How do we reach true self-confidence?
I chose to write this piece in a very emphatic and simplistic way. I do not expect anyone to entirely identify. This is only a tiny observative testimony.
I recently had a violent access of anger toward my generation. We are eighteen, nineteen. We are progressively coming out of adolescence, some of us faster than others. We are, bits by bits, choosing and turning to the types of social interactions that we prefer. Some of us will discover themselves to be more at ease in a big crowd, having the best of funs in gigantic and noisy nightclubs or worldly events. Some of us will choose to privilege small and intimate gatherings, face-to-face interactions. Some of us will simply find their most precious happiness in solitude, calm, self-sufficiency. And some others, like me, will find a bit of satisfaction in each of the above. It’s hard to tell which category is the most mature, which one is truly growing out of adolescence. Maybe growing old only means growing able to make honest and firm choices rather than choosing whatever type of choice. In the end, any choice is mature as long as it allows us to feel at ease, honest, and faithful to ourselves. And that’s the heart of the problem: how do we know where and how to truly feel good and confident?
The very issue with overthinking any action or choice we make is that hardly anything can be done out of instinct. Everything will always feel calculated and as intelligently thought through as possible. And if the action or choice has not been processed through this phase of self-reflection, it automatically feels meaningless, immature, and condemnable. It’s in this constant reflection that my anger was born. Suddenly, none of the types of social interactions, relationship concepts, behaviors types, seemed attractive and meaningful to me. Yet, I have always been pretty social. I have different groups of very divergent friends, each with their preferred type of social process. I had never really acknowledged my ability to adapt easily until this year, when I truly realized that special and interesting people could be found in whatever type of social group, regardless of their respective habits and educations. However, being able to ‘adapt’ is not the same thing as ‘fitting’, ‘feeling at ease’. I find it pretty easy to interact, engage conversations, introduce myself in any kind of situation since, in the end, practically all the people I encounter are all the same age, dealing with the approximate same things, although not with the same approach of course, and therefore all being linked by their belonging to the same generation. Nevertheless, a feeling of uneasiness and complexity is almost always hidden at the back of an overthinker’s head when meeting new people. And that’s where lack of self-confidence plays its role. Is the person I am talking to finding me interesting? Am I putting him/her in a boring deadlock? Is the conversation really going anywhere? What do I intend to do with this information? Is the guy over there finding me attractive? Should I have dressed otherwise? Am I looking at ease? Am I looking weird? Should I speak or should I stay quiet? Am I really the unattractive one here? Am I completely transparent? Am I really interested in those people? Should I drink a little bit more to relax? Am I really having fun? Was it worth that much money to get in there? Are the people around me faking their fun? Will I get out of this night feeling happy, disappointed, or degraded? That’s a lot, but actually not much for an overthinker. Why does being feel like sport when it seems so natural for others? How do we find peace of mind? I am lucky to have several very divergent examples of peaceful people around me, that help me see that the spectrum of peace is not all-wise, pure, and simple. That peace can be hard work instead of a natural gift. The three examples that come to my mind are very smart girls with very different types of intelligence. Two of them are pretty confident: speaking simply, they are not bothered to get their picture taken, do not have issues with engaging conversations with strangers, do not see a problem with dressing sexy and make their friends feel good instead of making them feel bad about their easiness to accept themselves. These two never overthink. When they want to do something, they do it. When they feel like they should force themselves to do something, in the event they would miss something cool without doing it, they make an effort. When I ask them to explain and put into words their actions, choices, and experiments, they have a hard time doing it, simply because they feel that there is no necessary explanation to give. I profoundly admire them and feel grateful for their peaceful mind, because that’s what peaceful people do to others: they make them feel calm and temporarily peaceful themselves. My third example is my best friend, who is one of the humans I admire the most on Earth. She managed to find peace on a crazy impressive level: beyond physical complexes, which yet do very much exist, she reached a pearl of wisdom that allows her to think and not overthink, to make choices that are down-to-earth and respectful of others, to protect herself, to advise others intelligently. She managed to combine her lack of self-confidence with a healthy state of mind. And maybe that’s the key: embracing the things that we hate about us, to the point of not giving a lot of credit to them, or at least to the point of not letting them have a dreadful impact on our lives.
