Confidence is the new 30.

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

Earlier this week someone called me a smart, capable, self-possessed young woman. I found this to be a strange experience. To quote the (amazing) comedian John Mulaney:

“I know all that! How do you know all that?”

John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City

It’s taken me twenty-five years to truly feel this way. Twenty-five years to feel in control of my life. A quarter-life crisis, if you would.

And yet, just a few weeks in, I’ve got a new job where my department head tells me he sees me as valuable. It’s not that I’ve never heard that before, so maybe I’m just drawing false parallels. But it felt different this time.

It’s not that I wasn’t flattered. I’m human, of course I was flattered. But my first reaction wasn’t to duck my head and blush. It was to nod. It was to think: “Yeah. That’s true, isn’t it? Huh.”

I’m glad to feel this way. Even in my worst moments of self-doubt or uncertainty, I’ve come to recognize my own agency. The question no longer is if I can do something, it’s: How much time do I have to devote to learning it? How much interest do I have in it? What matters to me?

All around me, I can feel people responding to that energy. It confuses me, as I share my successes and tackle the setbacks alone. No one notices when I watch too much tv instead of doing something more meaningful. No one cares when I play a video game instead of accomplishing a goal I’d set in my own head. It makes me feel almost like a fraud, since those who celebrate my wins tend to only notice those. It’s a cliché feeling, but of course I have it anyhow. If asked, I probably could have predicted that.

What I didn’t expect however, is how often those around me are responding to the wins. Some reactions, sure. My mother’s relief that I’m finally tidying my apartment isn’t particularly shocking. But more and more I see myself surprising the people around me. Every one seems to look at or speak to me differently after I talk about some of the progress I’m making. A lot of people have mentioned being impressed with me. I find it particularly obvious with my new coworkers, for example, who only know the current version of me. This Cait isn’t nearly as timid or lost. To them, I am the smart, capable, valuable new addition. I think they may believe I was always this way, or that my old job saw me like that too, which wasn’t true.

Not everyone’s reactions have been positive, for the record, but that’s a subject for a whole other article.

My favorite response has to be that of my friends. As we enter our late 20’s, and begin to take possession of our adulthood, I’ve found most of us are looking for motivations. Every win I can get I naturally want to share, and every time I do, I find my peers have been trying to do the same thing. Even better, every push forward I make seems to give energy to someone I know. We keep each other accountable, and understand why we feel better only after doing the work. We encourage each other to shake our innate complacency.

This cycle of positivity and support has come as a welcome surprise to me these last few months. For so long in our teenage years, friends were a support system, of course, but more as a safety net or crutch. Friends were where you went to rest, because we were all in over our heads. Now we’re successful and accomplishing things, even when it’s just to exercise today. None of the wins we’ve made yet will change the world, but at some point we went from surviving to thriving. We propel each other forward, and when we hold our heads up high, people seem to see it as earned.

Maybe some day I’ll take that feeling for granted. But for now, I’m going to enjoy it. I’m sure there’s so much I don’t know. Here I am though, ready to work, and ready to learn. And there’s a lightness to my life, knowing those things are true. I am confident, and so other people are confident in me. It’s amazing how relaxing that feeling is.

I guess that’s how I’m finding the energy to get so much done these days. There’s an emotional burden I’ve decided not to carry, and it’s making all the difference.

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