Confidence Crisis

Wednesday night, I was watching one of my favorite shows. The writer’s name came on screen and I realized, God, I know that person. I knew them years ago, haven’t seen them since, and there they are, writing on a show I watch. I’m struggling to get someone to publish a single stupid thing I’ve written and there they are, writing a show I’m watching. I felt the confidence crack, just a bit. It was a small thing, but that’s always how they start.

When I felt my confidence shake, I did the only thing I know to do. I put my head down and worked. I talked through my ideas for Mimesis with Rachel and started work on real backgrounds for my my characters. For the night, it helped. It felt like I’d gotten past it.  Unfortunately, when my confidence cracks, it’s not so simple. I think I’m getting past it by marching on, but the faults get bigger while I’m not looking.

I got home from work, knowing I had plans and wouldn’t get anything done. No work to do, no way to brush the crisis under the rug. I felt the self doubt finally get its claws in me. It starts, as it often does, with wasting time, wasting life, being lazy, then moves on to not as good as you need to be, not as good as you think you are, not very good at all. The ultimate destination is well known territory. Doesn’t matter how good, doesn’t matter what you do, doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter.

Some of it’s absolutely the truth. Most is just the wailing of unbalanced brain chemicals. The rest…I don’t know.

When I graduated college, I struggled to find my first programming job. I’d finished my degree at an online school, and I could see them writing me off as soon as it came up. Sometimes, I didn’t have to notice it, because they outright told me that I’d gotten my degree from a craphole. I was paying off the remains of my student loans – thankfully, not that large – on a degree that wasn’t getting me anything. I was taking jobs and getting paid for things I could have done without the degree.  Worse, they weren’t entirely wrong. I had gaps in my knowledge, I lacked experience and I was behind every other person my age in the field.

wasting time, not good enough, doesn’t matter what you do

I got lucky. I was working somewhere when an internal developer position opened up, and having my foot in the door was enough to get them to take a chance on me.  All at once, it was on me.

See, my confidence is screwy. Like I always tell people, I don’t lack confidence in myself. I just don’t have much confidence that people see what I see in myself. Unfortunately, after a pile of rejections, it turns into a doom loop. They don’t see what I see becomes maybe what I see isn’t there becomes I suck. Being thrown into a job I lacked the skills and experience to actually do was, thus, a step up. Crazy, I know, but going from not good enough, no opportunity to not good enough, have to do it anyway, right now meant it really was about what I could do, and not what someone else thought I could do.

Now that I’m back at that point, only now with an oft-rejected novel, I try to remind myself how low I felt in the year before my first coder job. Logically it helps, but these crises aren’t entirely about logic. They’re about trying to sustain an image of yourself in absence of feedback. Which means I wrestle with the logical side of it until the illogical, chemical, emotional wave hits, breaks me down, and passes.

This isn’t one of those posts with a message, or a lesson, or a statement of how I’m stronger than this and will succeed. Who knows if I’ll succeed. Survive? Yes. Persevere? Sure, as long as I can, hopefully as long as I have to. Beyond that, I don’t know. Sometimes you don’t give up because you believe. Sometimes you don’t give up because you know you’re too stupid to know whether you should believe or not, so you’d better keep going anyway. Today, I’m there. That’s good enough. It’s got to be.

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3 Responses to Confidence Crisis

  1. Mere says:

    wasting time, not good enough, doesn’t matter what you do

    This is, to the letter, *exactly* the doom loop I go through, too. While it’s reassuring (?) to know I’m not alone, what the fuck is WRONG with us?

  2. Mike says:

    My experience has been quite similar. I’m happiest as a code monkey when I’m the least experienced person on the team.

    As a writer, I’ve managed to insulate myself from direct rejection. Screenplay competitions don’t reject you, they just accept you (for quarter finals, repeatedly). I also go through that cycle, with a bit of “even if you do start selling your words, you’ll never be able to make enough to eat.” (Which I suppose is a variation on all three.)

  3. Eric says:

    I was going to use M, but that’s going to get confusing really fast.

    @Mere: I have an answer to your question: Lots.

    @Mike: Direct rejection is awful awful awful but it’s really useful. I mean, it’ll have been useful when I get a response that isn’t rejection. If I get that. I assume it will be, anyway. What do I know? As to the code monkeying, I know. It’s great to have somewhere to climb, so long as you have something to climb.

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