Can We Have True Confidence Without Honest Self-Doubt?
From an Aesthetic Realism Public Seminar
by Miriam Weiss
At 17, I was ready to go to a college that promised great adventure: independent study in a different country each year. It was a chance, I felt, to take a bold step, and I hoped it would make me more sure of myself. It was also a school that I thought would set me apart from other teenagers, and show how culturally sophisticated I was in comparison. There would be no ordinary math and English classes, which I saw as boring, no football games and cheerleaders, which I told myself I was above.
But after only 4 weeks I came home feeling like a failure. I felt I didn’t fit in and couldn’t really trust any of the people there. I had fearful thoughts and couldn’t sleep, and though I spoke with a counselor at school who encouraged me to stick it out, nothing he said helped. I wrote in my journal:
Even though I intellectually realize that I haven’t “failed” by leaving [school], so many inside and outside pressures make me feel otherwise. One big reason I left was to find something that I like in myself or something to give me confidence.
Just six months later I was asked in my first Aesthetic Realism consultation: “Do you think you have an enormous battle between feeling you’re not good enough and feeling you’re too good?” Yes, I did! Growing up I had seen myself as shy through-and-through. I remember being afraid to speak to people on the phone just to ask for information, and would go out of my way rather than ask for directions on the street. But while I longed to be at ease with people, I also felt that I was smarter than the girls who seemed to do well socially, who I described in one letter from camp as “loud, outgoing and flirty”, adding, “sometimes I feel superior to even the most popular kids”.
I liked school and loved reading. Later, I was proud of protesting our nation’s unjust War in Vietnam, and I am grateful to my parents for encouraging this in me. But for the most part what I thought would make me confident was feeling I was better than others and showing how many things I could dismiss with a yawn or sarcastic comment. I had no idea it was this very attitude that made for the unsureness I felt so much. In my first consultation I said, “There’s something in me destructive to the things I want”, but I didn't know what it was or how to stop it.
Aesthetic Realism explains definitively, that in order to be truly confident, 1) we have to see our own contempt as the weakening, unintelligent and dangerous thing it is; and 2) we need to have a passion to be fair to what is not ourselves. Honest self-doubt, I have seen, is an essential part of this. It is not imposed on us by society or other people but comes from ourselves. In an issue of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, Chairman Ellen Reiss wrote:
[A] way of putting the biggest self-doubt we have is: I haven’t been fair enough! I haven’t yet been just to this thing, this person! I need to keep trying! The more we welcome this doubt—in fact, the more we love it—the better and prouder a person we are
Confidence began to grow in me as I started to criticize the everyday contempt I took for granted was my right and part of my distinction. I saw it didn’t represent me, and that my true importance came from how I am related to other people and things in the whole world.