Freedom from doubt; belief in yourself and your abilities
People always told me I was a confident person, and I have to admit, I have always exuded confidence; but recently, I discovered that it was a cover – a cover for all my insecurities and fears. I had developed an exterior persona (a personal facade that one presents to the world) that I was presenting; it wasn’t the real me.
The real me was a small child desperate to be held and told that everything would be all right, that I would be safe from harm.
I realised that the more scared I became in life the more the mask would come into play, and the person I became was no more who I really was than the characters actors play in films. Confidence was my protection. Confidence allowed me to go into the world and have people see me as I would want to be seen, not how I really was. The less I knew about a subject the more I would cover it up with false confidence; the way someone who drinks too much gets “dutch courage” (courage resulting from intoxication), and the deeper the fear, the more arrogant I would become.
“They mustn’t know I know nothing about this job, I must cover it up.”
So I would walk around with all the airs and graces of someone superior, so that no one would question me, and I developed language skills that would allow me to carry on the charade. But deep inside there was a young child who longed to be protected.
Over the last few years, I came to understand this inside “me,” through the development of awareness, and was horrified by what I found. I realised that in order to be authentic, I had to start to let the world see the more vulnerable me; but that wasn’t what people wanted, they wanted the confident alan, the one who could do anything and go anywhere; the alan who made everybody laugh? As I let more and more of the real me out into the world, people were somewhat disturbed.
“You? With problems? Don’t make me laugh! Vulnerable, you? Nonsense!”
It was an impossible task.
My wife once said to me “Oh no, I don’t want you to have problems, it’s me who has problems, I want you to be my rock,” but as time passed I found I could no longer be this person I created and I let the mask slip. I wasn’t confident at all, I told people, it was just a pretence, and people were visibly unsure of what to say to me anymore. They avoided me and didn’t want to hear about all the internal turmoil that was going on inside my head; after all, they had their own turmoil, and the reason they liked being around me was because I made them feel confident. No one wanted to hear about how anxious I was and how worried I was about life – it made them feel unsettled. So I resolved to find out what was going on in my brain on my own.
We are all actors
We all have a persona we present to the world, don’t we? It’s what we are expected to do.
In the office they always tell people to “leave their troubles at home, don’t bring them to work.” So people have to sit day after day, pretending that everything is all right – that they aren’t concerned about bills mounting up, or their family splitting up. We are told to conform.
“When you come here, you come to work,” they always say.
They don’t want to hear that you are feeling anxious or nervous about something, they want you to keep making money for them, that is why you are there. It’s not a place where people air their troubles. So every day we pull ourselves together, adjust our tie, put on a smile and walk in and say “Good morning, how are you?” And answer the same question with an “Oh yes, I’m fine thank you very much, thank you for asking!” But deep in the back of our minds, our real “me” is screaming to get out.
Either employers are unaware that people have conflict going on internally, and have personal or relationship problems, or they deliberately shut it out in order that the work is not affected.
Remember that when you go to work you are expected to conform to the company standard. If you work with customers, you will always be expected to smile and pretend that your life is perfect. If that didn’t happen customers would be concerned. After all, they don’t want to hear your stories; they have plenty of their own. They came into your store to buy a shirt, that’s all, they don’t want to hear that actually your husband is leaving you and you have no money… that’s not what work is for, is it? So we keep on pretending.
It’s no wonder that so many people have to go and see therapists in this fast moving consumer society.
Money is the bottom line, not the psychological well-being of the employees. But maybe it should be. But then, if everyone’s well-being was the primary goal of the organisation then who would make the money to pay them? No. Money comes first, leave your troubles at home, don’t bring them into work.
But they must be stupid! If you bring “me” to work then you also bring all “me’s” troubles, because funnily enough “me” is me! You can’t leave the troubled me behind at home, unless you own a “personality splitting device,” but that’s what companies want you to do. They want you to split, to divide, and only present the facade they are paying you for, and as you don’t want to lose your job, because that would only create more personal problems for you, you put on the mask.
So what we want to investigate is whether there is such a thing as authentic confidence. Is it something inherent or is it simply something we learn, so we do not show our real self to the outside world?
As we journey through life, we often meet people who seem to be timid or anxious, and we feel sorry for them.
“Poor girl, she was so shy, no confidence at all.” But at least she was showing her true self, that’s a start; but perhaps because she had not developed the skills needed to put the mask on, not because of a conscious decision.
There are some people who are quiet in social situations, and we say to them: “You need to be more self-confident.”
But does that really mean we can trawl through the depths of our brains and pull “self-confidence” out of the bag, so to speak? Or are we asking them to develop an external way of behaving, and talking, so people will think they are confident, or sure of themselves? I would have to say that it is the latter.
So, if we see that self-confidence is false, that it is merely a mask we put on when we need to, we need to find out what is going on behind the mask. What do you think?
