Biggest Piece of the Puzzle

Stop me if this sounds familiar: you spend HOURS reciting conversations in your head. Whether they be arguments, lengthy discussions for ways to better things at work, or just elaborate plans for your future. In your mind, your carriage is always upright, you don’t stumble over your words, and the other participants always hang on your every word. (They also don’t interrupt, talk back, or break from the script – something they fail to do in real life)

Do you recognize that person in those flights of fancy? (I’m not trying to demean your exercises, but if you never follow through on them, they are little more than imaginings) That’s who you WANT to be. It’s the confident person you carry around inside, buried under layers of self-doubt, questions, and years of ridicule. Which is why those rehearsed speeches never see the light of day.

Which is an absoltute crime.

Those words MEAN something to you. You wouldn’t take the time to craft those speeches if they didn’t. You don’t stand in front of a mirror and talk to your reflection for nothing. (Yeah, I know you do that; I’ve done it, too) That core of SELF is trying desperately to reach the surface, to break through the abuse and lack of self-confidence. YOUR voice wants to be heard, to come through into the atmosphere. It’s why you spend so much time in your head. It’s the only life that voice gets (most of the time).

Anxiety KILLS confidence. That niggling condition buries those speeches under an avalanche of “what if” scenarios until you crawl away to the shadowy corner where you’re happiest. And most of those situations are ridiculous. (I mean, what are the odds of Godzilla bursting through the building because you suggested a new chart to hold people accountable for tasks?) Meanwhile, your confidence is screaming in its cage, asking you to be reasonable. But you can’t hear it. Because it’s often too small, too quiet in comparison to that thundering roar of insecurity and doubt.

Freeing your confidence is HARD.

Taking the step off the ledge to becoming a freelance writer took me four months. Not because I needed to figure out how to write. I’ve had that down since I took home my first award in the second grade. It wasn’t even a matter of figuring out the freelance system. I read articles and advice columns starting in January when the idea first took root (and I realized I no longer wanted to do my previous line of work). No, what took so long was having the confidence to admit I COULD do the job. Having the confidence to stand up and assure people I was the right person for the their projects.

That scared the SHIT out of me.

My anxiety went into overdrive at the very thought. What if I was wrong? What if I wasn’t the right person? What if I couldn’t write after all? (As I said, anxiety gets kind of crazy) What if no one wanted to take a chance on me? What if I had to give up and go crawling back to that hateful job? What if I was going to be miserable for the rest of my life? I circled down the drain for weeks, convincing myself out of the very idea. And depression decided to join in on the fun. Pretty grim.

I’d love to tell you some magical switch flipped to pop confidence out from under the mountain. I wish I could say I had a spontaneous moment of clarity. But I’m not a liar. The truth is, I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and jumped off the damn cliff. Because I wasn’t getting anywhere in the anxiety spiral. Because it was something I WANTED enough to try. Because, in the famous words from We Bought a Zoo:

“Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrasing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”

~Benjamin Mee

And, in the end, that’s what confidence IS: stupid, ridiculous courage. The courage to embrace YOURSELF. It’s getting to your feet, opening the cage, and letting your voice come out. I won’t deny that confidence is frightening (horrifying, and your anxiety passes out from conjuring possible scenarios), and it doesn’t get any bigger even if you use it daily. I wish it did. Maybe for people that don’t crawl out from avalanches every day – maybe it’s a larger concept for them. For those of us that battle other monsters, it’s feeble and needs coaxing and protection.

I still rehearse conversations in my head, but I think I do it a little less. My hands shake every time I compose a pitch, but I DO submit pitches for my writing. I’ve stood up for my abilities more and more often. I feel that my confidence in my writing has grown. I proudly call myself a successful freelance writer, at this point. (I mean, I’m not world-reknowned or anything) I’m brave enough to use MY voice.

Is my confidence still on life support? Yeah. But it’s alive. And that’s the most important part. Take your twenty seconds and give yours a chance. You won’t regret it. I promise.

Write It, Mean it

“Aim higher in case you fall short.”

~Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire

So we’ve set out our dreams, and we have that finish line clear in our minds. Odds are even fair that you have some goals in mind that will provide the rungs on the ladder you need to ascend the pedestal to achieve that dream (at least, I hope you aren’t one of those people sitting on the floor and expecting the dream to just fall in your lap). A reasonable checklist is perfect, and it breaks down the journey into manageable “bites” that makes that dream feel achievable. But there’s a critical problem people tend to forget when they set goals:

They leave those goals in their head.

I have a great memory (not bragging, just stating a clear fact), but even I lose things into a black hole at times. Guess which things are usually the first to go? Everything really important – like that super-important checklist of goals I worked so hard on. (You know that super-safe place you put things in and then promptly forget? Same concept) It’s self-sabotage at it’s best, and you end up shrugging and waving at your dream.

I’m not advocating you share your goals on social media, because I’m not – that’s stupid. Never share your goals with other people. People will sabotage you, too, especially if you start doing well. Share your goals AFTER you’ve accomplished them, when people can’t do anything to interfere. However, you have to get the checklist out of your brain and commit it to reality (not that I’m suggesting your brain doesn’t exist in reality, but…well, you get the idea).

Write your goals down!

Whether this means writing it out in a notebook, writing it across a whiteboard you keep in your work space, or even painting it across a wall – so long as it is printed out in your hand somewhere you can see it EVERY SINGLE DAY. What does this do? This wonderful concept called self-responsibility. It’s hard to avoid working on those goals if they’re staring you in the face day after day (seriously – can you avoid a cat or dog sitting in your face? No). Guilt will start to build up if you put things off, and it will drive you forward.

Plus, hello? Checklists!

How can you resist the lure of getting to mark off an empty checkbox? I certainly can’t! I love getting to put an X in that box, and it feels AMAZING. Even if it was for something simple (i.e., a work assignment), I get a shivery feeling of accomplishment. You get the same sense when you write out your goals and check off each step. Then you get to look back and see how far you’ve come – bonus feeling!

You create the ladder toward your own success, and you see your journey of accomplishment. It boosts your confidence, it boosts your sense of self, and it brings that dream within reach. With that checklist drifting around in your brain – a nebulous concept – you don’t have the same feeling. Did you come up with that step a month ago or yesterday? Did you remember to do that step yet? Did you think about how to break down that goal into individual parts? It’s just more difficult, and it can become more frustrating – to the point that you skip it entirely.

You want that dream – you know that – so sit down and write out how you’re going to get there. Write out every goal, every step you need to get there. Then make sure you can see those goals every day. Otherwise, your dream is going to stay on that pedestal forever, and you’re going to stay miserable.

The Broken Compass

This is the way.

~THE MANDALORIAN

When I was in high school, preparing for college, I had a plan for my future: I had selected my school, I knew I was going to major in Marine Biology, and I knew I was going to become a researcher, focusing on behaviors of great white sharks. My future was laid out as a beautiful, manicured path with sunshine beaming down at regular intervals. Unhappily, when I arrived at college, I experienced a minor setback when my adviser informed me that Marine Biologists were a dime a dozen; if I wanted any chance at a career in the field, I was going to have to add a second major to my curriculum to distinguish myself.

Enter the first change in plans.

Surprise, surprise: I’m not a researcher working with sharks; I’m not actually working in the field of Marine Biology, at all. Those beautiful, naive, plans ended up derailed time and time again as reality and my need to make other people happy intruded. And each time I ended up cringing and feeling disappointed because I changed my plan. After all, I believed that you were supposed to go to college, get a job, and then progress with that job for the rest of your life. That was the example I had from my elders, from television, from literature; I didn’t know of any other option. The fact that I wasn’t fitting into that mold – over and over – made me feel like a failure. My jobs were leaving me to switch paths entirely: concrete, dirt, gravel, stone. I even made the dreaded error of going back to school and getting another degree…a crazy, “old” adult sitting among a bunch of kids.

The audacity, the insanity…the reality?

