The Confidence Behind Insecurity

I don’t believe the Instagrammers who post quotes – “know your worth, then add tax,” or “your possibilities are truly endless.” Their sentiments are oversimplified, but more importantly, they conceive of private happiness. They admit that “my happiness” exists parallel to “your happiness” – as in, happiness is a personal trajectory, a possession, a destination. They urge never to stray from your own personal self-worth battle in spite of modesty and mental calm.

If happiness is a destination, then all actions join a subliminal course, taking you closer, or farther from your oasis. Enter, college. Enter, stranger-ship. Enter, the poisonous, but prevailing, feeling that “the grass is greener on the other side,” which can drive a student mad. The abstract pursuit of happiness becomes a menace. We bully ourselves whenever we feel sad.

At college, long-growing fears about identity and purpose ripen. The past and future merge into one whole of places you weren’t and people you aren’t. Gradually, “yesterday” proves as full of a question as “tomorrow;” it holds an unprovable promise, potential energy. Every day is so heavy. The holes in a cover letter, the holes we feel inside – could the past have held something to fill them? Has "other you," across the street, who took an opposite path, filled them yet?

Growing up means your imagined world is not just married to the future, it is married to the past. It is no longer a game of what if this will happen, it’s a problem of what if this had happened. And so, there grows a fear, a desperation behind that interview, with that company, where you boast yourself and your twenty-one years. You introduce yourself: “I’m all of these things! Soon! I promise!”.

Ambition of any kind reminds us who we aren’t yet.

I’ve pinpointed two facilitators for questions of “what if.” First, strangers are mirrors – showing us pictures of who we are, because of who we are not. And in college, strangers are abundant. The tendency of people to idealize others is not “news.” And yet, the influx of faces to compare ourselves with feels unparalleled in a large university. No self-asserted logic can contest that when “Jane from class” looks contented, our own lack thereof throws a punch.

Second, perhaps our egos are mercilessly big. We would not be angry that the world is not our oyster if we were not so convinced that it should be. We would not resent feeling sad if we did not imagine our future selves as golden. Sadness and pride are not mutually exclusive. The ego is ruthless and often wears the term “inspiration” as a mask.

 

I am not a cynic. Life is good. But, college exacerbates a person’s complicated relationship with time and self-worth. This worried mentality alludes to an inadvertent egoism and feeling that one’s personal timeline is central to time itself. So long as happiness represents private, existential success, it also qualifies an equal amount of desire and longing – the reciprocal. I notice many people are possessive of their sadness. Emotions of all kinds are worn as name tags. This one is mine. Yours is over there.

It seems that to expect the world is to wonder why you don’t have it. To name a boundless human capacity within yourself is to have a hard time filling that hole. And this expectation is very commonplace.

It is not surprising that when you scroll through Instagram you happen upon endless motivational quotes validating emotional whims, ambition, and telling you to never settle. This is the ego’s mask, a defense mechanism against anonymity, and an attempt to say confidence into being.

And it is no coincidence that in a world of neighbors, strangers, seemingly-so Janes, we want to pronounce self-worth, scream it out the windows, and glorify the journey to “happiness” since we have not found it yet. Namely, we want to spread the word of our own journey to happiness.

If you cannot be Complacent Jane, certainly you can spout your own complexity and the reasons why your journey – any second, now – is going to take you to the highest peak. While we envy Jane’s simplicity, perhaps we consider ourselves fundamentally different from her, occasionally condescending what she stands for. If she provides a mirror for our own discontentment now – she might provide a mirror for our own greatness later. In her naïve contentedness, we will hopefully see our own ecstasy.

It seems we are not innocent in this game of insecurity and cyclical ambition. We value mirrors, even when they hurt us, because the day we “find happiness,” we will want proof. We will want to send postcards.

Certainly, longing is real, it is painful, it is not solely based on flawed definitions of happiness and idealizing strangers. Sadness needs to be taken seriously and with care – always.  But, when we ask “what if,” we admit to various levels of insecurity. And when not clinical – when simply in passing – or disguised in a complaint, we are backhandedly referencing our own ambition. Insecurity is paradoxical; you want more, you want to be more because you expect to be so much.

Inspired by the essay “Find Your Beach,” by Zadie Smith.

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