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As a young man in my 20s, I thought a lot about self-improvement. My philosophy was based on the old idea that “a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link.” So I set about trying to change myself, by focusing on the things I did LEAST well.
Early in my career, I felt worst about my interpersonal skills (now known as “networking”) and about my lack of assertiveness in the workplace. I tried every self-help book I could find and even went to a therapist to see if I could learn to “be strong” and to be more social.
Now, there’s a lot to be said for facing your fears. Many philosophers have devoted their lives to encouraging that. But I’m here to tell you that sometimes the best thing to do about a fear is to …do something else.
The beauty of making it to the ripe old age of 52 is that now I can see more clearly that it is much more helpful in life to focus on what I’m GOOD at, rather than what I suck at. (Hint: I will never, ever be a “social” person).
Frequently, people who want to lose weight tell me that they are going to give up on this ingredient (usually carbs) or that food or beverage (usually alcohol). This is based on their experience that consumption of those things leads them down a slippery slope.
But while I always smile and try to have an encouraging word when I hear about these absolutes, in my heart I’m not certain about that approach. It seems to me that if sweets are a weakness, then the attempt to eliminate them completely only serves to give them even more power than they already have. And unless you’re an alcoholic (in which case definitely STOP drinking!), the chances are that a social beverage here and there is going to be a part of your life forever.
The lesson that I have learned over the years is that confidence is gained not so much by mastering one’s fears or strengthening one’s weak spots. Rather, confidence stems from the experience of repeatedly dealing with a situation and coming out the other end alive and well.
As it is now, I don’t usually run from things or avoid situations. Instead, I take the time to understand and remember what it will be like and how I’ll feel. For example, at most parties I will feel awkward and stupid, I will feel tempted to stuff myself with food, and then I’ll want to leave and spend some time alone.
Experience tells me, however that in fact I will survive those parties, most people won’t know how uncomfortable I am, and from time to time I will actually enjoy myself.
I don’t need to be someone different. I just need to be myself. And that is most definitely okay.