Why is there such a negative connotation against changing your mind, your path, though? The humorous world is built on mocking work life because people are often miserable existing inside of cubes and offices (I can attest to that – I did spend over a year in a cubicle, watching my life slowly get sucked out of me). So why do we insist on staying at hopes we hate? Is it because we’re all bought into the same example I did – that we’re supposed to lock into a single pathway? Is it because we have the same “support” systems telling us that we have good salaries, great benefits, and ample opportunities where we are, so why would we give that up for uncertainty? Is it because we’re afraid of the unknown?

Yes.

I have been there – I AM there. It’s terrifying to contemplate switching away from the comfortable path you’re on to one that is completely shrouded in fog and mist. Is there even another path on that other side, or is it just a chasm with a bottomless pit? At the same time, though, is it worth continuing being exhausted, aggravated, and frustrated when there is a possibility for genuine happiness? Sure, people look at you strange and question your motives (regardless of your age, really) whenever you decide to deviate from the expected norm. Where did expectation get you in the first place, though?

Confidence and the Invisible Army

They win by convincing you that you’re alone.

— STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

The invisible army.

I never realized the impact of the invisible army until recently or how much power it has over a person. I think we’ve all encountered the invisible army at one point or another in our lives: someone uses a line similar to, “everyone else feels…” and BOOM! the entire Imperial Army is ranged against your lowly, crippled X-Wing. There is no response to those statements, no way to defend yourself when everyone shares an opinion opposite to yours. It’s an instant blow to your entire system, leaving you stunned, and the only thing you can do is quietly accept your fate and limp home, never realizing the full impact of what’s happened until later.

Your confidence is shaken.

Before those words were spoken, you thought things were going pretty well; your spine was intact, you held your head up high, and you felt a measure of pride in yourself and your work. Now, knowing that EVERYONE is ranged against you, you’re cowering, you can’t look anyone in the eye, and you doubt everything you’ve ever done. That person robbed you of your confidence, shattered it (hopefully didn’t erase it entirely, but that is a possible outcome, too – it depends on the size of the invisible army), and the worst part is, that was their intent from the beginning. People use the word “everyone” because it has impact, because it’s difficult to argue against, because we know that majority rules. Now, that person has the upper hand, while you’re left slumped in defeat in front of them.

It’s a cruel trick, and it’s one I’ve experienced many times – surrendering pieces of my confidence over and over again. I would slink home, sit on the couch, and analyze every life choice I had ever made, wondering what led me to be such a screw-up. To be honest, I’m doing it right now – it’s what prompted me to start this blog, to consider a new path (I’m not even sure the Empire ever had an army this big). My confidence is currently being held together with a couple pieces of old tape and sheer force of will. Why? I know my worth; I can recite all of my best qualities, all of the positive things I bring to the table, and I have a hefty list of accomplishments. I have a list of people reminding me on a daily basis of my talents, reassuring me that I can do anything I set my mind to. So why am I trying to hold my shaky confidence together with fraying string?

Because an invisible army said I was wrong.

It looks ridiculous when it’s written out, but that’s exactly how much power that invisible army HAS. It’s a throw-back to elementary school when kids told you no one liked you on the entire playground, and you spent recess sitting on a corner of the blacktop making patterns with the rocks. It’s a reminder of asking a guy to senior prom and hearing him proclaim, loudly, that no one was stupid enough to go with someone as ugly as you. “No one” and “everyone” are hulking beasts with fists and mallets that hammer away at your self-confidence, and every blow leaves a bruise on your psyche. People use those words because of the power they convey, because they know you’ll cave when you hear them. If they can break your confidence, they win. They win, and you’re sitting at home analyzing every choice you’ve ever made in your life.

And it has to STOP.

So now I’m sitting here, wondering why I let those people do that to me. Why did I surrender my confidence to bullies? Why did I compromise a part of who I was because I was afraid of an invisible army? How many people were REALLY in that army? What were their strengths? Their stats? Their ranks? Was there even an army at all or was it a foil to “keep me in line?” I wasn’t brave enough to ask the questions, to plant my feet and show some of that spine. Which is how I ended up here, looking at a fissured self-confidence and hoping I have enough glue and staples to repair it.