The Confident Lion

Photo Credit: Angie McMonigal Photography

The lion has always seemed like the most confident animal in the zoo to me. He stands there all majestic and regal-looking, smugly bearing his royal title. He eats when he wants, he sleeps as much as he wants, he paces where he wants, he roars as loudly as he wants. He occupies the zoo’s most prime real estate, often just inside the main entrance, not hidden in the back with the aardvarks, bats, or camels. He does, by all appearances, seem to have it all.

But I wonder: does the lion actually feel confident? Or does he just appear confident? Does he have those days when he feels like he just isn’t quite “enough?” Does he wish he could be sleek and slender like the cheetah?  Or more entertaining like the monkeys? More communicative like the gorillas? Or maybe taller like the giraffes?

There are days when everything seems to float along relatively easily, with confidence, and the jigsaw puzzle of roles that I play fit into place rather neatly.

Then there are days when it seems like the pieces just don’t want to fit, regardless of which way they are turned, days when getting them to fit seems so challenging, so exhausting, so draining that I am brought to my knees in desperation.

There are days when I feel fairly competent as a mother, my kids seem happy, healthy, and fairly well-adjusted. And then we will have one of “those” days – days when the bickering and whining are incessant. Days when I am convinced that my three-year-old will never be potty-trained. Days filled with injuries, too much yelling, and lots of doubts. Days when I read about self-assured parents who embrace their kids’ idiosyncrasies and differences with grace and poise, instead of doubt and fear like I do.

And I am punched in the gut, breathless, by the anxiety of it all. How does everyone else do it?

There are days when I feel like I am relatively fit and healthy, exercising daily and watching what I eat. But then there are “th0se” days. Days when all I can see are oh-so-stylish moms dropping off their kids at school and photos of celebrities with rock-hard abs just weeks after giving birth.

And what was left of my confidence is deflated like a popped balloon. How does everyone else do it?

There are days when I feel like I am making progress professionally, as well – I am doing more freelance writing work than ever before, am publishing articles at Huffington Post, syndicated a post on BlogHer, and am getting new followers. And then there are “those” days. Days when a client will complain about a project or a post will generate a string of particularly nasty comments. Another writer’s book becomes a bestseller while I am still struggling to find a publisher for mine. Or, try as I might, it becomes clear that I will never penetrate the in-crowd of certain blogging circles.

And there is nothing I can do except pull the covers over my head, curl into a ball, and sob. How does everyone else do it?

Since we don’t live in a bubble or make decisions in a vacuum, it would impossible not to compare myself to others and a mistake not to look to others for inspiration, motivation, knowledge, and advice. But as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Perhaps the confidence blows do not come as a result of looking to other people, however, but in the failure to look to the right people. People that inspire and motivate without intimidation. People that respect my unique gifts and talents, but also help me to improve. People with helpful information, who unselfishly share the knowledge that I actually need, rather than the information that serves their purposes.

Maybe the problem lies not only in expecting too much of myself, but also in expecting too much of other people by creating a fictional, idealized person in my mind and then measuring myself up to that wholly unrealistic person, checking off all the ways that I fall short, that I am not enough. As my friend Missy at Literal Mom recently wrote, “the truth is no one can be all…things at once. The quality of one…will most certainly suffer when [a person] tries to do too many things.”

So how can we find a way to maintain confidence, while striving to improve and achieve our goals?

The short answer is: I have no f***ing clue.

I have written about this topic before here, here, and here. Yet, despite these public (and personal) pep talks, I still struggle to find a balance between contentment and confidence on the one hand, and ambition and motivation on the other hand.

One of the few things that I have learned, however, is that I don’t seem to be alone in this struggle. Maybe we are all just trying to be the best that we can be, to live a life filled with meaning, to achieve our wildest dreams – and experience satisfaction, joy, and confidence while we work to accomplish those feats.

Is that too much to ask? I don’t think that it is.

But figuring out how to do it? Now, that is the hard part.

Maybe I’ll make a trip to the zoo and ask the lion.

 

How do you maintain a healthy level of confidence and satisfaction, without losing inspiration, ambition, and motivation?

On a separate note, I have been experimenting with a number of different writing styles on this blog – freeform poetry, personal essay, argumentative essay, and fiction, to name a few – and I would love to hear your thoughts on which styles you prefer, as well as feedback on ways to improve each of them. You can leave your thoughts in the comment section below, or you can contact me here.

This post is also part of the weekly Photo Inspiration Challenge.  Special thanks to Angie McMonigal Photography for her fabulous photos.  Make sure to visit her website or Facebook page.

