Can we be confident without being certain? Life is unpredictable, which leaves us feeling vulnerable. We could even say, with certainty, that vulnerability in life is a fact! Is it possible to be confidant while knowing we are vulnerable?
In my youth, I was in awe of people who seemed very sure of themselves, who projected an air of confidence. This was not at all how I felt in myself. I was uncertain about my views and often unwilling to reveal my thoughts. But over time and with greater experience, I began to question these impressions of others, and of myself.
I recall one event in particular, where a friend expressed a definite view on a matter. She was one of those people whose confidence I was in awe of. But only a couple of months before, I had heard her express the opposite view with equal certainty. Her turnaround gave me a jolt, though she did not seem to be aware of her change of stance. I saw that her forceful way of expressing herself was more a personal style than a statement of truth. Was my own lack of certainty not such a bad thing?
I became more cautious when hearing statements of firm belief. Could an appearance of certainty be a simple fixity of view? A tendency to regard one’s own opinion, whatever it may be at the time, as the correct version of reality? Or be a kind of bravado, masking one's own insecurity. In some cases, what I had assumed to be confidence now looked like its opposite.
Authentic self-confidence is energising. Empowering. Yet we cannot turn it on by will. In some situations, it can help to appear confident even when we are unsure of ourselves. In a job interview or a new role, we try to present ourselves as capable, even if we don’t feel it. There is a place for ‘faking it until we make it’. But where possible, it is best to edge toward greater honesty and openness. This reduces stress, creates better communication and allows us to grow.
So, what is confidence? The word stems from the Latin for trust. It suggests that, in a search for truth, we are willing to put our faith in an idea or a person (which may be oneself). Confidence is a notch away from fact. A fact is a certainty. We cannot dispute a fact. We can be certain that the sun appears in the sky. We cannot be certain it will always do so. But we can be confident it will continue to shine in the days and years ahead.
In the realm of human relationships, we can wish to appear confident in ourselves and our beliefs. This can help others to have trust in us which feels to be a good thing. But appearances can be deceptive and so we can feel the push to be not only confident, but certain. Presenting our views and beliefs with certainty in opposition to others’ firm beliefs leads to conflict. Even, to war.
Can we be confident without being certain? Life is unpredictable, which leaves us feeling vulnerable. We could even say, with certainty, that vulnerability in life is a fact! Is it possible be confidant while knowing we are vulnerable? Yes, it is! Because the uncertainty of life is true, we are true to life when we accept this. There can be confidence in this.
None of us are immune to difficulties, to illness, to aging. We are mortal. We make mistakes. The more we can accept these uncomfortable realities, the more we can be true to ourselves and to life as it actually is. Feeling vulnerable may seem like the opposite of confidence. Yet the capacity to open to vulnerability has its own power.
Being able to allow my vulnerability and to sooth myself is confidence building. I am a little less afraid of the fear itself. There is less need to avoid or to cover up what feels scary and unpalatable.
Since having long Covid, I have episodes of brain fog. Being unable to think straight makes me feel vulnerable. Yesterday I found myself struggling to follow a simple set of instructions. Fear arose. “What if I never recover? If it’s all downhill from here?” I was becoming stressed - and it is well documented that stress makes it harder to think with clarity. But I have learned tools for calming anxiety. I trust that I can calm my nervous system through feeling the ground beneath my feet. Through allowing deeper outbreaths. And, like a kind parent to a frightened child, I can talk to myself with reassuring words. “It’s OK. Ssshhhh…” I found myself using soothing words that my own mother spoke to me as a child. All of these things helped. Being able to allow my vulnerability and to sooth myself is confidence building. I am a little less afraid of the fear itself. There is less need to avoid or to cover up what feels scary and unpalatable. On this occasion I was also fortunate to be with friends that I could share my worries with. Opening up my hidden fears brought connection, comfort and security.
Authenticity goes hand in hand with a willingness to be vulnerable. We naturally feel more confident when we are being true to ourselves. In the words of Brene Brown:
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
And genuine confidence is born, little by little, from truth and courage.
Photo by Lewis Roberts on Unsplash