If It Walks Like a Duck…: Putting on a Show of Confidence

You’ll be fine.

Those are the words my friend repeated to me every time I texted or e-mailed him, panicked, with my latest question, query, or cry of anguish. What if I packed the wrong stuff? What if I have too much stuff? What if I don’t have enough stuff? What if I run out of toothpaste? What if my colleagues can’t stand me? What if the kids can’t stand me? What if I can’t stand the kids?

Looking back with a month’s worth of hindsight and exhaustion, my panic levels were actually pretty comical. Of course, he was smart enough not to try to tell me that at the time. His response, no matter how ridiculous my query, remained the same: You’ll be fine.

Sometimes, he elaborated. Mostly at my request, and by request, I mean demand. And by demand, I mean plaintive wail of terror and insecurity. His elaboration: You’ll be fine. You’ll meet people. You’ll have a blast. If you don’t have the right stuff, you’ll get it or do without it. You’ll be okay. You’re smart, beautiful, and above all, confident. You are going to be just fine.

Then, he’d usually tell me to shut my trap. Which was entirely fair. Once though, in a particularly stressed and somewhat bitter moment, I retorted: I don’t have confidence, I put on a half-decent show of having confidence.

Without missing a beat, he asked me what the difference was. I didn’t have an answer. His theory is that there isn’t an effective difference.

Being confident is about convincing other people that you know what you’re doing, and that you should be liked, trusted, or believed, depending on the circumstances. Pretending to be confident is effectively the same thing. It’s still about convincing other people of things, projecting an image that influences people or situations in a certain way. There’s no rule saying you have to believe it yourself, the results are the same.

Obviously, there are situations where appearing to know what you’re doing and actually knowing what you’re doing are totally different and have completely different and somewhat disastrous results. Medicine and the operation of heavy machinery come to mind immediately.

But certainly for anything interpersonal, and the ever-important winning at life contest, if it walks like a duck, and it talks like a duck, it doesn’t much matter that it’s a chicken.

He was right about the immediate, specific things. I got here. I am fine. My colleagues don’t hate me. The students don’t hate me, and I’ve grown rather fond of them. And I am having a blast.

As for the rest, I’m not sure. But this chicken is getting pretty good at walking like a duck.

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