 

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14 Comments

  • Congratulations! You’re human. We all have those feelings. And anyone who says they don’t is probably lying to themselves. I feel like that all the time–with my blog, with my kids, with my consulting work, with my body. Here’s where I try to net out: we need those setbacks to push us further. If we were always completely confident in our every endeavor, where would we get the motivation to raise the bar on ourselves? If we did everything perfectly, what would push us to try harder?

    At the end of the day, I try to celebrate my successes while letting my failures push me harder. It’s not always easy, but that’s my goal.

  • I had to smile at the never able to penetrate the in-crowd of certain blogging circles. I know what you mean….
    I’m a Leo – my sign is that confident Lion – but nothing could be further from the truth. One day I feel good about blogging/writing and the next quite the opposite. I put one foot in front of the other, or one finger next to the other on the keyboard and keep at it. Like you. I love that you earned some dollars for a post on BlogHer. How cool is that! The thing is – not everyone else does do it. You’re right when you say that you are not alone.

  • I go through this confidence crisis all the time. Remember there is always someone doing better than you, always someone doing worse – that’s what I tell myself. By focusing on my own small plate, I am able to talk myself down from my mania. I would LOVE to be able to freelance my work, but I’m just not there yet. Looking up to writers like you helps me to believe in myself, because I know you started at the same place I did – the beginning.
    And amen about the being able to penetrate certain blogging circles – sometimes I feel like such a misfit, like it’s high school all over again!
    Anyway, keep up the good fight!

    • Oh, thank you so much for your kind words. You make some very good observations. Thanks for reading and taking the time to share your thoughts.

  • I struggle with this often. I’m too disabled to work while others my age are starting their careers. Other people my age are getting married, and I don’t have anyone. I can’t identify musical intervals despite spending hours trying while others can do this with ease. I’m overweight while others aren’t. The list goes on and on.

    There are a few things I’ve learned about this.

    There’s some advice I’ve been given: I can’t compare my insides to someone else’s outsides. I have no way of knowing what really goes on inside someone else: how difficult/easy it really is for them to do these things, whether or not they are actually happy, whether or not they feel successful, what demons they fight, etc. All I can know is that I see on their outside. However, I tend to be hyper-aware of what’s goes on inside of me rather than the picture others see of me. The combination leads to a very unfair, unbalanced assessment when I try to make a comparison.

    I feel better when I think about the things I can do. This is hard for me to do. I feel embarrassed about it and like I’m somehow arrogant when I do this. However, pushing through that helps. There are three categories of things I do well, and it’s important for me to be aware of all of them: big things that come easily for me, progress I make in things that are difficult for me, and things I tend to take for granted (walking, seeing, reading English, etc.). I find I need to celebrate my successes (including making it through another day alive and in one piece), nurturing both gratitude and self-assurance. Some people find it helpful to make a list of these things and to read it over every time they feel like a failure.

    You imply that these moments of doubt are helpful in pushing yourself further, and maybe this is true for you. For me, it isn’t. When I focus on what I can’t (yet) do, I feel like giving up. When I reward myself (and am rewarded by other people) for doing something well, I’m motivated to do more of this. Positive reinforcement works really well for most people. The first flute professors I had was really good at doing this for me: her attitude was that I already played well and pointed out all the things I did right, and then she gave me some ideas in how to play even better. I learned a lot that way. The second professor’s attitude was that I played badly, but maybe I could squeeze by if I fixed all the things I did wrong. I almost lost my love for music that way. When I manage to think like the first professor, I feel better and learn more. It’s really hard for me to do this, but it works wonders when I succeed.

    • Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to share your thoughts. You make several good points. I especially like the point you make about compare our own insides to someone else’s outside. We have no way of knowing what is really going on in their world, only what we assume is going on. You also make good points about positive reinforcement. Criticism and doubts used to be really motivating for me, but now I find that I respond better to the technique used by your first flute professors.

      Again, thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate it.

  • This is just beautiful. I love your writing – tender and poignant. And no, I don’t have a clue either. I would love to have a live conversation with you about this topic and figure it all out! And then we can move on to other pressing, life-altering topics. Deal?

  • A friend of mine once told me: “The problem with you is that you take yourself too seriously. Try to relax! You’ll see things from a different perspective then.”

    That short bunch of words made my life. I try to remember it every single day.

    U R right. In any case we cannot be to many things at the same time. No one can. The progress in something will surely affect the quality or quantity or both, of something else.
    No need to be too serious about it. We just need to prioritize and that’s it.
    I’m a Leo too.
    I think they don’t take themselves that seriously anyway 🙂

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