Confidence is a weird thing for us Neurodivergent types. We spend our childhoods being told that we’re doing everything wrong. Then we become either timid, or rebellious teens, and whichever we choose that’s wrong too. Then we’re anxious adults desperately pretending to be whomever it is that everyone is expecting us to be. And then some bastard tells us that the secret to confidence is to “just be yourself.”
A lot of people who know me would tell you that I must have overcome that because I’m very confident now. It’s not true. I haven’t felt genuine confidence since I was three years old. I was a very confident toddler but it was all wasted then. When you’re three it doesn’t really count as confidence, it’s just being bossy.
What I do know is to fake confidence. I worked out a while ago that most people can’t tell the difference between real confidence and fake confidence. Fake confidence is easier than it seems too. At least 80% of fake confidence is deciding not to fear looking like an idiot. A further 10% is knowing how to step back from mistakes that make you look like an idiot in a graceful enough way that people forget what mistake you made. The rest of it is mostly just being simultaneously loud and polite.
Of course there’s the other kind of confidence – the confidence in something. So how would I rate my confidence in, say, my writing? Simultaneously very high and rock bottom. My default belief about my own writing is somehow both that I’m a genius and I should be a millionaire and winner of all the literary prizes, and also that I’m the worst kind of hack and I’m lucky that anyone reads anything I write.
I hate this question so much but I imagine that to many of my readers it seems entirely innocuous. I want to unpack some of the unpleasant baggage this question is carrying around.
What someone means when they ask this question is “What do you do for work?” but that’s not really what they’re asking. This question is an invitation to justify your existence and to reveal your class and status. I think a lot of people don’t really mean it like that. They’re asking it as an icebreaker and they think the worst thing about it is how bland it is. It doesn’t feel bland to someone who’s struggled with unemployment.
Back when I could still work I often didn’t because I couldn’t persuade anyone to employ me. It’s hard not to take unemployment personally. It feels like everyone else can get a job and that you’re stuck at home being a drain on society. Being unemployed can feel like you’re failing at the most basic things about adulthood. And then you’re introduced to a new person and the first thing they do is to ask you what your job is.
“What do you do?”
If you’re choosing not to work because of your mental health then this question feels like an attack. How can your mental health be incompatible with work? How dare you prioritise your wellbeing over your economic value.
If you can’t work outside the home because you’re a carer, either for children or for vulnerable adults, then this question is a chance to be reminded that nobody regards caring as “real work”.
If you’re an artist of any kind then this question is a reminder that not only do people not think art is a “real job” but they also don’t think that artists should get paid.
“What do you do?”
“I’m an artist/writer/actor/film maker.”
“No but what do you really do? What do you do for money?”
If you’re retired, or if you can’t work because you’re disabled, then this question is another reminder that your not a real person in the eyes of a lot of your peers. That’s why people are happy to pretend that the pandemic is over. They’ve convinced themselves that it’s only the old or the sick that have to worry about dying and that’s not a problem because…
A lot of people making this calculation don’t even finish the thought. They don’t really confront what they’re saying by equating someone’s value with their ability to work. They certainly haven’t thought about the fact that many elderly and disabled people do actually work, or contribute to our societies in other ways. It’s a mental dead end that prevents them from absorbing the horror of the idea that almost all of us will become worthless to capitalism eventually and that when that happens we’ll be an abstract on the other side of a string of dots
Excuse me while I get the hollow laughter out of the way.
Of course I don’t believe in fate or destiny. If I did I’d have no option but to lay down and die. That’s the kind of destiny that people like me get. We die tragically in the background, or we endure in suffering in order to serve as a good example.
There’s no place for me in the future unless I chose to make one. I’m old, I’m fat, I’m ugly and I’m disabled. If I’m in a story it’s as a bad guy. In fact I am in a story as a bad guy. I’m on the news as a bad guy quite often. Not me personally but both fat people and disabled people are regular bad guys on various news programs.
Of course when I was a teenager I thought that my weight was standing between me and my destiny. I wanted to do big, important things and I knew that fat people, particularly fat women, didn’t get to do big, important things. I thought that if I lost enough weight then maybe Destiny would come calling.
That did not happen. I did lose weight but nothing changed. My weight was not the fundamental problem of my life that I had been told it was. Destiny wasn’t calling because Destiny doesn’t exist. Destiny is just a scam made up to sell horoscopes and persuade people to stay at home and wait for change rather than going out and making it happen.