This post was originally written on the ninth of February, 2014, on a stomach full of pizza rolls.
I said I’d write every day. Whoops. However, I also said I’m only human, born to make mistakes (insurance commercial jingle goes here), while pertaining to other engagements in life. It’s been a rough week, and I’m glad I am making time to get back to something that has been on my mind, to whomever this may concern: confidence. Confidence is something all humans must pursue, and with reason.
Confidence locates identity. I was not the most popular kid in grade school, as if the uncomfortable tendencies and unrelated jokes didn’t give THAT away. Because I was very critical of myself (still am), along with a competitive spirit and a perfectionist mindset (spoiler: dangerous recipe), I took the critiques of my peers really seriously. (One of my english teachers hated the word “really”, citing it doesn’t add to the statement. She’s right, and my vocabulary is less than admirable-I just remembered her always saying that.) Looking back, I don’t think children that dig for buried treasure in their noses and smell their flatulence (let alone using the word “flatulence”) count as credible peers, but the ten-year-old me didn’t know that. Until very recently (“very” isn’t much better than “really”, I know), I believed those lies I was told my whole life. The attractive girl in my fourth grade class let me know that piano players were stupid, this being said after my performance in music class. I cursed the world and everyone within it. When I got home that afternoon, I told my mother everyone hated me(this being false and not what the girl had said to me). A mother’s heart breaks when hearing this. She would tell me God loves me (yeah, I’m really feeling the love right now, God-but maybe God would bless me if I could use a better adjective than “really” or “very”), which doesn’t help when you believe you are worthless. My mother would elaborate, saying people love me, even if that one oh-so-intelligent girl in my class didn’t. I wish I had listened to my mother earlier in life. Young men reading this-heed my advice and listen to your mother; to reiterate another entry I wrote last week: your mother has more experiences in life than you do and wants only what is best for you. A wise man listens more than he speaks, and the ancient skill of listening should be practiced by successful up-and-coming men everywhere. If you like her advice, thank her for it. If you don’t like it, thank her for sharing anyways-you don’t have to act on the advice she gives you. By listening regardless of what is being said, you have done no wrong and only right. If I had lowered my prideful/perfectionist/critical shield at the time, I would not have struggled with my identity at a later stage in life. I do believe a life lived for others is a life well-lived, but people-pleasing holds little if any merit. Loving others is crucial and serving others exemplifies it, but who benefits from meaningless actions? If the attractive girl had given me a meaningful critique, telling me what she didn’t like about my piano playing, or telling me how to improve, or why she didn’t like pianists or piano music or anything to that extent, what-have-you, she would have changed my life, breathing a small but powerful whisper in my ear. Perhaps what the girl said was unnecessary and harsh, but I shan’t hold that against her. I’ll give the girl (her name escapes me at the moment) the benefit of the doubt here. There was no reason for her to know I would take her comment personally and misinterpret it (telling my mother everyone hated me was unfair). Maybe she was trying to be funny, which I could have responded by saying, “if you think that is comedy, then comedians are stupid”. (I tease, and hurting others to feel my pain is not something I support, which is another discussion for another day). I would not take piano lessons again until the age of eighteen. This is not entirely because of that lone comment in fourth grade, but painful memories and forlorn emotions can only add to such an experience. If I had learned to forgive and find the right reasons to pursue hobbies at the time, who knows where I would be as a musician. Everything worked out for me, eventually, but predestination, determinism and fatalism will be other topics for other days. Twelve years later, I bring this memory to the surface and embrace it, like the parable of the prodigal son (if you don’t know what that parable is, find it in the Bible and/or google it-it’s google-able and well worth your time). My identity is not found in that comment, nor was it ever. I believed the lie that I was a stupid piano player. I type this story and acknowledge the discipline it took to earn my bachelor of art’s degree in piano performance at a private university. (For the record: my degree will say “general music-piano emphasis” because I did not give a recital my junior year, but I took the same courses of the students who did give a junior recital. “Performance” is the more-acceptable term, in my opinion, but I do not know much, giving thanks for at least knowing that.) At one time in life, my father told me to stop pleasing others for the wrong reasons, as it breeds discontent and cynicism, hitting the nail on the head with that comment. During my freshman year in college, I realized I play the piano because it’s fun. Nothing can add or remove joy from that without my consent. At one time, I mentioned playing in Crash 47, the greatest band you’d cut your ears off for (we really were terrible). We had fun being sucky musicians, knowing we would still have fun being accomplished musicians in the future. That girl’s remark (honestly, what was her name) is only a faint memory in my pea-sized brain. Apart from me, no one remembers, and no one cares. And why should they? Who we were yesterday does not define who we have to be tomorrow. I learned to be confident in my musical pursuits because of that fourth grade fear fest (tasty alliteration), and the risk of being vulnerable in that aspect is a gift that does not stop giving.
