[Editor’s note: Every week, New York City’s own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose, or — no surprise here — a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]
Dear Andrew W.K.,
To put it simply, I’ve lost my confidence. I used to be able to wake up in the morning knowing who I was, feeling sure of myself and ready to take on the world. But over the past few years, I’ve felt myself slipping away and it’s come to the point where I no longer recognize myself.
Before this, I had accomplished a lot in life. I bought my own home at age 23, I’m well-educated, I love my career, and I have an amazing support group of friends and family. Yet when I look at my life, I feel boring — like there’s nothing outwardly special or impressive about me these days.
I know I should be able to be proud of what I’ve done in the past — and I am — but that drive to do more just isn’t there anymore. I just want to be confident again and know who I am. I’ve lost my way and don’t know how to get back my old self.
Lost Along the Way
Dear Lost Along The Way,
There is no “old self” to get back to. There is only yourself now. There is no real way to “be who you were;” you can only to be who you are. Whatever good qualities you had then are still there, but they are not the same. You are who you were but you’re also not. This is the puzzle of the ever developing person: Realizing that the ever unfolding qualities are hard to track or pin down, even though they’re currently taking even more complete shape right now as you read this.
Stop letting your mind criticize and judge you based on a version of yourself that doesn’t exist anymore. Even though you loved those past times, if you’re really honest, I’m guessing you’ll agree that you don’t want to move back to then. If today was your final day on earth, I doubt you would spend very much time thinking about how you used to be and would instead do everything you could to be as present as possible and soak up as much of your life while it’s right in front of you. I imagine this is probably how you thought back in the day as well. You were just alive and living it for all it was worth. You can only go forward, and it will always be changing and never be what it was. The longer you live, the more you’ll realize the impossibility of holding onto anything other than where you currently are. And even that moment is in motion. It’s all one, big, huge, solid moment — a moment called “your life.” Don’t go back and live in a moment that doesn’t exist any more when you have this precious moment right in front of you now. You’ve earned it. Be worthy of your own life.
As far as the concept of confidence goes, it seems that the idea of being confident is a largely misinterpreted, poorly-applied, extremely over-valued and distorted version of integrity. What is commonly described as confidence is the sort of artificially well-adjusted swagger we secretly wished we had, but generally loathe when we see it aggressively displayed by others. It’s an unnecessarily brazen boldness that seems to be trying a little too hard to compensate for some poorly concealed weakness. This type of impudence really isn’t confidence at all, but just a loud and futile attempt to drown out fear with pompous boasting rather than truly overcoming it and transforming doubts into actual strengths. What may first appear as certitude and ability, even to the person showcasing these traits, is really just a sort of disconnection masquerading as self-assurance.
Intentionally blinding ourselves to the inherent insecurity found in nearly all aspects of our daily existence does not count as confidence. Pushing those feelings of doubt, confusion, and instability out of one’s mind doesn’t count as belief in oneself. It’s more like an aggressive ignorance, an unwillingness to go through the humbling and painful process of true self-evaluation and growth.
True confidence is a quiet and largely invisible state of inner conviction. You don’t need to outwardly prove your bravery to yourself or anyone else. When you’re genuinely confident, it’s a choice you perpetually make to be true to yourself, even when that true is full of vulnerability and risk.
You’re developing a deeper level of courage: The courage to admit when you don’t feel brave, the willingness to doubt yourself when it allows for an honest introspective examination of your soul, the honesty to admit when you’re confused and afraid, and to realize all of that in a constructive way.
Brushing off one’s doubts may seem like an easy way to empower oneself, but truly having the confidence to face one’s weaker moments with brutal self-awareness and penetrating honesty is even better. This is certainly more challenging, but it’s infinitely more rewarding for our spirit and our surroundings to be delicate and thoughtful with our strength.
It’s really this type of quiet confidence that we’re striving for. And whether we like it or not, this type of confidence cannot always be developed or measured by things like buying houses, getting college degrees, or being popular with others.
I’m someone who has never felt very confident in that typical outgoing way, but I also never really believed I had to feel confident in order to do something I wanted to do. I realized I could be confident without feeling confident. I had many of the same misconceptions that people who were confident inside always felt brave and strong. I think now it doesn’t really matter if we feel confident or not. What matters is what we actually do, regardless of how scared we may feel. That’s where this deeper type of confidence starts to develop — the confidence to live your life, even when you don’t feel particularly self-assured or bold.
So, here’s a short check list I keep in mind when it comes to true confidence. Maybe you’ll relate to these ideas and find them helpful, too.
May I have the strength to tirelessly work towards developing…
The confidence to let myself truly be myself, free from abusive self-judgment and criticism.
The confidence to follow my heart, despite the fears and reservations of my critical mind.
The confidence to not compare myself with others, including my own past.
The confidence to feel weak, afraid, and doubtful, when those feelings are justified and honest.
The confidence to face those fearful feelings regardless of how uncomfortable or painful they may be.
The confidence to stand apart from others when my heart tells me to do so.
The confidence to be in love with life and all its aspects, even when that love seems irrational or illogical.
The confidence to remove myself from social situations and pressures when my soul tells me they’re harmful or unnecessary.
The confidence to not base my self-worth or self-image on my outer achievements or possessions, but instead on the growth and development of my inner character.
The confidence to live by an ever improving set of principles that allow me to rise to my highest conception of myself, especially when adhering to those involving sacrifice or hardship.
The confidence to accept the struggle and difficulty that comes with committing to this path, and to stay the course despite obstacles and adversities.
The confidence to commit to the ongoing process of living life, fully and truly.
The confidence to continuously realize I’m in the midst of an adventure, and to have appreciation for the inherent value and meaning of every step in that journey, regardless of how it may challenge or inconvenience me at the time.
Continue directing your efforts to developing this type of inner confidence and let go of all other efforts to appear strong, brave or courageous. Just be yourself. Learning to have the confidence to be who you are is the simplest and most challenging task in life. The more you turn yourself over to developing this sort of inner acceptance, the more you will be shown where to go and how to get there. It starts by just being here and being yourself, with total love and total understanding. Never give up on living and loving yourself. Just keep celebrating this intense experience called life and we’ll figure it out together. I’m going through it with you.
More:Ask Andrew W.K.