Faking it till you make it


Confidence (Photo credit: wherefishsing)

A couple of days ago I had a very odd conversation online with a friend of mine. Out of all my friends he’s the one I’m most intimate with – I’ll open up to him about my fears and problems, and he’ll do the same with me. He is a sensitive soul, though he doesn’t necessarily fit that profile, much like me. And so over the years we’ve become accustomed to sharing the little things that worry and work at us, seeking in the other a sympathetic ear and an understanding nature.

Such was the conversation the other day, abbreviated by the medium and communicated in that shorthand we often use online. And perhaps that’s where some of my confusion stems from – something lost in the translation or else left in the gaps. We were talking about me. This time he had initiated the conversation. He spoke of how one on one I appeared more vulnerable than I had before, and how welcome it was. This I could believe. Then he went on to say that I was different in a group situation, where he said I was ‘too confident’. I didn’t know what that meant, but didn’t follow up.

I’ve been puzzling on it for the last couple of days. I admit I’m more confused now than I can ever remember, almost to the point that I’ve lost an idea of who I am.

Too confident. Is that what he meant literally? That I came across as too sure of myself? What is ‘too’ much? Unless I’m overbearing – and I’m not – then I don’t know what the issue is, unless it is that the inside stuff never gets seen. Or does he mean something else? Too slick perhaps – though that doesn’t ring true. Too familiar. I don’t know.

He is one of my best friends now, but I recall a conversation we had years ago when our friendship had become properly established. He explained to me that when he first met me, and even in the early stages of our friendship he had felt occasionally intimidated by me. It was a surprising admission. He explained that my brazen self-assurance and occasional blunt ways would sometimes set him on the back foot. And this was a from a man with a lot going for him and not short of confidence himself.

I think I’ve changed some since then. Much of that was conscious – I did not want to be intimidating my friends (though really, I’m not sure it was that widespread). The rest of it is circumstances, I have matured since then, perhaps mellowed, and of course been subject to one humbling experience after another since then. This he has acknowledged over recent years, I’m much gentler than I was. Still, though, I’m ‘too confident’.

Confidence is a funny thing. Once upon a time I’d have put my hand up and said I was full of it – or perhaps I was full of something else. In general terms, I have come to accept certain aspects of myself as settled truths, and never pause to doubt them. For example, I know I’m way smart. That’s the way it is. It doesn’t stop me from questioning aspects related to that, however, such as my judgement, which is often poor – and which I’ll occasionally pour over in abject detail in these pages. In other words, I’m largely confident of the baseline in me and accept it as something just about empirical, but often dubious to what it all adds up to. One on one I’ll share my doubts with him, but obviously (is it obvious?) in a group situation I’ll keep them to myself. Perhaps that is what he means – the group sees only the confident baseline from which I’ll foray from.

It becomes about behaviour then, even the different personas you possess and roll out. A lot of life is performance I think, and a lot of performance becomes habitual. Forced to consider it all now, I wonder how much is performance, and how much is me? Is this alleged over-confidence just a projection of myself, a role I assumed years ago and which I’ve been performing ever since? These are confusing conjectures.

My general view is that it’s all authentic, just that in certain situations different elements of your personality get emphasised and other parts diminished. For example, last night I went to a function that had a brief networking session. I walked in the door, got a drink, a sandwich, then sized up the room. Then I walked over to the most likely looking group and with a smile and extended hand introduced myself. Now I’m not much different to everyone else, I don’t find it particularly easy in theory to walk up to strangers and introduce myself. In situations like last night though needs must, so I assume that persona and get it done. And in fact, generally, I’ll be the one in that group that directs that conversation so powerful is the persona, and the mission of that persona.

Now that’s an obvious example because – in my case anyway – you almost consciously assume that personality. And that will be the case in other situations, in going for a job interview maybe, in dealing with bureaucracy, and so on. Other times – 90% of the time – it’s nowhere near as obvious as that. I don’t think when I get in a group situation that I must be this person or that. I don’t consider how I’ll act, or how confident I’ll appear. I believe I go with the flow, but there is always the possibility that the performance has become so sublimated over the years that I’m unaware of it. What am I to think?

As I write my mind keeps returning to an evening a few weeks ago when perhaps my friend was reminded that I was ‘too confident’.

It was a Friday night, we caught up after work for a beer with a couple of his colleagues I had not met before. We’re four males, Australian males, all at the executive level and so there’s a fair bit of testosterone there, let alone bullshit. Still, it was easy, I felt comfortable and got on well with the others. From there my mate and I went out to meet with his girlfriend.

His girlfriend was with friends of hers, about 4 girls and a couple of blokes. For the most part I talked with the girls and we got on fine, sometimes just having fun, but often talking about real things. It was a little different with the men. One was an affable Pom, not particularly handsome and a little portly, and sporting a painful looking case of sunburn – things I note because it was evident that he was keenly aware of and would comment on. I introduced myself early on, and later turned to him and said something I thought amusing. In reply, he said something that suggested he had put me in a separate pigeon hole. Ok, fine.

The other guy was a Kiwi, a little loud and obvious, keen I think to get in the good graces of my mate, who has a history of sidekicks. Early on I sensed this guy wanted nothing to do with me as if I disturbed the equilibrium – who is this stranger who knows my friend better than I do? Still, I would turn to him and ask questions politely – I think I’m always polite – and get monosyllabic answers. He refused to engage with me and so I thought, shit happens, and turned back to the girls.

