Sunday, June 24, 2012

Self-confidence (and my lack therof)

Mali had a great post this past week about self-confidence, and her lack thereof. In the comments, I told her, "I could have written this," and I could have.

Infertility and pregnancy loss, of course, have had a huge impact on my self-confidence and self-esteem over the past 15 years or so -- but I have never been a very self-confident person. When I was growing up, we moved every three to five years, so I never felt very certain of my place in the world, outside of my family and the world of books. The longest time I ever lived anywhere before I got married & moved into this house was six years. Always being the new kid, being shy, wearing glasses, being bookish and using "big words," and klutzy when everyone around me was mad for sports & lived for phys ed class -- I was an easy target for ridicule (and even if they weren't actively ridiculing me, I certainly wasn't easy for the other kids to warm up to).  Eventually, of course, I WOULD find friends & start to feel at home... but then it would be time to pull up stakes and start all over again.

I got contact lenses when I was heading into my first year of high school, which did wonders for my self-esteem. But I didn't really blossom until I started university. Academically and socially, I had a blast. : ) 

Early on that fall of 1979, I met a tall, blond, good-looking guy with gorgeous blue eyes, who reminded me slightly of the actor Jeff Conaway (who was then pretty well known, both as Kenickie in the movie "Grease" and Bobby in the sitcom "Taxi" -- sadly, he passed away last year after years of substance abuse).  I had a crush on him from the moment I met him, and when we finally got together toward the end of the year, I just could not believe it:  a guy I really, REALLY liked had actually liked me back. It was like all the romantic dreams I had ever had finally coming true all at once. He came to visit me at my parents' house that summer, and accompanied me to my high school reunion (now THAT's a nice guy, right??! lol). (I was only one year out of high school, but it was the 75th anniversary of the school, and an all-school reunion was held to mark the occasion.) I had never had a boyfriend in high school, and when I walked into the dance held for 1970s students that night with this gorgeous guy by my side, I literally saw jaws drop. I still rank it among the most highly satisfying moments of my life. ; )

It didn't last, of course -- he was in a highly demanding program at school and didn't have time for a girlfriend -- particularly a needy one like me. Even after we broke up, vowing that we would stay "friends," I had a hard time letting go of the dream. I'm not proud of the memory of my stalker-ish behaviour -- tearful phone calls, unannounced visits to his apartment ("I just happened to be in the neighbourhood and thought I'd say hi..."), and to the building where he had classes, on the pretext of seeing friends who were in the same program and also had classes there.

Eventually, my unrequited obsession waned (much to his relief, no doubt), and by the fall of third year, I had met dh. : )  After I finished my undergrad degree, I spent a year at journalism school, closer to where he was doing his own graduate studies. On the one hand, I got into the 40-member class out of 120 who applied (I actually got in on a waiting list), which was an ego-booster. On the other hand, I was suddenly one of the younger people in my class (a January baby, I was used to being one of the older ones) and one of the more inexperienced ones when it came to actual journalism experience.

I can remember interviewing for a summer job with two men from a southern Ontario newspaper. One of them fixed me in his gaze and asked me -- little 23-year-old me, primly clad in my official interview suit -- brown skirt & jacket, with cream coloured ruffled blouse and three-inch heels -- whether I thought I was "tough enough" to be a reporter. I knew what HE thought the answer was, and he was probably right. I wasn't tough, certainly not in the stereotypical hard-bitten, hard-drinking reporter sense. I think I said something about how I didn't think "toughness" was a pre-requisite, and that you catch more flies with honey, etc. Needless to say, I didn't get the job.

This took place towards the end of the program -- but even in the early days, I remember doubting myself and my abilities, and wondering what the heck I was doing here. The first several months of the program, we had two main profs teaching us the basics of reporting. Both of them were veterans of the newspaper business and longtime buddies, who initiated us into the mysteries of the newsroom (not to mention the bar at the press club). One was a gruff Lou Grant type (whose bark was far worse than his bite);  the other was somewhat more kindly (but no less hard-drinking).  He and I sat down to review an assignment that fall -- and I will never forget him telling me (with an encouraging smile) that I had "a real nice style," and to keep up the good work, I was going to make a fine reporter. Exactly what I needed to hear at exactly the right moment. 

Coming back for the winter term, I was shocked to read in the local paper that he had passed away over the Christmas holidays. Our class arranged to have a framed photo of him mounted on the wall of the lounge. The accompanying plaque read "Teacher, mentor and friend." 

