When I was 25, I found myself sitting on a sticky, green wrestling mat in a fluorescent-lighted gym, attending my first yoga class. I was a graduate student, and although I knew absolutely no other student in the room, I knew that any one of them could end up in one of the writing classes I’d been assigned to teach. This made me extremely self conscious. I mean, who wants to see their writing instructor in sweat pants doing who-knows-what kinds of poses, exposing who-knows-what parts of her anatomy that ought better stay tucked out of sight?
One week into the class, I faced one of the worst fears I didn’t even know I had: the teacher told us to pair up.
“Oh my god,” I thought to myself, “I do not want to partner with anyone else. I don’t know who to partner with. Everyone’s looking at someone else. I’m going to end up alone in the middle of this ugly room. Oh my gawd!”
But the teacher’s voice broke through my hysteria, “Practice confidence,” she said, “This is an opportunity to practice confidence.”
Until then, I didn’t know you could practice a trait. Either you’re born confident or not, right? Either you have a bold nature or a cautions one. Genetics determines if you’re quiet or loud, right? You can fake it and get by, but you can’t become something you’re not, can you?
Well, apparently, you can, and it differs from “fake it till you make it.” The instructor did not say “fake it,” she said “practice,” as if some element of confidence exists in all of us, and it’s just a matter of working at it. Like running. I have the same muscles most humans have, I can run a few miles, but I’ll not likely ever run a marathon. I have some element of running ability that I can practice, whether or not I ever excel at it, yes? Okay, so same with confidence.
This idea has stuck with me over the years. It’s not that I lack any ounce of faith in myself, but when it comes to writing and art … when it comes to talking about my writing and art to anyone other than myself … well, I have barely a shred of confidence in this area.
Nevertheless, as you know, I’m slowly but steadily developing a creative business, which is forcing me to practice confidence. I had the perfect opportunity recently at the Garden Party and Special Sale for Vivid Element Studio, a lush line of clothes for women designed by Amy Daileda.
In spite of the peaceful backyard setting, the handcrafted clothes on display, and the gracious designer, I felt sweat trickling down my spine as Amy’s inclusive and engaging friends brought me into conversation by saying, “So, you’re a writer?”
The question shocked me, as if they’d discovered my deepest secret. Why should this startle me so much? I’ve been practicing writing since age eight, taught it for 15 years, have published here and there over time, and have been working at writing with mad determination for the last year.
I managed to smile, nod, and obey the voice in my head, “Practice being confident, here, right now, go, do it!”
At first, I wasn’t so bad. For example, I managed to say “I write a blog,” rather than the more habitual and comfortable, “I just write a little blog…?” But on my way out, it was as if I’d fatigued my confidence muscles, and I heard myself confessing to one woman about my creative efforts, “I’m trying to be confident about this!”
Ha! Well, it gets worse, or funnier, depending on your point of view.
I had a second party to go to that afternoon. Two parties in one day. When I told my mom that I’m the least likely person to be invited to two parties in one day and even less likely to attend both, she understood instantly and said, “Well, at least you get it all out of the way at once.” She knows me–I am at my best when nestled into the corner of a sofa with a library book.
At the second party, a former teaching colleague asked, “So, what are you doing now?”
I thought to myself, “This is it! A chance to redeem myself. I will be better at being confident this time!” So, I spoke boldly and said I’d be opening a shop online in the fall to sell my creative work. Then? Silence from my colleague. Neutral expression on his face. No reaction, and instant panic from me.
I was probably wound a bit tight from having already been extroverted that day, and I suspect I waited only a quarter of a second for him to respond, but there I was, desperate to impress him, to get some sort of affirmation that I am living a life of purpose, which is not exactly his job to affirm this, but I guess this is what my brain wanted because the next thing I hear is myself elaborating, “Yep! Plan to have things to sell by October … even applying for my LLC … Yep, the real deal …”
Thank god another friend cut me off with a simple question about my website because I swear I was about to say, “And I’ll be selling real dragon toe nail clippings. Really! Be impressed! I mean, who can do that? Toe nail clippings? From dragons? Seriously!”
Well, it’s all in a day’s work, right? I mean, I did practice confidence. I wasn’t particularly good at it, but isn’t that the point of practice–to get better? I managed to think of my creative projects as legitimate work, rather than quivering at whatever extreme standards my nervous mind conjures when it hears “writer” or “artist.”
By the way, that yoga class where we had to partner with someone? It was fine the first day, but later in the term, I found myself facing the crotch of a man wearing too-thin long johns as I supported his handstand practice. That moment required something other than confidence, but I prevailed and have practiced yoga ever since.