How about conflict, division and fear, amongst others?
You see, without the mask of self-confidence in our abilities as a performer, businessman, or scientist, who are we? Are we really the successful businessman, or the accomplished musician, or are the job titles and the social superiority that come with them mere covers for what is really going on? We will have to investigate more to find out the truth of it.
Ok, so you’re very “sure” of yourself, you know a lot of stuff, you make a bit of money, people seem to like you, you get on well with the ladies, you are pretty good looking and don’t have any financial worries to speak of. Now I want you to imagine that now you have lost all of those bolt-ons that give you confidence, and I want to ask you who you are inside.
What I am asking you is what’s really going on in that brain of yours when we unplug the confidence module? Are you afraid of uncertainty? Are you frightened that no one will like you anymore? Who is the self-confidence for anyway? You or for someone else?
Let me ask you another question. If you are stranded on a desert island do you need to have self-confidence? Well, you must have some faith in your abilities to find food and water and prepare shelter, otherwise you aren’t going to fare too well, but if you haven’t got these abilities you just have to learn them.
And it is through the learning process that your confidence to be able to provide food and shelter for yourself develops. But that is a process that started internally.
When you began, you were afraid that you wouldn’t be able to find food, but as you learned more, you realised that yes, you had no problem finding food so you felt self-confident. But that is a different scenario from the one we posed above.
Biologically, it may make sense for us to have self-confidence, so we can survive and procreate successfully, but socially, it seems that something has gone wrong along the way. Instead of something that builds steadily and carefully, all the time resolving conflicts along the way to have a whole confident being, we tell you that “confidence” in the modern world is an asset, and that those who have it will do well for themselves in life. So we bolt it on. Do you understand?
Instead of evolving from a natural process where we are aware of ourselves, and our emotions, and deal with conflict and trouble from the ground up, we are just told to plug in the confidence module and everything will be all right. But what has happened here? We merely have a cloak over the authentic self, which is desperately trying to be heard.
That is exactly what was happening to me in my life. I saw that confidence was an asset; I developed the skills necessary, and used it quite successfully; until one day, the inside couldn’t be contained any more, and I had a panic attack that scared me intensely. I couldn’t understand what was happening: One minute, I was a confident (arrogant) young man sitting drinking a cappuccino in a hotel lobby with someone from work, and the next I was going mad.
My heart was beating so hard I thought it would come through my chest, my head was swimming, I felt sick, dizzy, I had to get air so I opened the hotel room window, but when I looked down I could feel the ground coming up at me. After what seemed like hours it passed. But the next day I ran home to my mother in england like a scared child. Gone was my self-confidence, and in it’s place a frightened wreck of a man, after all, the self-confidence never really existed; this was the real me, unmasked.
Building from the ground up
It is not wrong to have real self-confidence, as long as it has a solid foundation. But all the external showiness is just arrogance; it has nothing to do with internal confidence.
In order to get started, we need to unplug and throw away the “self-confidence module.” That’s it, toss it in the bin. Now we are just us, it’s time to do some serious awareness training. And for that, we need to start to become aware of every thought, every feeling, every desire, every piece of knowledge we have; and we need to start resolving any conflict that exists. And in that resolution, will come silence.
Now, I am not saying that this is going to be easy. It took me over fourteen years to rebuild my internal confidence about who I was and my place in the world, but I was in denial for the first ten, and had not much to go on for the last four! By sharing this book and my experiences with you, I hope it will give you a head start. You may say that actually you are very self-confident, and that it comes from within, and actually you’re very happy with you’re life, and “thank you, but I don’t think I will be unplugging my self-confidence module, at least in this life!” And that’s ok too.
If you truly believe that the way you feel about yourself is authentic self-confidence, then congratulations; but if you are more like me, then maybe it is worth a shot. Maybe it is worth finding out what really exists under the mask you are forced to wear to work every day. And while we’re talking about work, I only hope that one day companies will start to become aware that their employees are not automatons, and that yes, they have problems, and no, it’s not ok to leave them at home; and yes, you would like someone to talk to about them!
But hang on, that’s not going to happen while money is the only thing that matters! Maybe we need to rethink what we do for work as well and never work for people that want us to wear a mask.
“Put it on? No thanks, I’d rather be myself, even if it is painful.”
Unfortunately, compassion and business seem to be two words that are not destined to be used together in the near future, unless we create something new, where money is not why the organisation exists.
Slowly, and gently, become aware of yourself, and your true self will begin to emerge from the darkness. It may be scary at first, but stick with it, and remember that there are many people on the same journey as you.
Take comfort in it. And you don’t need courage (a quality of spirit that enables you to face danger or pain without showing fear) to do this either, it’s good to show you are afraid; only when you are aware of fear can you transcend it.
I am with you on your journey.