An example of a stumbling attempt to reach self-confidence
Thanks to my friends mostly, I eventually put into words a detailed scheme of self-confidence. There are several scales and categories of self-confidence. On the most simplified approach, there is, on the one hand, physical self-confidence, and on the other hand, self-confidence regarding one’s personality. Both are difficult to achieve, although we seem to give a lot more importance to the first category… maybe because the other one is difficult to put into words and facts. It’s way easier to focus on a visual problem than on an abstract one. Therefore, a lot of us tend to mix the two. One of my friends and I seem to have chosen the same strategy: we put a lot of energy into aesthetic physical creation, that is to say, creative makeups, eccentric and stylized outfits, which provide ourselves a feeling of satisfaction that comes to life in several aspects. First, they make us feel pretty, more confident; they allow us to create, elevate, and turn ourselves into other selves that suit us better in terms of visual. Second, they give us a feeling of singularity, as if we were rejecting standards to stand out and be noticed. Finally, they enrich our personality, on a creative level namely, but also in terms of confidence: being able to show off physical creativity involves courage, and ability to dare when others wouldn’t. All of this is great. Most of the time, the process of playing with our appearance is very satisfying and comforting: it gives us a feeling of control, of strength, of independence, of originality. But there are also a lot of times where all of this only feels painful, degrading, and sad. We hardly like ourselves without all those superficial means; why would others, then? How can we learn to like ourselves straight out of bed, in baggy pants, with glasses on, messy hair and no makeup on, and convince ourselves that others would like us like that? There is always this period of transition from the moment we wake up to the moment we get out of the bathroom all prepared, when we physically and, therefore, mentally feel like a piece of shit. Once all dressed up, we feel better… but for how long before this moment of doubt comes up again in regards to our ‘natural’ selves? This has an undeniable impact on the way we socially behave and evolve. It’s pretty easy to shelter in other’s admiration regarding our appearance: it’s always pleasant to be noticed and praised for our style, be categorized and put into the ‘creative’ or, as I was weirdly called recently, ‘bohemian’ box. It contributes to the construction of our social personality: sometimes, being the ‘different’ one is easier than fitting through conformism, because it gives us special treatment, elevates us to a special status. My friend and I chose this journey: overthinking our appearance, preferring to be noticed as ‘different’ to finally exist within a crowd, or more accurately to feel like existing. It doesn’t mean that we created our physical personality out of nowhere though: we did this because this is how we feel the truest to ourselves, and because we like playing with our appearance; if social advantages go along with it, it’s a major bonus.
The impacts of a young adult social life on self-confidence
The issue with young social interactions is that a lot of things that are commonly said are absolutely not okay. Prejudices, opinions, first-look judgments, gossips, intrusions in others' intimacy, unnecessary interpretations; they gladly fill gaps in conversations when silence would be a preferable and judicious choice. The very subject of nightclubs, which appears to me as a relevant example here, has been concerning me all year. I had never truly mingled into typical young nightlife and partying situations until this year. Since I love listening to music, dancing, and partying with my friends, I had figured that ‘going out’ would only mean doing so, but only with a lot more people around. That those people around would not particularly have an impact on our nights, except maybe in terms of atmosphere, like a federation of energies. But I found out that people have actual goals, purposes when going to nightclubs. I am referring to mainstream, well-known, commercial nightclubs, not the ones involving techno music, hallucinogenic drugs, and passionate DJs, where I find myself more at ease because of more adequacy with the crowd: people of these categories of nightclubs are in a way more individualist mood, being there to enjoy a particular type of music and skillful musicians, to dance their asses off or simply to get completely trashed without being bothered by anyone. It’s against the common nightclubs’ vocabulary that I have issues. For instance, it is said that any girl, with no exception, could be able to make out with someone. It is also said that boys are on a hunt when going to a nightclub. Here is the goal: above social interaction, it is physical interaction that a lot of young people are looking for. For matters of connexion, pleasure, popularity, experiments, in an attempt to prove something to oneself and others… The reasons for that kind of behavior are numerous. When I discussed this subject with my friends, to whom I was explaining that I couldn’t help myself to see another nightclub’s purpose than dancing on loud music, I was told that all of this was, in the end, a matter of social interaction. Apparently, for a lot of people, going out is for making encounters. Whether those encounters are transient, permanent, or life-changing does not really matter. I do not personally tend to give a lot of credit to smoking room discussions and dance floor kissings in nightclubs because I cannot regard them otherwise than transient. And transient bothers me. It might be nice to feel an instant connexion with someone; but precisely, if there is a connexion, why not going further? Hence my surprise and astonishment when I witness people kissing on the dance floor and separating without a single glance a few minutes later.
