I love the fact that each and every human being is made up of a glorious mix of traits – no-one is wholly one thing or another, however much we might like to label ourselves. We are not wholly confident, nor utterly unconfident; no-one is flawlessly beautiful and neither is anyone so ugly that they cannot be allowed out in public. The most that we can say about anyone is that they exhibit more or less of a particular trait than a handy comparable person. A person may be more shy than a sibling, or prettier than a friend; less successful than a boss but more successful than a neighbour.
I would generally consider myself to be less self-confident, for example, than I would wish to be, although this is improving with age, and there are scenarios in which I am as self-confident as anyone. I think of myself as socially rather awkward and I used to rue the fact that I didn’t have a huge circle of friends. Again, as I’ve got older that has mattered less and less and now I look back and wonder whether I didn’t have that type of circle because I neither needed nor particularly wanted it. Perhaps I am not shy so much as insular.
When I read advice about self-confidence (which I do, because I love a bit of self-help advice which I can then totally ignore), one thing that leaps out at me is the concept of self-consciousness. In particular, the idea that we often fall into the trap of believing ourselves to be the centre of attention and all our faults glaringly obvious, when most of the time no-one is watching us and no-one cares what we are doing.
I can only assume that the people giving this advice are in that rare minority who take no pleasure in watching other people. Me? I am always watching. I love seeing what everyone else is wearing and carrying and doing and thinking. Quite often, I am studying with a critical eye, although I try to keep my observations largely to myself. It would, therefore, be disingenuous to assume that people are not, in their turn, studying me and making sometimes harsh observations. I don’t think any of us have it in our power to prevent this and I don’t think we should wish to because it is through observing others that we come to an understanding about what people are and how we can all coexist in this world. Pretty much all creativity includes some form of watching other people and if no-one was watching, then there would be no stories, no films, no TV, no music. This mutual studying of each other helps us to understand both our similarities and our differences.
We all have times when we think we have done something stupid and we want, more than anything, to curl up in a ball and avoid human contact so we don’t have to be reminded of our mistakes. Perhaps next time we feel like that, it might be useful to remember that someone might have been watching, someone might have seen it, someone might think less of us, but it doesn’t matter. There will have been times when they have felt exactly that way too. They might be so busy watching us and making judgements that they walk slap bang into a foolish situation of their own.
What I have learned from observing people who seem more self-confident than me is that sometimes they are just better at masking their insecurities. They are, in their way, actors who step into the part of “life and soul of the party” when they encounter others. It doesn’t mean they are better than, or any worse than, the next person, than you, than me. If we choose to we can all emulate them: put on a mask and play to the gallery before we retire to the peace and comfort of our own skins.