Confidence makes life enjoyable. At the expense of sounding naive and overly optimistic, the time spent being miserable is the same amount of time you could spend being happy. Don’t look into that statement too much, I’m just trying to say our perceptions direct our lives, giving us purpose. Grieving is part of humanity, and that too will be in another topic for another day (remember my previous paragraph-I thought I was a worthless musician for years). I had learned to appreciate music for the right reasons (praise/worship/communication to God/whichever religious preferences one may have [atheists can ignore that part], fellowship/community, freedom/expression, truths/universal constants) over the wrong-although-appealing ones (fame, money, women) over time, but the miserable music misinterpretation (again with the alliteration-I high five myself) was not the last time I would let myself suffer from the mouth of a girl (incidentally referring to bad kissers, but I actually just meant their words). I had just turned seventeen when I started dating a girl. (My past experiences as a boyfriend/bitch are Hemingway novels in themselves, and should I quit my job and relocate to Madagascar, I might have enough time to write them.) Before I discuss this event, know that I do not want to slander this girl or any previous girlfriend or girl I’ve ever encountered (I’ll just add “or anyone” to be sweet and socially acceptable)-she was and still is smart (4.0 GPA in high school and made the dean’s list in college), athletic (starting forward on her high school basketball team), and funny (I farted one time while she sat on my lap and she took the blame for it so I wouldn’t feel embarrassed). (I don’t think that last story is true, but it is funny and so was she, I just can’t recall anything specifically funny at the moment; maybe this means she just wasn’t funny enough to actually remember anything, but I digress.) I practice forgiveness constantly (I can hear that same English teacher in my head-”’practice’ is your verb choice for that sentence? Does the sports coach have a game plan to measure forgiveness? Is there a big ‘practice’ conference championship game coming up that deals with a bunch of sports balls and kicking basketballs for touchdowns?”) and will threaten to kick a grudge in the ass by the flagpole at 3:00 after school, meaning I strive to never treat anyone unfairly based on differences in opinions or beliefs or past wrongdoings, their faults or mine. Now that I’ve hopefully cleared everything up, I’ll scroll up the page and try to find what I was getting at. Let’s see. Oh, found it-girl story. I had just turned seventeen when I was dating this girl. (I actually remember this one’s name, but I’ll leave her unnamed in case she reads this one day and feels weird/doesn’t remember any of this, leading me to feel weird.) Granted, I was no Ryan Gosling (still not and not trying to be, somewhat) at seventeen. In the earlier part of the new millennium, I was a member of what scientists would later call the “pre-mature, clingy, post-3 Doors Down” movement. I was a late bloomer in my generation, diagnosed with the common symptoms of: hair gel, spiked bangs, Hollister clothing, Abercrombie & Fitch (trying not to write “more like ‘Abercrombie and Bitch’” and fake laugh about how clever I thought it was) clothing, shark tooth necklaces, too much Axe body spray, an affinity for Creed and Nickelback’s music (a postmodern Dark Ages for me, if you will, or even if you won’t, I don’t care), wearing tennis shoes with everything, thinking it was unmanly to show any kind of emotion, braces, birkenstocks, being covered in braces, aiming for class popularity, mentioning braces again for a third time and somewhat humorous flare, and not being able to talk to girls without wetting oneself. By the grace of God and the physical beatdowns of the football team, I learned to grow out of most of those stages by age seventeen, even though I still thought Chad Kroeger’s voice was the pinnacle of rock music (don’t know who Chad Kroeger is? He’s the frontman/Ed Hardy spokesperson/ TAP OUT clothing conglomerate for Nickelback. Jealous of the person who you were five seconds ago? I apologize. I also apologize for knowing who he is. Find a gun, shoot me, then feel free to shoot yourself.) and birkenstocks were very fashionable (the only exception to the middle-school boy fashion faux pas of not wearing tennis shoes). In summary, age seventeen was not my peak, but somehow, I still managed to get this girl for a short period. We started our relationship way too fast, which I take the blame for, and I wasn’t in one for the right reasons, (I blame television for that one) either. She dumped me just a couple weeks after we had officially become boyfriend/girlfriend, knowing Facebook determines official relationship status (“It’s Complicated” Facebook relationship status in another story). Being dumped in a relationship that was shorter than Milli Vanilli’s career (zing!) wasn’t painful, but the fact prom was a week after that was. I rented a black tux with a paisley brown vest to match her paisley brown dress, probably made by Brad Paisley. Because we went to different high schools, we decided it would be best to not go to two proms together and would just go with our friends. I still went to prom and still had a great time being newly single with great friends (greatly), but most people I know have never had to deal with that. I didn’t deserve to. My parents never dealt with that, so their advice was somewhat void (foreshadowing to the next part). When I found out my ex-girlfriend ended up going to her prom with another guy, I felt worse. She managed to get a date and I couldn’t even do that. I felt like the worst guy in the world, sounding like Marsha Brady when a football broke her nose, or similarly, an average Blink-182 lyric. Yet again, my father was able to help me become a more confident man. Before I had asked a girl to be my girlfriend for the very first time, at the tender and testosterone-confused age of fourteen, I was nervous and scared, my brand new Axe Asian Persuasion body spray not helping. Much like what he said to me in fourth grade, my father said to me in eighth: a girl’s opinion shouldn’t have too much effect on you. (This was blatantly paraphrased, as my dad always meant well but didn’t always respond well, on purpose or by fault, and will be discussed heavily in the future.)