*** *** ***

I did graduate, and eventually found work in my field.  I worked as a reporter on a small-town weekly for nine momths (where I didn't have to be tough, but did have to endure endless school board and town council meetings). For the past 26 (!!) years,  I've worked for the same corporate communications department in the same company. For a good 15 of those years, I had the same boss and worked with the same core group of people.  We had our ups and downs, but for the most part, I liked my job and I liked the people I worked with.  We all knew each other well and together, we made a pretty good team. We knew each other's abilities, our respective strengths and weaknesses, and worked with and around them.  I can remember my boss's boss once telling me that he had complete confidence in my writing, that he knew he could throw anything at me and I would do a good job on it. Who doesn't love to hear stuff like that?

Eventually, though, our tight little group began to disintegrate. The cracks started showing about 10 years ago, when a senior team leader was suddenly let go. Eight years ago, our long-time assistant retired, followed by my coworker (and office best friend) more than five years ago and my longtime boss two years ago.  Our department's senior officer -- someone I thought would be in that position until HE retired -- suddenly transferred to a completely different department. Denied the promotion he'd been hankering after, my complimentary boss's boss also left suddenly to go work for a competitor.

So suddenly, I was surrounded by new people -- many of them much younger and much more ambitious than I was -- people who didn't know (and, for the most part, didn't care) about what happened in the past. Some of the changes have been good, and were probably necessary. I feel like I am still respected, for my longevity and historical knowledge of the company and the department, if nothing else (it still does come in handy from time to time). But overall, I've never had an easy time with change -- and I don't feel like my work or my abilities are valued and respected in the same way these days. Sometimes, I feel like my superiors don't quite know what to do with me.

Part of it, I will admit, is my own fault. I got too comfortable (some might say in a rut). I've never really WANTED to work anywhere else, and I've never hankered after a more senior position. Partly because I just didn't want the responsibility for people and budgets. (But also probably because I wasn't confident enough to take on the additional challenges.) 

It was always the people I cared most about -- my coworkers -- and the writing.  But the coworkers I cared about have moved on.  And the writing doesn't seem to matter as much these days. It's all about the process now -- intake forms and strategic plans and briefing documents and documenting processes and making sure the right people are cc'd on everything, and meetings, meetings, meetings. I am not as confident as I once was in this suddenly changed environment.

*** *** ***

Last Thursday was a crappy, crappy day for me all round, for many reasons. To name a few: I was having a busy, stressful and frustrating week at work, and Thursday was particularly tough. Added to which, Aunt Flo, with her always impeccable timing, decided this would be the perfect time for a visit.

I wound up staying late. Dh chose to wait for me, and I finally managed to get away and meet him downstairs, telling him all about what a lousy day I had had as we walked to the train station. The weather had been horribly hot and sticky for days, and as our train headed out of the station, we could see black clouds gathering on the horizon. The closer we got to home, the closer and blacker the clouds got. Just as we were pulling into our station, a torrential downpour began. "Be careful," the conductor said over the PA system, "It's nasty out there."

I stepped out of the air-conditioned train and into the deluge, and my glasses actually started fogging up. The rain was coming down so heavily, I could hardly see. I tried to put up my umbrella -- and as I did, some idiot rushing for the shelter of the stairwell ran full tilt into me and knocked me flat on my ass. Right into a puddle, of course. :p  One of my sandals got knocked off & my glasses just about fell off too. My purse was laying on the ground (fortunately, the contents didn't get too wet). I felt like the wind had just been knocked out of me. 

I just SAT there for a minute, stunned, with the rain pouring down on me. I heard people asking if I was all right, but all I could see were feet rushing by me in a blur. "Didn't even stop," one person said. I struggled to my feet -- nobody offered to help me up (!) and there was no sign of dh anywhere. I felt utterly alone -- and completely soaked.

Somehow I made it up the long, long flight of stairs (enclosed, thankfully) that leads to a newly built pedestrian bridge across the highway & over to the mall where (thanks to congestion and construction at the station) we must now park in a parking garage there. Dh was waiting near the top of the stairs with this quizzical "Where the heck have you been?" look on his face. I told him what had happened & he asked if I was all right. "Boy, you really HAVE had a lousy day!" he said. Ummm -- yeah. :p :p :p  Understatement of the year.

So we started walking across the pedestrian bridge -- which is enclosed, but made entirely of concrete, glass and METAL -- while thunder crashed & big bolts of lightning lit up the sky. I kept thinking that of course, this was the logical conclusion to my day:  I was going to get struck by lightning.

