There will come a day in some of your lives, I hope, when you believe in yourself and others don’t. At least not to the same extent. I say this not because I wish for you the second bit — to be sure, I wish you all the belief — but rather because it means that you will, some day (if not already), believe in yourself. And that’s a most beautiful thing. But it will also hurt; that’s what I’m here to tell you about.
First I should define what I mean by self-belief. When I refer to self-belief, I’m referring to the actual phenomenon of genuinely — as in earnestly, hand-to-heart — believing something about yourself. As in the same way you might believe your name to be Christina, say. That level of conviction. Now, to be sure, you might even be open to the idea that your name is not in fact Christina at all — that you’ve been living a lie up until this point — but ultimately, should it come down to it, you’d be willing to bet your life it is. You’re pretty fucking sure your name’s Christina.
For contrast, what I don’t mean by self-belief is something like tentative conviction, that is, a vague sense — a faint intuition — that you might just be right about some particular aspect or property of yourself. No. Real, bona fide self-belief is the kind of conviction that doesn’t need a pep talk; it’s not fragile. Your knowing is solid. You know, like you know your name’s fucking Christina, it is — whatever ‘it’ is.
There is an obvious power in self-belief. It drives you forward, for it provides assurance that your moves are in the right direction, that they are worth something. That they are, in some basic sense, the right moves — that they’re taking you closer to the promised land (whatever that means, for you). Without the sense that one is moving in the right direction, it’s — quite naturally — rather hard to move with any real haste. For when one’s unsure as to the reliability of their compass, one is inclined to spin around in circles —to flounder. To be sure, this is an entirely rational thing, too. You wouldn’t just jump in your car and gun it to nowhere in particular, would you? Probably not. Instead you’d make sure you know where you’re going first, where you’re headed. You’d Maps it.
Sure, self-belief gives you purpose, direction, meaning. All that good stuff. Most seductively of all, though, it gives you confidence. As in I-feel-good-in-my-skin-for-real confidence. Not the I-have-to-pump-myself-up-in-front-of-the-mirror-fuck-yeah-you’re-the-man! variety. See, confidence is closely tied to security — the existential rather than Fort Knox variety — and security feels good, man. Security in who you are. Security in what you’re about. Security in your interactions. Security in your sounds. Security in your intentions. Security — at its most developed — in insecurity, of all things.
Security tastes as good as it does because it’s the precursor to peace. It’s the enabling condition, so to speak. Without security, there is no peace. For without security there is only its opposite and all its attendant pathology — anxiety, self-consciousness, shame etc. The worst vibes.
This is all sounding pretty good, I bet you’re thinking. Self-belief, a great thing, sign me up, what’s not to love? Well, the rub is, as much as you might happen to believe in yourself — that you’re a great writer, perhaps, the next Tolstoy even— the rest of the world won’t always feel the same. People won’t see you the way you see you, for they won’t know you like you know you. After all, only you know you like you know you.
Most of the time, when you run into belief systems that conflict with your own, you won’t particularly care. And for two principled reasons. First, most of your beliefs — though you believe them (that is what makes them beliefs, after all) — you don’t particularly care much for. They’re simply things you picked up along the road. Things you’ve probably forgotten about, even. They’re not central to your identity, in other words, core to who you consider yourself to be. They’re accessories, mostly hidden in the deep recesses of your psyche. They’re dispensable. Disposable. Eh.
Second — and here we’re getting to the crux of the matter — most of the time you simply won’t care what other people think. You’re solid, remember, secure. You’re a vibe. You walk with purpose, conviction, confidence. People are people and they’ll think things, and sometimes what they think will contradict something you think. That’s no problem, that’s life. That’s the law of large numbers. That’s pallatable. The problem, however, is when the people aren’t just people — they’re people you care about, people whose opinion you value, people whose opinion of you you value. People that matter. People you love.
Real hurt — real heartache — occurs when these two elements combine. When a core belief — a story you really care about — conflicts with the embodied perspective of someone you love. Someone, above all, whose belief (in you) you crave; whose validation you yearn for — though it surely pains you to admit. Because, again, you’re SOLID, remember? Solid! Solid-ish? Hmm.
See, no matter how secure you are in your own belief — and as I write this it occurs to me I’m not actually sure I believe what I’m about to say, so bear with me — you can’t help but desire that this belief be mirrored by the world. You know you are (whatever you are), and if it’s not too much to ask, you’d like the world to know it too — especially those bits of the world you cherish, those bits you love. After all, you are proud of this thing you know, this thing you are. It’s the source of your strength, your beauty, your power. Can’t the world just see it already? Can’t it just show it? Just a ‘lil bit?
When your identity — your core beliefs — comes into contact with a loved one’s model of who you are — what you’re capable of — and the two don’t line up, there is an existential gnawing inside, a visceral screaming. Literal death in miniature. Your immediate impulse, naturally, is to help them see the light — to show them where and why they’re wrong. You want to fix their model for them, rearchitect it. “Na na na, see just here, right there, that’s where it’s off.” But you shouldn’t have to! you then think. That’s what hurts, you realise. You shouldn’t have to help them see the light, they should know the light already — you’re standing right before them, after all! Hello!?!? Heyyy! Just me over here, the light! Hello? Really?
