The confidence trick

I have always been a confident person, but my particular brand of confidence used to have strange holes in it, in unexpected places. What scared other people didn’t scare me. Giving a ten-minute presentation on my thesis in front of professors, students, members of the public, the Chancellor (if he’d stayed to hear it ;b)? No sweat; I chose my outfit carefully and then ad-libbed the presentation. Playing piano in Hertz Hall? Also not a problem. Public performance, exhibiting my own work or skill, dealing with authority figures; these things have never bothered me. No, my hangups were much more trivial. I walked up three flights of stairs rather than share our apartment elevator with someone else. I emailed people, knowing they might not reply, rather than make that phone call to a stranger. Why these encounters should worry me more than the obvious ones is a matter for a psychologist, who could probably pinpoint the exact episodes of my childhood in which these fears were born.

Since May, however, as I’ve said in previous entries, I’ve really changed in a lot of very positive ways . My whole outlook is different, and I realized this anew this morning. I was in Cody’s looking for a book, Michael Schudson’s Discovering the News, and I couldn’t find it. This has happened to me before. Cody’s has an information desk, but it has always been a source of anxiety for me, so I have never used it. I used to hover around the store, wasting time while trying to decide whether I wanted to ask the information people to check their computers for the book. I think I visualized an unfriendly employee, who would say, scornfully and impatiently, “Oh we can’t do that,” after which I, embarrassed and guilty, would have to slink out of the store, scrutinized from all sides by customers and employees alike. In defense of Cody’s I should say that all Cody’s employees I have ever encountered have been unusually nice, as salespeople go. But still I was afraid.

Today, when I couldn’t find my book, I walked back out toward the store exit, but in so doing I had to pass the information desk. For a change, I felt no anxiety, so I stopped. I smiled at the very friendly-looking person behind the desk, and asked if he could check the computers for this book, and he did. They didn’t have it. I said thank you and left. It was a completely unpainful experience, and next time I need help, I will know what to do.

I knew I was more confident after this summer, but it was nice to have this as a definite piece of evidence. The most important thing, I think, is not that I went up to them with my question, but just that the information desk no longer felt like a potential damper on my self-esteem. If I’d left the store without stopping at the desk, I would still have felt the… well, the lightness, I guess, of being able to go through the store without worries. I realize how stupid this sounds.

Then I came home, after checking all the other bookstores nearby, and I sat down and called Barnes and Noble to ask them if they had the book too. (They didn’t.) And this wasn’t a conscious decision, like “If I am brave enough to talk to the information people at Cody’s I am brave enough to call B&N.” I thought about my options in finding the book, and realized, “Hey, I can call B&N so I don’t have to walk down there.” That’s what I mean when I say this evidences my new confidence: calling, going to the information desk–these things aren’t issues anymore.

I still have anxieties, but it’s reassuring to know I can get over them, and that it doesn’t even have to be a painful process. And now I can stop wasting time pacing back and forth in Cody’s while I agonize over how much I want this particular book.

[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at]