The other day I was walking to my new gym with a serious case of gym-timidation. I imagined that the other members would all be younger, prettier, and fitter than me, and had therefore procrastinated most of the day. Finally I could delay no longer. I put on my sneakers and headed out, tail already between my legs. About a block before my destination, I was stopped by a young man who asked, “You going to work out?” You might ask why I even acknowledged such a question, and rightfully so, but I was still receptive to any and all distraction standing between me and sweating among the beautiful people.
Besides, he was just brimming with confidence. When I told him where I was headed, he responded that he used to work there as a physical trainer. He didn’t just work there: he dominated (!), such that the management had to redistribute clients among the other trainers so that they weren’t just sitting around while he worked out one adoring customer after the other. He was the best. And since he had broken out on his own, he shared, he was working only with the “elite, elite, elite.” Every time he said this, he made a horizontal slashing movement with his hand that reached higher with each repetition: elite, elite, elite.
My intimidation receptors already primed, I initially took all of this as truth. I didn’t question his presentation, his story about himself, his superiority, because his words and manner were so convincing. It took me a few moments to realize that this apparently confident young man was in fact standing on a street corner, wearing dark glasses, with no formal business presence to speak of online or elsewhere, accosting strangers with his pitch. After extricating myself, I walked the final block to my gym wondering, is that real confidence?
I think about confidence a lot these days. I’m starting a business and am riddled with self-doubt. I realize this doubt is based on fear and uncertainty rather than reality, but I feel torn between a fake-it-til-you-make-it approach and something different, something that would allow me to access confidence more genuinely, from within.
In the November 2011 Shambhala Sun magazine, Sakyong Mipham wrote about having confidence in our basic goodness, which is probably where it all begins:
The energy of splendidness comes from being fully present in whatever we do. My father, Chogyam Trungpa…put it this way: “You are not hiding anywhere.” Hiding means our splendidness is obscured by embedded habitual patterns. One characteristic of hiding is that we are always self-observing. Self-observing comes from not trusting our inherent goodness, and therefore keeping the reins tight on our mind….”Not hiding anywhere” means we have reduced and lightened our embedded habits and tendencies, which allows us to shine.
This concept of no longer hiding resounded with me deeply. In taking this frightening step, I am risking myself in a way that wouldn’t be necessary if I were to keep working for someone else. Being my own boss requires that I take ownership of my decisions, that I make my own mistakes and learn from them, that I blaze a trail rather than following one that has already been worn.
The last time I felt this way – the last time I tentatively came out of hiding – was when I quit drinking nearly 6 years ago. The first couple of months that I approached life without the buffer of alcohol, I felt barraged by reality. That overstimulation took on a physical presence in the form of anxiety, a vibratory sense in my fingers and lips, a slight quickening of my breath, occasional light-headedness. Little by little, I grew to accommodate the stimuli I had previously softened with wine or liquor, at first through less productive means – shopping, eating, and your garden-variety dry drunk behavior – and then through more sustainable approaches: creating space, acknowledging my pain and discomfort and learning to lean into them with kindness. Gradually I grew more confident in my ability to navigate life sober.
Susan Piver recently wrote:
Confidence actually begins with lack of confidence. Without the latter, we would have no idea what the former meant. In some way, when we lose our confidence we could imagine it not as the first step into the pit, but the first step out of it. Just as light would not exist without dark, confidence would not be possible without lack of confidence. So, to begin recovering self-confidence, a great first step is allowing yourself to lean into your doubt.
If confidence begins with lack of confidence, then I got this. As I make my way on this unpredictable path, rather than putting on a false face, I am not ignoring my doubts, fears, and anxieties, but not deferring to them either. And gradually, my hope is that I will gain the type of confidence that is quiet but authentic, one that doesn’t need to proclaim itself on street corners. One that is born of the basic goodness we all possess.