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  • Leah E. Welker

The Confidence To Face My Future

The words "You got this" written in chalk on asphalt, with leaves scattered around. Photo credit: sydney Rae on Unsplash.

A couple days ago, I began the brand new "Confidence" 10-day training plan in my meditation app. Yesterday's intro said something profound that I've been pondering since.

Confidence has nothing to do with knowing your future. Rather, it's about feeling mentally prepared for it.

The obvious way to know whether I can face what's coming is to look to my past. I subconsciously assumed that there was nothing in my past that could prepare me for what's to come, which is why those fears were so bad in the first place. But after identifying and confronting that assumption, I realized immediately that it's simply not true.

I have confronted each of my fears, coming away stronger and wiser. Reflecting on those times is giving me the confidence to face my future.

Confidence in Failure

The first time I truly confronted my fear of failure was my junior year of college. Until then, I'd been lucky (or unlucky) enough to not have to truly fail academically. School hadn't always been easy for me, but it had always been my priority, and thus far the combination of my favorable circumstances, gifts, dedication had made me into a straight-A student.

Thus, I'd fallen into the trap that too many "successful" people do: my academic success became part of my identity. So, in my junior year, when I finally faced the prospect of getting (gasp) a B in a class, it became an existential crisis. If I failed academically . . . who was I?

Some of you reading this are probably laughing at this point, and I am now too. (Even though at the time I was a sobbing mess.) Because I know better now—but this was the breaking point that started me on that journey. We all have to start somewhere, and fate determined that I started later than most. But it was a lesson well learned.

Ironically, I never got that B. But I had to confront the prospect, nonetheless. Moreover, I had to choose whether to prioritize my well-being over my success, because I suspected I could still succeed if I gave it my all—but I knew that giving my all would cause mental and physical damage, making the success hollow. So I took the uncertain, fear-filled path, but the one that led to the greatest growth and healing. I'll be forever grateful I had that kind of clarity and courage.

As I described in my failure post, I've been exploring and conquering my fear of failure ever since. Success is no longer a part of my identity; I know now how fickle a foundation it is, how little we learn from it, and how little credit we're actually due for it. Notice that two of the qualities I attribute toward my academic success (favorable circumstances and gifts) are ones I had no control over and deserve no praise for. They were simply chance (or Providence, if you believe as I do, but still nothing I can take credit for).

Only my dedication could I claim as my own, and that is the quality I now trust in. I know that no matter what comes, I can work hard, there's the source of my confidence in facing failure.

Confidence in Criticism

When I wrote my post on criticism, I thought I'd never truly faced a true critique and rejection of my writing, especially my fiction, before last year. And then I had to laugh at myself again, because I did.

My senior year of college, I tried to get into Brandon Sanderson's workshop class. Unlike his lecture series, which was open enrollment, his workshop was application only, because he would actually review your writing and give you feedback, and obviously he can only accommodate so many students with that level of attention. I only found out about the workshop my junior year, and the requirements were that you had to take his lectures first, which were only offered once a year. So, after taking his lectures my junior year, my only chance to get into his workshop was my senior year.

I submitted my application and the beginning of one of my manuscripts, and I was rejected. That stung, but I was still curious as to why, so I dared ask for more information (which alone was quite a feat for me, since I don't like to impose). The reviewer (who, I emphasize, was not Sanderson but one of his staff) kindly gave it. She didn't say anything particularly harsh, and even then, I valued her time in writing and sending it, so I am not blaming her in any way in this situation. She was going above and beyond in responding to me.

I still remember two of the points. First, she pointed out I made a mistake by including some formatting in my manuscript, something that would make most publishers reject me right off the cuff. Second, she said my submission was unoriginal and sounded too much like the Dragonriders of Pern, and that I should try to find my unique angle as a writer.

Both good points . . . but the feedback still devastated me. Because what it amounted to in my brain was that she was calling me a newb and saying I shouldn't write what I loved. Not what she meant. Again, I'm not blaming her. But the message I erroneously took away still made me a sobbing wreck again.

I won't lie: that feedback may have been one reason I haven't had the courage to pursue a writing career until seven years later. I told myself over and over that writing was just a hobby; that way I could write what I loved, and it never had to see the light of day and face the criticism that would inevitably result.

