CONFIDENCE: The feeling you experience before you fully understand the situation.
For the past year and a half I have been collecting quotes that I felt are particularly true and important (and often funny). I have over 200 now and roughly an eighth are related to confidence, faith or doubt. This endeavor corresponds with the “midlife crisis” I’ve been experiencing during the same time . This period also corresponds with the birth of my daughters and the progression of my arthritis.
One can mistrust one’s own senses, but not one’s own belief. If there were a verb meaning “to believe falsely,” it would not have any significant first person, present indicative.
My midlife crisis is what I will call a crisis of confidence. I want to say crisis of faith, but the word faith is too often associated with religion, and so I will say crisis of confidence. During this period I have lost some amount of confidence in everything from the free market, to literal religious belief, and especially my own ability to succeed.
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. All progress, therefore, depends upon the unreasonable man.
–George Bernard Shaw
This has, naturally, caused me to think about the nature of confidence and the “unfairness” of it. A person with confidence has an automatic advantage over someone who doesn’t. This has of course been well studied in, say, tennis. Certainly many of history’s great men (and women) have been very confident. Consider for example Richard Stallman, Joseph Stalin, and Mahatma Gandhi. Clearly they have accomplished “great” things (great in the large rather than good sense obviously), and from the little that I know, I would definitely consider them “confident” people. They were extremely stubborn and I think that takes confidence. On the other hand, I consider myself a fairly reasonable person, which likely means I will never do “great” things.
The victor is not victorious if the vanquished does not consider himself so.
I have realize that for most of my life I had confidence working for me, at least in school. I knew that I was “smart” and that I could would do well. When I worried about “flunking”, I was worried about getting a B. Of course I had doubts, like everyone, but I always knew that in the end I would be fine. I usually knew, even as I was thinking “I’m not good enough”, that I was in fact good enough. I would pass the test and the class. Unfortunately, I have come to the point where I no longer know it. Or rather, I don’t believe it when I tell myself that I know it. The self-doubt drains my energy and the will to study. Why try when I’m going to fail embarrassingly anyway?
I have learned, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
Having gone back to school after working 4 years for a great company I knew that I would have forgotten some things. But when I started school I was faced with the reality of having forgotten things. There were also things that I had never learned. Then came the oral exams. Someday I may feel comfortable taking an oral exam, but right now they scare the CENSORED out of me. When they ask a question that I don’t immediately know the answer to (which is most of them) I freeze up and hear the little man in my head repeating “I can’t do this. I’m too stupid. I should know this.” Needless to say it’s not very conducive to actually thinking my way towards a solution. This never happened to me before. If life were fair this failure would spur me to work harder next time, but instead it erodes my confidence and work ethic because I know I’m going to make a fool of myself anway.
Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.
In other words I’ve gone from placebo to nocebo.
What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure, that just ain’t so.
Enter the Candidacy Exam. It’s oral. It a requirement. And you only get one chance to take it.
Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.
While studying I had to tell myself every day that it’s mostly a formality (I don’t know if that’s actually true). “They don’t want the shame of flunking me anymore than I want the shame of having flunked,” I would tell myself. It almost worked. Mostly what got me to study was the embarrassment of failing. I now know what it feels like to really worry about failing–really failing. Changing-all-the-plans-you’ve-made-for-the-next-few-years-and-maybe-your-life failing. If this is what other people feel in school, no wonder they hate it.
There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.
In the end the exam was more of a presentation than an exam (a presentation where I only presented about a quarter of what I had prepared). They did ask a few questions, but it was quite low key. Once I was in presentation mode (where I feel more comfortable) I didn’t have time to worry and I did okay. I didn’t pass with flying colors, but I did pass—which is the important thing. I felt relieved of course, but I was surprised to feel a boost to my self confidence a few days later. For one of the first times in my academic career I feel like I overcame something—achieved something for which the outcome was in actual doubt . I am no longer playing Mario with as many lives as I need. I’m playing Nethack on a remote server with no way to save scum. And I made it. It wasn’t pretty, but I made it. I might even be able to graduate. No probably not. I honestly don’t know enough math for that.
Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.
You might think that I wish that I had my old self-confidence back, and I do, but I have also begun to wonder whether it is better (in some ways) to be more honest with ourselves. Is it moral and healthy to lie to ourselves, believing that we are competent? The psychology seems to say yes. You perform better and you feel better . If there is any thing to homeopathy or “the secret”, it is little more than confidence–though that shouldn’t necessarily be scoffed at. I think one of the main positive influences of religion in a person’s life is to give them confidence. What could be more empowering than knowing you are doing the will of the supreme being? It’s very liberating.
Doubt is uncomfortable, certainty is ridiculous.
Nevertheless for some reason I have hangups with deceiving myself. Sometimes I wish I could go back to naively believing that everything was okay so that I could achieve more and be happier (though I don’t know how to do that). Other days I think I would rather be completely honest and see the world as it is. Perhaps it’s some sort of trade off like happiness and reason .
Doubt is the beginning not the end of wisdom.
In the meantime, I’m going to celebrate passing my exam and the bit of confidence I found in doing so. If you drink, have a pint of bitter for me, and if you don’t have a non-alcoholic malt beverage.
Men are born to succeed, not fail.
- How do you increase your self confidence?
- Have you found that viewing yourself more accurately has lowered your self-confidence?
- Would you or do you willingly believe a lie so that you can be happier or more successful? How do you do this?
- Do you know people who seem to get everything they want just because they are confident? Do you resent them? Is it “fair” that confident people have an easier life?
- Do you think it’s ethical for doctors to prescribe a placebo if it works for the patient?
- Do you have any good quotes about faith, doubt, or confidence?
THERE IS NO JUSTICE. THERE IS JUST US.
–Death (Terry Pratchett)
 There is a theory that praising children too much and in the wrong ways decreases self esteem and work ethic. If that’s true, then I think it happened to me. All my life I was told I was smart. I remember thinking (though perhaps it’s a false memory) that if you had to work at school you weren’t smart. How bizarre that seems now.
 Yes, I realize I can’t write anything without referencing Radiolab, but dang it, it helps me stay sane. When walking Evelyn late one night I got a Radiolab episode followed by This American Life. Normally I try to not have my favorite shows back to back. I was very glad it slipped past me this time since my mood, almost instantly, went from angry and frustrated to tired but enjoying myself.