“But dad, I’m like literally the only guy in the world who’s been treated like this and uses hyperbole at the expense of not knowing “like” and “literally” contradict each other.”
My father was about to tell me one of the most beneficial lessons I would ever learn in life.
“The worst thing a girl can do to you is say ‘no’. Think of it like this. The highest career batting average in all of professional baseball is held by Ted Williams, with an average of .403. That’s like getting a 40% on a test (which you better not)! On average, he got two hits for every ten at bats in his career, and he has the BEST batting average of all time. The right people will look past your faults and strive to see the good in you. Those that mind, don’t matter-those that matter don’t mind. Similarly, there are at least three billion females on the plane that are or have the potential of becoming women. Technically, you could marry any one of them. You’ll get older and there’ll be times where you’ll date women, and you could technically date billions of them. Even if you failed a billion relationships, all it takes is the billion and first relationship to be considered a successful marriage. Now, who doesn’t like those odds? All it takes is one “yes” in life to outweigh all the “no’s”. Remember your identity is found in the love of Christ. No woman or hobby or activity or whatever can add or remove value from your life-someone “completing” you is a myth. You were born as a complete person. You’re single when asking a girl out. By her rejecting you, you’re still single-she can’t take anything away from you. Yes, rejection hurts, and it’s okay to hurt-you’re human, but be content with who you are and your life before dragging a girl into it, with all of its [life’s] problems and pleasures. The girl that says “no” can’t keep you from enjoying life, can’t keep you from being happy, and can’t keep you from pursuing another girl. Expect less and give more, always. You can’t control another girl’s feelings for you, but you can make sure you’re the best man you can be while being the man the world needs you to be. A “no” is really giving another lucky girl to say “yes” someday. Anyone can be great in acceptance, but a real man can handle disappointment. Even if a girl says “no”, you’ve brightened her day by going out of your way to genuinely compliment her and show interest in her. Girls are very critical of themselves and work very hard on their appearance, so it’s always nice to receive positive feedback. If she turns you down, smile and say, ‘well, can’t blame me for trying. Thanks for your time, have a nice day.’ Walk away tall. You did nothing wrong. Handling rejection makes you more of a man than expecting positive thinking. By the way, a girl can’t say ‘yes’ if you don’t ask her out. In the grand scheme of things, there’s little risk, and it’s always worth it, regardless of the outcome.”
That conversation changed my life and still keeps my head on straight. I’m confident in who I am, knowing my life doesn’t have more meaning in a relationship or less meaning not being in one.
Confidence is something we all need, and the arrogant need less of. Both of these experiences were painful at first but have helped me become a better man. Character-building is a goal I hope never fades in our society. No one reading this (myself included) is perfect, and to seek perfection in life is a dangerous goal. If we lead our lives in pursuit of more things, we will never truly be happy. When money is our primary focus, greed blossoms in our minds, distorting the purpose of our lives. Money is important, and a blessing at that, but if money is something we are unhappy with until we obtain more, we will never have enough. If our worth is grounded in our accomplishments, what else are we accomplishing? If you are reading this, you are worth more than an ACT score, GPA, scholarship, championship trophy or award ribbon. Your beauty has so much more potential than what your boyfriend thinks of your body. Your masculinity is not measured in muscle size or preferred activities. My worth is not defined in this writing entry. Our looks will fade, our bodies will crumble. When we leave this life, we will leave something behind. How will people remember us? Let not earthly things guide you, but let eternal pursuits be your anchor. Be confident in who you are and who you were born to be, for your purpose in life has dominion over any person or thing that believes they can determine your worth. They do not know who you are and what you are capable of. May we divert ourselves from the evil snares and distractions in our cruel world and confide in things that give purpose to the purposeful. It is through these things that confidence may abide in thee.