These common nightclub ideas and situations give life to a duality that troubles me a lot: is a girl in a nightclub always considered as a piece of meat? and, is the fact of being a piece of meat categorically outrageous, or can it be seen as a means toward physical self-confidence? I am a girl. I regularly go out in nightclubs. I always dress simply, never sexy, but nicely. I put on makeup. I dance a lot. I smoke. And yet, I almost never get hit on. Well, if even a random manly nightclub crowd cannot reassure me on the simplest approach of instant and superficial self-confidence, who will? What I was told in response to this question is that being hit on is only a matter of behavior and intention; that if I actually intended to make out with someone, I would undeniably succeed. Intending to make out apparently means moving in a particular way, being up for physical proximity when dancing, engaging insistent eye contacts. Should I simply intend to become a piece of meat, then? Is it not already enough to look nice? Apparently not.
I chose to speak out about this because I have heard of a lot of girls facing the same issue. We all have a friend who catches every boy’s attention, who has a lot of success at parties. For the less confident and more willing to catch up on this of us all, it may hurt, trigger frustration, provoke serious jealousy. For others like me, it mostly induces fascination. How does she manage to do that? How is she able to feel, or at least look so at ease that it creates a halo of attractiveness around her?
Conclusion: how to deal with this in the healthiest way possible
I came to the conclusion that this very situation, as well as a lot of others, is only a matter of taste and preference. The problem with people my age is that our transition from adolescence to adult life namely means exploring, discovering, groping, faking, making confused decisions, giving credit to meaningless issues. It takes a lot of effort and psychological work to undertake a choice, and to feel at peace with it. It is brave to say no, at our age. How many times do we say yes to certain types of frequentations, habits, social situations, by fear of rejection, mockery, despise? by fear of being considered as the antisocial one, the shy one, the weird one, the unattractive one? by fear of missing out on opportunities, of missing out great moments of bonding with new friends, of non-integration? I wouldn’t be able to count the number of unpleasant circumstances I got caught up in just because I couldn’t say no. And I think it’s in this area that I personally succeeded in finding peace, an area that I would advise anyone to focus on. This year, for the first time in my life, I managed to say no easily. With a certain amount of struggle, of course, I started trying to sort out the things that I really liked from the things that I pretended to like, to identify my tastes, to actually feel true motivation instead of constantly forcing it. I learned that sorting is useful and empowering: it provides independence and an actual self-confidence of all kinds. The past week is the most accurate example I can find: I just spent a week in a close friend’s gigantic pool house in the South of France, with twelve other people that I had never met for the most of them, born and raised in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. They all have the same social background, habits, have known each other for years, went to the same high schools. I was determined to leave my prejudices aside and to enjoy my vacation in the most chill way possible. And I surprisingly managed to do it well. By choosing once again the point of view of the observing outsider, I managed to sort and have fun. I willingly chose to stay out of boyish issues, to not flirt for the only purpose of flirting just because the others were doing so. I engaged neutral and nice conversations without trying so hard to be liked. I danced, drunk, smoked, and laughed a lot, but if I wanted to go to bed early, I did, no matter if I got considered as the boring one. If I wanted to isolate, I did, no matter if the others were still partying downstairs. I made choices and undertook them. And finally, it worked: I ended up finding everyone nice, I managed to accept myself with no makeup on, with glasses on, without any flirting interaction as a means of occupation and subsistence. I managed to think and not overthink. I managed to not give a shit. And it felt nice.