Thankfully, we did not. Got to the other side, but the direct bridge connection to the parking garage is still under construction, meaning we have to go down to ground level and walk across the parking lot -- and it was still absolutely pouring outside, so we (& a bunch of other people) just stood there and waited for the rain to let up more. Once it did, we sloshed our way over to the parking garage & up to the car. We keep a couple of those reusable plastic grocery bags in the car, and I had dh get me one to sit on. He said, "It's only a little water, it won't hurt the car." I said, "Yeah, but it probably won't dry before tomorrow & I have to sit there!"

So it's three days later and I still have a very sore tailbone ; ) (although it is gradually getting better).  I only just noticed today that I have a big dark bruise on my left knee that is sore to the touch.  I also have a yellow bruise and sore spot on the inside of my left breast (although that feels much better than it did). I am not sure what happened there -- did I jam the umbrella handle there as I fell? (Not to mention my bruised sense of dignity...)

Friday, en route home, I walked over the very same spot again. It felt strange to be returning to the scene of the crime. I realized I was lucky I wasn't more hurt than I was. It gave me pause to think about how fast it all happened, & how quickly something can go wrong, especially when you're in a crowd of people in a rush. I kept thinking, "What if I had been pregnant?" Obviously, I'm not, but yikes. The incident reawakened a certain feeling of vulnerability in me that felt oddly familiar. 

Aging has something to do with it, I suppose -- the way I felt, post-fall, at work, and generally.  I've written before about feeling a certain invisibility as I get older, the sense that I am fading into the woodwork, as younger, more confident people grab the spotlight and run away with it.

In some ways, age and experience do bring wisdom. But in other ways, I find the older I get, the less confidence I have. Perhaps I've seen & experienced too much to be too certain or confident of anything any more -- least of all myself.


  1. This is the best post you have ever written, and that IS saying much.

  2. "Perhaps I've seen & experienced too much to be too certain or confident of anything any more -- least of all myself."

    Yes. That's how I feel. Exactly that.

    Hope you heal soon from your fall.

    I've bitten the bullet today, faced the fear, and thrown my hat into a ring I'm not sure I want it in. It'll probably get tossed out again, but at least I tried.

  3. Oh, I just want to give you a big hug - that was indeed a shitty day.

    And this is an incredible post. It really stirred something in me and perhaps I will write about it. I feel the same way - the older I get, the less secure and confident I feel. The other day at a Buddhist meeting, I admitted that sometimes I feel like I wasn't getting any of it, that though I am studying and studying, it feels as if I don't know anything at all. And then I feel a shitty Buddhist.

  4. This is such a lovely post. I am often flabbergasted by my students' confidence (especially because so much of it often seems misplaced, haha) but I also envy their certainty that life will work out according to plan, and that I will be strong enough or prepared enough or brave enough or smart enough to face whatever happens. I used to feel that way, but I used to feel so differently about most things.

  5. This really resonates, and I love the depth of this piece. There seems to be a presumption that experience makes us more confident, but I know I was more confident, ambitious and driven before 2008 than I was after. I'm trying to work on getting some of the confidence back, with mixed success.

    I work with Comm faculty, and have had many conversations about the shift from writing and solid investigative reporting to a more shallow fascination with new media. I think it will shake out in time and writing will be valued again, but it's discouraging right now, and I'm sorry you're catching some of that fallout.

    I'm also just so sorry for your rough week, and terrible day, and sore tailbone. I hope you feel better soon.

  6. This post is breathtaking in its honesty, self-scrutiny, and poignancy. Like anonymous said, it is one of your best and yes, that IS truly saying something!

  7. And yet, you write a gorgeous post like this, not fading into the woodwork at all, but your words standing out to me, something I'll be thinking about the rest of the day.

  8. I too have always struggled with confidence and feeling invisible, even when I was a little girl. I think I was born lacking in that area.
    You should know that you aren’t invisible here in this blogosphere. You have a loud, strong, beautiful voice.

  9. This is definitely one of your best posts ever. (And as anon said and I agree wholeheartedly: "And that's saying something!)

    It's odd how our society worships and trusts youth. I was definitely one of those women in my 20s filled with misplaced confidence. All of that confidence has drained out as I have endured all my infertility crap and loss. I do think I have more wisdom. But I certainly feel less visible. I get called ma'am. That's the worst.

    Thanks for this beautiful post. Reading it was the bright spot of my morning.