In every psychology lecture, there is this guy who walks in fifteen minutes late in a neon-orange bomber jacket, or, occasionally, highlighter-yellow vest (in November). He smiles at people, waves, and takes his seat in the front row. Every time, it amazes me. From a high spot of poor visibility, on the edge of a row of people I felt too awkward to ask to move, I admire this. That confidence, the beautiful optimum between self-loathing and arrogance, whilst being friendly and nice, is everything I want.
Though I am in a better place than I have, at times, been, low confidence is so intrinsic to who I am that it’s beginning to feel more like a trait than a temporary problem. I have been known to refuse school on the grounds that no one likes me (at age 18, as well as eight) and lock myself in a car to escape the criticism of a blog post shared unexpectedly. It inhibits every area of my life, from my first and only waitressing shift where my very shaky hands smashed three glasses (one by one painfully slowly) to driving lessons where stalling, screaming, or almost killing cats has earned violent gestures from fellow drivers.
I’ve googled everything from ‘confidence tips’ to ‘why am I like this?’ and have never received an answer. Oversensitivity, need for approval, and taking things too seriously make up components of my problem, but don’t explain its origin. Gaining confidence in abilities is doable.
Everyone’s good at something, and doing that one thing returns results. If that’s academia; revise, succeed, feel good. Many areas of success, though, don’t quite solve the problem. Social confidence (pre-vodka) is what I crave. Social confidence requires trust. Approaching someone is easier if you believe that they’ll be nice. I can’t do stand-up not entirely for doubt in my comedic talents, but because I don’t believe people will laugh. People can, of course, be cruel, and I spend most of my life in a state of self-preserved fight-or-flight, hiding from the brunt of that.
There are ways to overcome these fears, particularly at the height to which I perpetuate them. Calming down and not catastrophising is an obvious one: so what if they don’t laugh? The world spins on. I must also stress the importance of not caring what people think, and doing things for yourself, rather than for others’ approval. Sometimes this means accepting personal standards, and not comparing relative achievements, and sometimes it means accepting the fact that some people won’t like you.
I used to use others’ approval as reflection of my worth, which is dangerous and demeaning. If you haven’t done anything wrong, such as hurt someone, it doesn’t matter if they don’t like you. Pretending to be something you’re not to impress only returns shallow acceptances, but being honest gains real, fulfilling connections.
You can’t trust everyone to be nice, all you can control is yourself. So, although it’s scary, face your fears and go for things. Buy that orange jacket, shuffle papers in the library’s silent section, post that Instagram even if you think no one will like it, and do it all for yourself. If people judge you for a harmless act, they are really not worth your time, anyway.