Confidence and Insecurity

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I used to prefer my world in black and white, a time when my options were either/or and never both/and. It was a simpler – albeit less accurate – worldview. These days, I’m more comfortable with shades of grey, although not all 50 of them. And in moving away from absolute thinking, I’ve learned to hold seemingly contradictory views simultaneously. I understand that extraordinary kindness can coexist with extreme intolerance for stupidity, mendacity and banality. That intelligence in one area is no guarantee of high cognitive function in another. And confidence can coincide with insecurity. All in the same person. The heroine of Shelly Laurenston’s The Unyielding, Erin, is one such person. I’m another. 

Erin is a Crow, an enhanced human who can fly and kick ass, and who is tasked with preventing the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse from heralding the End Times. No small feat. One has to have big, brass, hairy balls to take on such an endeavor; Erin is the perfect choice. She is as confident as the King of the Jungle; she rarely doubts her abilities.  She moves through fear like a lion through the high grass of the savanna. 

But even the lions fail once in a while. They know defeat and doubt sometimes. No one gets through life without an occasional foray into the isolation of insecurity and the confusion of uncertainty. Even Erin, upon whom all hopes for humanity rest. Her confidence is legion, but not infinite. 

I suspect that everyone experiences this dance between confidence and insecurity, although it is more obvious in some. All of us know people who are crippled by insecurity. Those who cannot make a decision or who are so paralyzed by perfectionism that they do nothing. Others become intolerably slow because they are afraid of making a mistake. Some are so self-effacing we forget they are there and take any successful efforts for granted—or worse, ascribe them to someone else—and only notice when they fall. At which point these cellophane people corrected, which makes them even more insecure and invisible. The tragedy is that most of these poor souls have little reason to be as insecure as they are. And it tends to get worse over time. Tough to watch. I try hard to offer extra reassurance to these folks. I don’t always succeed. But I try. 

Then there are those whose insecurity manifests as belligerence. One young woman with whom I’m acquainted has such a massive chip on her shoulder that it’s hard to see her abilities and accomplishments – the boulder on her shoulder often obfuscates the view. Worse, as she maneuvers that big block, she tends to knock others over in her zeal to prove herself. It’s harder to feel compassionate for those like her whose insecurities compel boorish behavior.  It’s not fair, though, because all of these insecurities, no matter how they leak out, come from the same fucked up place. 

Insecurity is just a multisyllabic word for fear. And fear always causes bad behavior, as I’ve written about here. Whether we are afraid we won’t get something we want (recognition, love, success, material possessions, etc.) or lose something we have (same general list), fear results in our saying and doing things best left unsaid or undone. I know I resist my impulses to act out of fear on a regular basis. Those who know me, and even some who don’t, always know when I’m nervous or insecure. I become frenetic and chaotic, my fear leaking out as aggression, impatience and thoughtlessness. Not pretty. Better if I can lock that shit down and act as if I’m not a quivering mass of fear and insecurity. Sometimes I can. Sometimes I can’t. Success is dependent on a variety of factors, most of which I have yet to figure out, unfortunately. 

Even the most seemingly confident of us are insecure about something. I know, and so do all of you because I write about it often, that I’m a teeming mass of insecurity wrapped up in a highly confident shell. Where my confidence fails me is in accepting the other side of that coin, in believing in others’ reciprocity or recognition. In this arena, I’m beyond insecure, which leads, inexorably, to bad or annoying behavior, the need for endless reassurance and positive feedback and a truly unattractive level of self-absorption. Yuck. 

I wish I were more like those confident people who manage their inevitable insecurities better than I do. Some eschew the misery loves company model and keep their insecurities to themselves, locked up in supermax prisons. Sometimes I wish I had an unbreachable safe in which to lock down my less savory emotions where they would be made invisible to everyone but me. But it’s not who I am. 

It pays to remember that we are all human, and we are all a roiling mess of emotions, both positive and negative. It’s always a balance. Too little confidence is crippling, while too much leads to hubris, and we don’t need a Greek tragedy to tell us where that road goes. Just say no. But a healthy mix of confidence and doubt appears to be the secret to success. I have always believed that fortune favors the bold and that we should all go big or go home. Like Erin’s efforts to save the world. But that doesn’t mean we are androids dreaming of electric sheep. We are all humans experiencing the same difficulties as our comrades in arms. Shades of grey, all of us. A perfect, or imperfect mix of black and white, creating chaos, cats and dogs living together... wait, no. Just us humans—and Crows—living our lives confidently with a helping of insecurity on the side.