I think confidence is one of the most important attributes a person can possess. There are few traits of character other than confidence that I as a parent more greatly desire to instill within my children. However, over the last six or seven months, I have come to appreciate a more nuanced form of confidence: conviction.
I think it’s correct to lump conviction under the umbrella of confidence. It seems to me to be a particular form of confidence. Importantly, this means that one can have confidence without necessarily having conviction. That is, one can have confidence in one’s abilities without placing any value or normative judgment on the executing of those abilities within a particular situation. Conversely, one can have conviction that the task one has undertaken at a certain time is the “right” one for that individual to pursue and yet, in that scenario, not at all have confidence in one’s abilities. While it may be ideal to have confidence both in one’s abilities and in one’s reasons/decisions/values (which arguably is what conviction is), it seems to me that the latter is more important than the former. There may be unique difficulties that one faces in acting with conviction but not with the fullest of confidence in one’s own abilities. But if one is calmly reassured about what one is doing and why one is doing it, it will allay many of the doubts, fears, and sheer disinterest that can accompany the more confident undertaking of a task to which one does not feel personally committed.
If you’ve read my blog over the last little while—or at least those entries that deal with my feelings on academia as of late—you have probably sensed a looming discontentment. In part, that’s the result of my using the blog as a kind of therapeutic tool, as a way to get out some of my frustrations or feelings of disillusionment. In truth, I’m not all doom-and-gloom all of the time. Even so, I have been eager to claim for myself a greater sense of conviction about who I am and what I do. Not only professionally, but in every walk of life, I just want to feel comfortable and settled in to who I am and where I’m at. It’s hard to feel that way when everything I do is about looking forward and trying to get somewhere else. Even in those moments when I feel confident in my abilities or confident that things will turn out okay in the end, I wish for something more. I want to feel personally invested in what I’m doing, here and now. I don’t think that’s impossible to feel as a graduate student. I think if I were more stimulated and excited by what I’m doing, I would feel invested in what I’m doing here and now. But as I currently see it, I’m merely working to get myself somewhere else. I don’t necessarily feel like I’m blossoming into the person I aspire to be. I’m just passing time, paying my proverbial dues. In that regard, I’m not wholly unlike the person stranded on an island who must work diligently to construct the phrase “Help!” out of the rocks and coconuts found strewn on the beach, hoping the plea proves adequate to capture the attention of those high above me who might serve to rescue me from my squalid conditions.
One of the challenges I currently face is that I’m unsure of what changes in my life would allow me to live with greater conviction. When I fantasize about the future, I catch glimpses of what seems like a reasonably attainable but also conviction-filled life, but who knows? Who knows if what I envision is really even what I want? And who knows if it’s truly attainable? I think it is. It must be. But, boy oh boy, not feeling stable or secure can really dampen your feelings of conviction. It makes you second guess everything you do, because safety and success are seen as so precariously and tentatively available to you. It seems that ever since I went to the hospital and was diagnosed with diverticulitis in the fall of 2010, and then Creegan was born and had to have emergency surgery a few weeks later, and then Eddie had to have emergency surgery a few months after that, and on top of it all we had purchased a van that has (and to some degree continues to have) relentless problems—I just haven’t been able to shake the feelings of insecurity.
Another obstacle to living life with conviction is time poverty. The things that are important to me or that I really want to do are ever pushed to the side in order to do those things that I “have” to do. Everybody faces this challenge, but it’s a lifestyle that can really accentuate the ways in which one doesn’t live with conviction. When time is so precious, it is easy to resent those things that demand our time and attention and yet fail to compensate us with feelings of self-worth and personal satisfaction.
I say all of these things, and yet I believe I have made strides in living a life of greater conviction. As I said earlier, conviction doesn’t apply only to one’s professional pursuits. I feel more convicted of who I am in my beliefs and personality, for example. On at least a few matters, I’ve come to accept my views and values and feel less apologetic and/or questioning about them. I’ve tried to quiet the voice in my head that habitually asks, “Should I really do this thing that I want to do, or will it be a great big mistake?”, “Am I a jerk if I do what I want rather than what they want?”, “Is it really okay for me to have and/or share my opinion on this matter?”, etc. To the extent that I’ve managed to quell these questions, I’ve been all the happier because of it. There is a lot to be said about being firm and resolute in one’s decisions. Sadly, it is very unnatural for me not to question my decisions and mull things over to a nauseating degree. It takes practice.
This entry hasn’t turned out as I expected it to. The problem is, I always write these things when I’m feeling emotionally exhausted and need to purge. I had intended to focus more on the concept of conviction as it relates to confidence and why I think conviction is more important than confidence more generally. Instead, I rambled about my life in particular. Worse, I rambled vaguely. As an exercise in living with conviction, I’m posting this anyway.