Paradox Number One. So here’s the deal: I am continually reminded that I am going to get NOWHERE in life if I don’t get some confidence. I’m going to leave out the part about my brutal childhood in a coal factory somewhere in Victorian England, which damaged my self-esteem beyond repair. I’m merely going to reiterate that my self-esteem was damaged beyond repair, and that I have a hard time with the confidence thing.
I’m also going to leave out the part about having my own television show, going to India on my own, working in Los Angeles or buying a house with my IRA. Those things all terrified me and left scars that no one is ever going to see.
No, I’m talking about the simple, day-to-day reminder that I really must grow a backbone, if not some balls, in order to succeed at what it is I want to do. I must be more aggressive, take the lead, step up, put myself out there, and other clichés ad nauseam.
The paradox comes when I screw up. Because, as Joseph Hallinan says in Why We Make Mistakes (Broadway Books, 2009) “…overconfidence is the leading cause of human error.”
In my case, that’s ugly-true.
Every time I start to think I know even a little about something, I commit some kind of huge social faux pas over it, and ruin my chances of getting close to the person I was discussing it with. Or, if I really am an expert at it, I steamroll the conversation and piss off the person I was talking to. Think I know about investing? And lost a fortune in the crash. I’m a good driver? I totaled my car last month. State an opinion on politics? Forget it, I can’t argue coherently. I’m forever giving help where it isn’t needed, advice where it isn’t wanted, or else I’m stuck to the wallpaper like congealed gravy, or swept up like last week’s dried mud.
That leaves me scared to make the phone call, scared to pull onto the freeway, scared to buy anything until I’ve researched it for weeks. Petrified to go to the social function, ask a stranger out for coffee, even Tweet or post on Facebook.
I don’t know where to draw the line. I’ve been told that if there’s something I don’t know or have, and I need to be confident, I should act “as if.” As if I know or have whatever it is that I’m lacking. Act as if I know how to write a novel. Act as if I have several million in the bank. Act as if I know how to direct a tv show (okay, actually, I do know that).
But where do I – or you, or anyone – grab onto something and say, “this is acting as if,” “this is being confident,” and “this is being over confident”?
How do I tell the difference?
A long time ago, in an otherwise-busy intersection, I saw a barricade sign which read:
ALTERNATE ROUTE SUGGESTED
Except that a graffiti artist – with supreme confidence, no doubt – had crossed out ALTERNATE ROUTE and painted in FALSE BRAVADO.
I’d love to do that – substitute false bravado in every case where the road gets a little shaky. But too many times, that false bravado has let me down.