A friend asked me once, who do you idolize and why? I told them I have no idols I would like to be, but there are specific traits I admire from people. Namely: elegance, gentleness, drive, focus, unselfconsciousness, charisma. But most of all: internal confidence.
You can tell when someone is quietly confident. When they have a concise sense of their own identity — they don’t need to overcompensate or speak loudly about their successes or wealth or intensity. I know who I am. I know what I need. I know what I want. That internal tranquility is so sacred, so rare.
There are many dimensions of confidence: feeling attractive, feeling valuable, feeling autonomous. Doing things right and then doing more things is how most people gain task-level confidence. Self efficacy. “An individual's belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments.” If you’re an anxious overachiever, this comes easy. It comes naturally: the reap, the sow. Maybe to some of us this is the only dimension in life where confidence comes with ease. That’s why we chase so much — promotion, valuation, other mediums of success. It’s a learned compulsion.
But these are all external benchmarks of value. All fed to us through an overarching narrative tube of what we should do, what story to believe in, who we should be. We are compiled of narratives on narratives, interlacing themselves into a tight fabric of being.
Katherine Anne Porter in an interview once said "I made the mistake of thinking I was quite like anyone else, of trying to live like other people. It took me a while to realize that simply wasn’t true. I had my own needs, and I had to live like me.” I’ve been trying to articulate this for a while now to no avail: I really think true confidence emerges when you stop trying to live in other people’s stories and start living in your own.
And to live in your own story is to set your own arc — to find your own voice that rings sweetly through the silence. To recognize and accept your desires instead of running from them — whether they are selfish, absurd, mundane. And to accept responsibility for your choices. Choosing who you love. Choosing what you love. Hildegard: we cannot live in a world that is not our own, in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a home.
Self as home is a concept I think about a lot. Because only you can know what that home looks like, feels like. Only you can carefully build that home, decorate it, maintain it. When your surroundings are uncertain it is the only loving, stable, place in the whole world. I painted the below in 2017 in a particularly lonely time — it’s the mandarin word (自己: self).
Self assurance is generated on the level of the soul. Less ego, more acceptance. Integration of shadow. More openness to self. Ease of giving and receiving love without expectation or obligation.
It’s funny. The smallest, unexpected things make me feel this way. I feel confident when I listen carefully to my intuition. When I give myself time to rest. When I’m climbing a mountain and I feel my heart beating quickly in my chest, when my body feels strong and capable. The times where I can admit ‘I know nothing about X, but I’m open to learning about it.’ When I feel affection and receive it gladly rather than closing the drawbridge to my heart all the time. When I say a difficult thing, knowing it will disappoint someone I love. In the same vein, handling rejection gracefully. In seeking mastery in something. In one good thing. That’s all I’ve ever wanted— to craft something distinct, beautiful, larger than me. It turns out that all along, I’ve known what I need. I just need to act on it more.
Here are some things I’ve been journaling about in regards to confidence:
Have confidence in your curiosity and wonder, rather than your knowledge
Lucille Clifton: I don't write out of what I know; I write out of what I wonder. I think most artists create art in order to explore, not to give the answers. Poetry and art are not about answers to me; they are about questions. You are a curator of curiosities, not an expert. It becomes a lot easier to share this way, because you’re just taking someone else along on the ride.
The way you treat yourself is a mirror for how other people will treat you
When you break promises to yourself, you abandon yourself. You allow people to break their promises to you. Everything is a mirror, a diary. If you talk down to yourself, you instinctively allow other people to do that to you as well because some tiny part of you believes that it is true.
Setting boundaries is an act of self love, no one can tell you what you need
Expectation is the killer of joy — and even more so when it’s other people’s expectations of who you should be to them. True friends will never have an issue with your boundaries. Have the confidence to enact your boundaries, never let them be overstepped.
There is no fruitful comparison between people
What really sets you free is knowing that every individual is incomparable. That you cannot be measured on the same dimension as someone else. That your personality, your skills, your laughter, your joy, your energy — is unique and wholly yours. If someone wants to leave you in search of ‘better’, let them go graciously. They are just seeking something different.
Have the courage to be misunderstood
People will impose their limiting beliefs onto your world because it’s what governs theirs. They will tell you to stay in something you want to leave, will tell you to keep pushing toward something that feels wrong, feels misaligned. You always have a choice. You can yield to expectation, pessimism, set structures. Or — as Octavia Butler once said, there’s nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns — you can believe in the new suns.
Quote of the Week
For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.
— Carl Sagan
What I’m Reading
I went to a restaurant on Friday by myself and brought I Who Have Never Known Men, and Lathe of Heaven with me. Thoroughly enjoying both!!!
Self dates are literally the best. Highly recommend. I did mine in two parts. I went to Mamanoko for a sushi roll and then to Wildseed for a baba ganoush/hummus/flatbread situation. Stunning.
Nicole, you are an amazing writer. The thought that you have put into this blog speaks a lot about the time and effort you've put in understanding yourself. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience with me.
Sending you loads of ❤️ and 🍣
a powerful piece Nicole! You just gained a new subscriber. In terms of your last discussion point 'have the courage to be misunderstood', that reminds me of a book that I really like called the courage to be disliked. I'd recommend it if you have not read it yet