But I did get over it eventually. Pain does soften over time, threat responses fade, courage can take its place. And I can look back and appreciate how much my writing has grown in those seven years, and I can appreciate how much life experience and knowledge of the way the world works has added greater depth to my writing than I ever had back then. I'm convinced that wasn't the time for me to begin a writing career, and that writing just for myself for that long was the best thing I could have done. Yes, I'm convinced now that as much as her feedback hurt, she did me a favor.

(Although I must point out that I asked for feedback. Please don't assume I am saying that giving feedback always is granting some kind of favor. Rarely should feedback be given when it isn't asked for or mental/physical danger doesn't necessitate it.)

The fact that I didn't immediately think of that experience when writing the criticism post goes to show how much I've healed. And over the past year, I've proved to myself that wasn't a fluke. I know now that I can first accept the pain, reframe the pain, distance myself from the pain, and finally learn what I'm meant to from it and become better.

That gives me confidence in my resilience in the face of criticism.

Confidence in Success

I can't think of an illustrates how I faced the fears that come with fame ("success") because I truly haven't been that wildly successful before. But I do have confidence in my ability to prepare for such an event. Because, after all, what else have all these blog posts been for? So enough said here, I guess.

Confidence in Hate

Again, when I wrote my post on hate, I was looking to the hate I might face in the future, thinking I'd never faced anything like it before. But again, I was wrong. As soon as I tried to remember a time I faced and recovered from an instance of hate, I remembered.

Once, I checked in on an acquaintance who had moved, sending her a text to ask how she was doing. She was struggling with severe mental health challenges and lashed out in response, calling into question my motives and those of our former social circle, saying if everyone there had genuinely cared about her, they would never have "forgotten" her as they had. After that vitriolic rant, she wished me "a good life," and I think she meant that sarcastically.

I was deeply affected, my empathy for her suffering making me cry and ache for her. However, I knew something about her mental health challenges. I knew my intentions and how much was actually my fault, and that was little. I could have been a better friend, but we had never been close, and I knew her pain and thus her vitriol had very little to do with me. I still wished to help her, so I notified another friend of her state and prayed for her, knowing that was all I could do to help her at that point now that she had essentially requested an end to contact. And that helped my emotions not devastate me; I felt great pain, but even in the moment, I knew it would pass and that I would be wiser for it.

That is compassion in action: empathy for another's suffering plus boundaries that frame things in the proper perspective and create a healthy, sustainable desire for the well-being of the sufferer, allowing the compassionate person to act in the best interest of all involved.

Compassion is the true key to resilience, and ever since I learned that fact, I've tried to cultivate it within myself. Empathy for others comes naturally to me, but empathy alone is dangerous, as I also know well. Compassion creates those healthy boundaries, as Brené Brown has shown. And that begins with compassion toward oneself.

That is where I have made the greatest strides in recent years. My growing self-compassion is increasing my resiliency and my ability to feel compassion for others. I think that will be my secret weapon when I face hate in the future.

I doubt that hate will ever be truly about me. The people showing me hate will be going through so much in their own lives, and their lashing out is far more about their own pain and how I failed to fix their problems than it will be about me. I can accept the pain of their words, know how little of it is my fault, and extend compassion both toward myself and them, wishing both of us well . . . then let that pain fade. Knowing how my compassion helped me face hate in the past and how my those "muscles" just keep getting stronger gives me confidence to face hate in the future.

Hope vs. Optimism

All of this reminds me of the difference between optimism and hope, as defined by Arthur C. Brooks. To paraphrase him, optimism is the belief that things will work out. This belief is obviously untrue at least sometimes and thus is an unreliable foundation; as Brooks explains in the intro to his article, it was the Vietnam prisoners of war that relied on optimism that didn't survive.

But hope is the healthier form of this necessary human emotion: the belief that no matter what actually happens, we will be strong enough to face it.

I began this post talking about my mindfulness app's confidence training plan. On the very first day, it asked me to to think of a word that encapsulated confidence to me—encouraging me to go with the first word that came to mind. That first day, I thought first of security. I pictured myself standing in a stable stance, unable to be shaken. That, I knew even then, was more of an optimist's outlook.

The second day, the app asked me to pick another word, and what came to my mind then was trust.

Hope . . . is trusting in oneself. And, in my case, trusting in my God. If I can keep those two pillars of my confidence strong, then I can face anything. Easier said than done, but given everything I've gone through to come to this moment . . .

I have hope.


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