playing the guitar, to put it down. I still play, for fun, on the side, very minor, so that I can major in the major things that I do much better than playing the guitar.
That’s the thing, finding what you it feels like you were meant to do. And then, if it is in your heart, and within your reaching grasp too, and it is going to be your thing, then you must rush it. You must raise your hand and speak to the group even while you are shaking inside with insecurity.
If it is in your DNA of aspiration and ability, then you must walk to the front of the room, and stand and play the part of the teacher or leader while all the time thinking that you are perhaps a total fake and that everyone watching knows it, but of course they really don’t, and of course you really aren’t. I know. I did it. Pretending to be something is the first step toward becoming it.
And about the girl-boy thing, there you must learn to be brave and to tell awesome girls and totally cool boys that you love them when you do, or to sometimes tell them not. You must sometimes tell them not when you can discern that they don’t and won’t reciprocate. Then you will protect yourselves from that completely unnerving experience of unrequited love. You must learn when and when not, and when “when” is the most important unknown factor in the when-and-when-not social equation.
It comes down ro this regarding the confidence factor and confidence-building-type-things.
Do what you need to do today and you will become more confident tomorrow. Experience is the fastest road to get to the that very cool place that we called confidence. Your personal insecurity is bested when you are willing to be insecure in order to become more secure.
And one warning. Doing nothing for too long may lead to being nothing for a long time.
If you are afraid to become what you want to become then I urge you to do the opposite of what your fear is telling you to do.
Go for it, because I wish you, my lovelies, my beautifully insecure and shaky road makers — more confidence.