Sunday, February 20, 2011

Confidence or Illusion

I am not by nature a confident person.  In all honesty, I don't think many people are.  However, in the last few years I've had a growing number of people remark on how self-assured I seem.  It is true that I have gained a certain measure of confidence, enough at least to create a convincing facade, but I think I should give credit where credit is due, as this transformation has been the work of many years and various influences.

As a little girl I remember being afraid of many, many things, but primarily of people, even my relatives, and men in particular.  I always suspected them of some hidden agenda, especially when they were trying to win me over.  One of my greatest fears was of being one of those children who lost their parents in the grocery store and had their names and descriptions announced loudly over the intercom.  Thus I learned that if I walked quickly down the back aisle of the store, just barely glancing down each cross-aisle, avoiding salespeople and not letting my distress show on my face, I could find my parents before the staff noticed that I had lost them.  To this day I still don't like asking salespeople for assistance.  If I can't find something myself I generally go without.

I also had an abiding fear of venturing out to the chicken coop after dark.  It wasn't far from the house, but something about the way the beam from the flashlight bounced off the distant trees was unsettling, and the door of the coop had this creepy squeak.  Anyway, not sure I should be admitting this, but I invented an imaginary friend for myself whose sole purpose was to race me back to the house after the chickens were fed.  I don't remember playing with her at any other time, but she was my excuse to myself for running back to the house every night.

I learned early that I was forced to come out of my shell if I had no one to hide behind.  When I was thirteen I started volunteering at a historic mansion in Spokane.  It was a place I'd been obsessed with ever since my parents had taken me there some years before.  Anyway, I heard of the opportunity, and wrote a very nervous note to the man in charge of volunteers, saying that I knew I was young, but I would love to help, adding that I'd be willing to do any menial tasks they didn't want to give to anyone else.  He wrote back very nicely to say that he was sure they could find a place for me and that I wouldn't have to perform any menial tasks.  I didn't know anyone there, and was petrified every time I went down, but I loved it, and began to realize that strangers are actually sometimes less scary than people you know.  They have no preconceptions of you.  You choose how they see you.  It was one of the best experiences I had.  Ten years later a fellow staff member looked at me, eyes wide, and exclaimed, "You grew up here!" I suppose I did.

The first time I remember someone, besides family, telling me that I was beautiful, was when I was bald from chemo.  I think this speaks for itself.

Working at Flowery Trail Coffeehouse for the past five and half years certainly deserves acknowledgement here.  Any service job, I think, will make you either compassionate or jaded, sometimes both.  You can't run from people.  You have to help them.  And eventually they cease to become distant mysterious monsters.  They come close, and become people.

My brief stint as a rural pizza delivery driver represents the darker side of that last paragraph.  But it was a great confidence-builder for me.  When you've been sent to deliver pizzas to a trailer park and had the door answered by a large hairy man clad only in spandex shorts... well, fear becomes irrelevant.

In any case, whether it is confidence or illusion, I am much more secure than I used to be.  Even so, I still steel myself before entering a crowded room.  I still run away, though I no longer race an imaginary friend.  Perhaps confidence doesn't actually exist for anyone.  Perhaps confidence is the illusion, and we don't ever learn it, but only the means of masking our lack of it.

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