It’s been a while since I’ve published any posts on Medium. These days, I have a habit of starting a piece, pretty much writing the whole thing — or at least making an entire outline — and then letting it perpetually languish in my archives. It’s a habit that I’m not very proud of, because I remember not too long ago when I was feeling a great deal of fulfillment and growth coming from the pieces I was writing and publishing. That feeling lingers in my mind, almost haunting me like a specter of my past confidence.
Confidence is a fascinating subject for me because, for the majority of my life, I’ve had a strange mix of it. From an early age, I have had trouble pushing myself to do things outside of my comfort zone. When life threw things at me that forced me out of comfort, I had learned to respond with resilience. When I conjured up my internal image of myself, it was one where I knew I could do difficult things and reach noteworthy peaks of achievement. However, the disconnect came when push came to shove; when I had to make myself put my imagination into action and feel legitimate in doing so.
I feel myself again in a pool of low confidence; staying afloat in waters of doubt and imagined shame. Especially with my writing, I fall into traps of, “Nobody will care,” “I don’t have anything meaningful to contribute,” or “I don’t know what I’m talking about.” Writing can be so personal that these feelings further feel like an indictment of myself, not just what words spill onto the page. These mentalities stand in contrast to ideas I used to embody: that nobody thinks about you as much as you think about yourself, everyone makes mistakes so it’s just a matter of making them and moving on, that growth is reliant on trying and practicing — among others. After having meditated on this feeling, I believe that this temporal dichotomy may be a significant aspect of the psychology of confidence.
Confidence Marred by Illusions
We are beings whose cognitive capacities allow us to remember a past (albeit in a flawed sense), and project predictions into the future. When deciding to act, it is always easier when we start from the ground floor: no expectations of success, nothing to lose. However, if we have achieved at all in the past, that memory of past success may prove to hinder present efforts through an unfair comparison. Living up to expectations, maintaining an image you’ve cobbled together, not sinking below a standard of achievement, can all be roadblocks to forward progress.
These feelings may simply be illusions; tricks that we play on ourselves. In reality, most people do not have the expectations that we have of ourselves. Our failures — if we decide to label them as such — may seem simply like off episodes to others, or in perhaps a worse case, ignored by the general body of humanity because they in no way achieve popularity. And in the case of total ignorance of our efforts, that could be a serious blessing in disguise, as unpopularity takes a huge burden off of our shoulders brought about by an effort to appear impressive; if there is nobody to impress, we are our only judges. Our bars of achievement are self-imposed, and if we recognize that life is a constant journey of growth, it becomes illogical to ever pin down a bar in the first place, because they are always and inevitably shifting.
With this manifold of unconfident arguments, and their subsequent confident counterarguments, it seems apparent that confident acts lie in taking these into account, and taking a step forward. There is wisdom in the saying that the first step is the most difficult. Inertia is proportional to mass, so the more we let our cognitive expectations weigh us down, the harder the first step will be. But in truth, the entire idea of a “first” step is fallacious: it is only the first if we mark a beginning — leaving out the past — and is the first in a series only if we group all subsequent steps together into some package based on similarity. If we treat each step as unique, and stop making comparisons and categorizations, then every step is a first step, so none are.
My “First” Step
To get out of the rut, I’ve decided to try to do some easier writing to get back into the habit. I want to pick a topic per week, and investigate different aspects of it in shorter, more digestible (and easier to write) pieces for as many days of the week as I can. For me, it will be both an exercise in confidence and writing — working the muscles of both simultaneously.
I’ve decided that this week’s topic will be confidence. I believe that there are a host of interesting sub-topics that I hope to cover throughout the week; including confidence in times of crisis, institutionalized practices that lower confidence, more on the psychology of confidence, and perhaps an analysis of its political manifestations. I hope to, as always, provide an interesting perspective on the topic through the confluence of my different areas of expertise in technology, cognition, philosophy, and political theory.
So, for anyone reading this, thank you for accepting my bit of vulnerability, and I hope you can find some resonance in what I share and investigate. In the best case, maybe my small steps forward would inspire some of you to try something that has been difficult for you, and we can take the journey together.