You will, at some point, almost certainly encounter this Reality. Your world — the one within — and the world outside — the one without — will never be in perfect alignment. That’s a fact. Perfect alignment is an aspiration, something we aim our efforts towards. It is not a destination. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. That’s how this goes. It’s, like, physics — pretty much.
The question is, how is one to respond in such a situation? When one’s faced with this most uncomfortable existential tension, what is one to do? Is one to ignore this other perspective? Let it serve as fuel? Or perhaps attempt to take it on board, mine it for potential insight?
The answer is, all of the above. Not all at once, of course, but these are all tools, appropriate responses — provided certain contexts. Occasionally, ignoring the opposing view entirely is the prudent course of action. It may just be plain wrong. They’re simply working on bad info, perhaps. Biased by who knows what. Caught in their own Reality distortion field. Simply dull. In this situation, it will serve one to take the external perspective in question and leverage it for energy — put it to the grindstone. Use it to prove them wrong, to bring the two worlds into closer alignment. But don’t be bitter about it. They’re only human. Like you.
However, there will also be occasions where this most unwelcome perspective actually has something to offer you — when it will shine a light of its own on your particular (cherished) model of Reality, revealing its weaknesses, its ignorance, the holes in your plan, the chinks in your armour. Be sure, this is a good thing. You can only ameliorate your deficiencies with Knowledge. Light is the only remedy for darkness, after all.
See, self-belief is an interesting thing. Before it’s solid, it is indeed fragile, delicate. Like the rest of our Being, it needs nurturing in order to grow, in order to become solid, to mature. The world is, of course, our production environment—it is the air, the soil, the water, the neighbouring flora and fauna. The ecology of our Being. With respect to our flourishing, as with Nature writ large, balance is key. Too much water, not good. Not enough water, not good either. Somewhere in-between, good — just right. The same applies to every aspect, every subcomponent, of our Being. ‘Too much’ is always too much. And ‘not enough’ is never enough. Again, it’s basically physics.
In order for self-belief to bloom, we need some amount of stress. We don’t want the world around us to merely accept, on faith, our beliefs — our self-conviction. The ideal situation is not, despite its allure, one wherein everyone takes our word as gospel, Absolute Truth. Indeed we want the world to challenge us. To call into question our most deeply held assumptions. To hold a mirror to us, so we can see the blemishes for ourselves.
Here there’s an interesting tension, however. We want the world to challenge us, to stress-test our beliefs, to provide means of cultivating further awareness. But we don’t want too much. Too much stress, skepticism, cynicism — as with too much water — is too much. As it pertains to self-belief, it’s akin to drowning a fledgling plant. Fledgling plants love water, for sure, but too much will kill them. They can only take so much. They’re only fledgling plants, after all.
Thus we want, as striving self-believing individuals, to subject ourselves — our worldviews, our belief systems — to criticism, place them under the microscope of critical inspection. But we must also know when to listen to ourselves, to remove ourselves from criticism, so we can set about doing the work in tolerable conditions — that is, without the voice of doubt ringing in our ears. Basically, we want to believe our own hype, but we also want the world to believe it too — that’s the source of our pain, remember. The tension. The silver lining, though, is that it takes listening to why the world doesn’t already believe our hype to make it believe as we do. To make it recognise.
If we know ourselves to be something, though, isn’t it a contradiction to say the world might have something worthwhile to offer? Well, no, not exactly. For while we might know we are something — that we have something in us — we don’t necessarily know how, as in via what means, that something will ultimately come to be expressed. We know the direction, perhaps, but not the exact route. We have complete conviction, not utter omniscience. And there’s a difference.
In the end, we manifest with the world, not outside of it within a vacuum (quantum or otherwise). Our making real our beliefs, our aligning the two worlds, results from an intentional dialogue between the two realms — the inner and the outer. It requires our actively participating in the great unfolding, and, yes, turning a blind eye to the world when it’s too much — when we begin to drown. We are, to switch metaphors, marching to the beat of our own drum, but we are drumming in the context of a broader — indeed infinite — symphony. And naturally, our drum sounds better when it accords with the rest of the score. When its in rhythm. When it vibes.
Self-belief begins its life as an act of faith — a blind leap into the unknown. And ultimately, though it grows stronger over time — indeed more SOLID — it remains always thus — an act of faith. Self-belief is, above all, a willing embrace of the unknown, an attempt to alchemise mind into matter. It seems appropriate, then, that whenever one experiences the heartbreak inherent to a misalignment of beliefs — a clash between the inner and outer realms — one should call this fact to mind. The answer isn’t more belief, it’s more faith. Faith that the skepticism you face is a necessary step on your path towards the promised land. Faith that through hardship you will grow stronger. Faith that the world will one day know. Faith in the unfolding of the divine order. Faith in all things. Take action, sure, don’t be dogmatic — certainly. But have faith.
And one last thing. Remember, if you’re experiencing this tension — this visceral scream — you’re already winning. You hurt because you believe, because you dare to. And the real fear, in the end, is not that people won’t believe you, it’s that you won’t believe yourself. In a world that’s constantly telling us we’re less-than, reinforcing our apparent inferiority, to transcend the spell of doubt and insecurity and say “nah fuck that — you know what — I am worth something — I am something special” is a most subversive, indeed revolutionary, act. That’s the money right there, as the kids say. That’s the accomplishment. The rest is just icing and sprinkles. Remember that, above all.
You know — and only you know — and that’s enough in itself.
Things will unfold as they do, for they always do.