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Finding confidence

January 2, 2012 | 10 Comments

Dear GK,

I'm pretty good at what I do. I've had some pretty good professional recognition. But after a few career setbacks, I have completely lost my confidence.

I continue to work as hard as I can; but I have a terrible time convincing anyone -- myself most of all -- of the value of that work.

You face the blank page, you face a live audience, you face a lot of situations that require a confidence that I can't seem to find anymore. Where do you find yours?



It's all an act, Don. You conceal your insecurity from other people and eventually you learn to conceal it from yourself, but of course it never goes away. And it's never what I'd call "confidence". I've met some very confident people and found them insufferable. Arrogant. Insensitive. Bullies. I can imagine how painful it must be to suffer setbacks, though it's hard to advise you without knowing what those setbacks are. You might consider giving yourself a challenge that lies outside your professional life ----- riding a bike across the state of Iowa, learning Spanish, writing a family history, knitting a scarf ----- just as an exercise to prove to yourself that you have a reservoir of potential. You might consider looking for a support group ---- surely there is one relevant to your needs. Some dilemmas lie outside the realm of therapy but can be ameliorated by kindred souls. But what you describe as a loss of confidence may also be a life change that one accepts and learns to work around. I have pretty much lost my confidence at golf and tennis and don't expect to recover them. I do not have confidence in my ability to write a long novel anymore and that's just a fact, and I don't expect to regain it, and why should I agonize over it? I have confidence that I can write a full-length play, though I've never done it and may not succeed: ignorance can be a friend. Maybe you know too much. Try naivete.


Dear Garrison:

What a well-thought-out piece of advice you gave to this e-mail writer. Food for thought for all of your readers, I'd say. Thank you. --Rosalie

Agree with Garrison. The great majority of "successful" people in business are about 70% fraud (20% polyester, 10% cotton). Most arrived on a monkey-train of luck, connections, or both, and once they got a couple of nice suits, a little gray hair and a door, people began to believe they might actually know things. Doctors and cops know things. Everybody else is lucky if they can find the bathroom.

Excellent, GK...

Like Don, I've also lost my confidence. I make bone-headed mistakes that I can't believe I make. I'm heading fast towards my mid-50s and my diet has changed, both of which have a lot to do with my confidence level. Too, my work hours were cut 2 weeks ago from 40 to 16. So looking for a job is, of course, a job in itself. It's easy to get down instead of viewing it as a challenge. But I have to, otherwise I despair. I even despair of meeting the challenge so I kinda space out, find myself tempted to stare out looking at dust motes. But I'm better. I don't dust-mote-stare (DMS) as much as I once did. I like it that Garisson believes he can "write a full-length play." But then Paul McCartney believes he can compose classical music with opera, orchestra, the whole enchilada. But then what do I know. As Garrison suggests, "ignorance can be a friend" and I personally think that's critical: being a friend to all aspects of ourselves, even our bone-headedness, our DMS selves. "Try naivete" - I like it! Rings true with me. As does Steve Jobs' "Stay hungry. Stay foolish." May it be so.

This was a timely post as I sat last night cogitating career moves (or lack thereof) in the late night silence of unemployment.Of course, the 3 dogs and 2 cats do not see it as unemployment, but rather re-deployment!

I was feeling blue, a cobalt shade to blend with the fingernail beds as the space heater in the room was chugging away and output being blocked by one cat. Insulting.

Thanks for the humanity and humbleness of the posts. I feel so lost and have lack of confidence. I think I will save them electronically to savor when I feel the tsunami of inadequacy bowl me over.

Dr. Jody approves of the advice and supportive recommendations. I have also had a couple of unhappy career moments lately and am wondering if it might be time to begin Act II of my life. It took 25 years to get to where I wanted to be, only to find that after all that I find myself somewhat lonely and bored. There is no setback that isn't a chance to begin a new tack in life and even if you prefer that the doors of opportunity close gently sometimes it is better to have them slammed shut in your face! Happy New Year!

I am now in ACT III of my life, having lived through a job I worked in order to raise a family, aka ACT I. ACT II was my dream job, working for a publishing company,a job I thought didn't last long enough. In ACT III I am doing what I do well, but not what I necessarily enjoy the most. I am, in short, coasting toward retirement, praying that this job will last another 7 years until I can retire (if all goes as planned). It was hard to make the transition from ACT II to ACT III, but now that I have, I see that each act taught me lessons I needed to learn, and helped me through stages of life that I needed to live. Layoffs, downsizing, and firings are hard to endure. Hope and optimism can be hard to come by. If you find yourself having trouble believing in your future, try believing in something else, or someone else for a while. You can and will survive.

Thank you to each and everyone who wrote in today.
My husband and I are both unemployed 50-somethings, college-educated and scared. I grew up in Minnesota where the mantra is "it could always be worse". It is tough to imagine things worse than it is in Florida right now with a state government that is dismantling and cutting any kind of help for us. I really appreciate the honesty and advice each of you has shared. Today was a really tough day and I clicked over here looking for a smile from GK and found kindred spirits. Thank you to each of you. Don't give up. Throw spaghetti at the wall and take a chance at something new. Don't be afraid. God bless!

Thanks to G.K. and everyone who wrote in here about finding confidence. After losing it completely over several years, due to repeated major losses in one's life, I truly never expected to find it again, but as some of you have pointed out, part of it does come from running into or simply spending time with the right people, kindred minds on a myriad of subjects, including the most mysterious and divisive ones like politics and religion, and freedom in America like we used to believe it in it, and we still should today, no matter what is going on in the culture. We almost have to believe that each generation of Americans is an improvement or will be in the future, as they grow into their new roles in society, or else we are condemning ourselves to live in the past, not good for any of us, although we can enjoy our rare excursions into it from time to time. The past, however, is gone, as we usually recognize, and times marches on into the future, with or without us, and while we are here, the best way I can think of to make an impresssion upon it, is still to exude the positive confidence that everything is going to be all right. If it is a mistake to be positively confident, then I don't know what the alternative might be. John D.

Thanks for the reply and the comments. Very thoughtful and great. My problem is that, creatively, I'm still doing well (just won a fairly big award in a creative field at the intersection of art + commerce), but I can't translate that into any kind of sustained success. Like the man up there says, there's so much luck involved in success (narrowly defined as a reasonably comfortable standard of living derived from good hard work) that I wonder if the work matters much at all. I grew up thinking if you had a particularly strong affinity for something and worked really hard to get really good at it, you'd at least be able to get a job doing that thing. But that hasn't been how it's worked out. I'm still doing crappy small gigs for the most part - which might be a self-fulfilling cycle of no confidence preventing me from finding jobs that would boost the confidence (but how do you break the cycle). And that might be where GK's advice comes in: fake it. What the hell. I'll give it a shot.
Thanks again!

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