Then something small happened. I’m tallish and I take up a lot of space. I’ve always had relaxed body language. In my early years in the office, I’d often be told off for having my feet on the desk. At my ease, I’m inclined to lean back, cross my legs, and stretch out my arms. This I did on that night – only to find my mate making faces at me as if to stop.

At the time I thought he was pissed because one of my arms was on the back of his girlfriend’s chair. I thought it ridiculously precious at the time – I wasn’t touching her, the gesture was in no way meant to be romantic, and it could just as easily been the chair of a bloke. Anyway, I got the message and reluctantly complied.

It’s only now that I wonder if his objection was more sophisticated than that. Did he think my body language inappropriate? Too relaxed, too confident? Was I too comfortable there amongst strangers, and appearing so – again, what is ‘too’ comfortable? Should I have been more reserved and conservative? Should I have watched and listened rather than engaging with them as I did? Why?

Perhaps there is something to what he says, and in fact, it’s something I’ll be looking into. I’ll ask questions of others, and in fact am think, quite radically, of conducting a workshop all about me. I hope to find a lot of answers to a lot of pressing questions. Regardless of what he has said, I’m at the stage of my life when I’ve never been more confused, nor been so full of doubt. These are things I need to resolve.

The other side though is this I think. My friend, love him like a brother, can be precious and occasionally petulant, and will sometimes take offence at things that nobody even notices. I wonder if that is the case today. Not that I’m too confident, just that I’m too confident for him.

What do you think?



Dream life

I sat staring up at the Twin Towers of Petronas last night with a couple of happy hour beers in my hand. I watched the crowd go by, most heading home after a day in the office, but many crossing the road to enter the KLCC Suria for a night of shopping, or at the movies. I’ve sat in that very place before watching the world go by, reminded that I was someplace different, though not so different as to be particularly foreign. I started that way last night before my mind drifted onto other matters, finally talking myself into being sad. Just for the hell of it.

I stayed on the other side of town. I watched a DVD, read, went to sleep. I dreamed all night. I never seem to stop dreaming these days. There is nothing particularly unusual or disturbing about my dreams, except for the fact they never seem to stop. I wake and I feel infected by them still. I don’t know what all this dream activity suggests, but I’d like some rest from it.

Somehow things had become decided in me overnight. I read, made some breakfast, did some cleaning. I packed my bag and left.

I have work to do, but I felt unmotivated. A part of me was still sad. I’d poke it into a corner of myself but would bring it out again just to be sure. I went out for lunch and had a heart to heart, long overdue, then headed back here. I still had work to do, and still didn’t do it. I wandered across the road to buy the fixings for roast chicken I’m cooking for dinner tonight, an activity I look forward too.

Over the weekend I have the place to myself. I’ll be taking it quietly, though I may head out. I feel a tad dispossessed right now – no real home when I’m in Oz, then shunted between addresses while I’m here. There are good reasons why that’s the case, and I’m not complaining – but for once I feel a little neglected. I say for once because it is not something that ever really occurs to me. In fact, ‘neglected’ seems to suggest some entitlement, and I certainly don’t feel entitled to anything. I’m human though, sometimes, and sometimes I get a little heart shy too. It will pass.

In any case, Fong is to the rescue. There was a flurry of SMS last night as people twigged that I was OS. One was Fong, who has gone to the trouble of contacting some of her friends here to look out for me. Fong can be a royal pain in the arse – and there’s a long line of harassed men happy to say you better believe it; but come the time you want someone in there fighting for you Fong would be one of the first picked. She’s one of those prickly, but very genuine people worth their weight in gold. I’m lucky to have her.

I’ll get out a little, I’ll do the work I promised, I’ll read a book or two and go for a swim, and try to convince myself that this is some semblance of normal life. Then next week Langkawi, which should be fun, but something I have to do more than desire doing. It’ll be great probably, but more evidence of what an absolutely skewiff life I’m leading right now. Whatever.

Somebody stop me

The Mask (film)

The Mask (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night I dreamt about a girl I used to know, and was friendly with. In the start of the dream we were good mates, if not more, and she was a happy, funny, individual and all-round captivating person. It made me remember what she was like, and wonder why I ever let her go out of my life. In the dream I was thrilled, I felt lucky, but some of this reality dribbled into the dream so that slowly it morphed into another version.

In version 2.0 the dream much closer reflected the reality of how we left it. We worked, or were pretty much in the same proximity as each other. We were polite when we had to be, but generally had nothing to do with each other: a barrier had been erected between us. I had a similar relationship to the others, as if I was a tolerated outcast. Surprisingly I did not feel despondent about this. I went about my things, a curious observer who still harboured hopes of a reconciliation. I felt, in the dream, very much a focus of her mind still, and as if occasionally I could discern a spark of life in our brief meetings. From there the dream went off in extravagant and richly imaginative directions, like a very entertaining Fellini movie at his most absurdly creative.

The dream – or dreams (though they seemed continuous) – were fun. It was good to recollect this girl in her glory, and to remember that actually once we had been pretty close, and that the dream was not that distant from the reality we once shared. All the same, I knew the dream wasn’t about her. She was a symbol I guess, representative of something else. What? I could speculate on that all day and come up with half a dozen different variations. I won’t bother with that, but somehow it leads me to other considerations.

I’ve written often in these pages about what I see as being two fundamental and opposing aspects of my self, restraint and excess, the ascetic and the bacchanalian. Right now I have a ascetic lifestyle imposed on me and it’s rubbing me up the wrong way. I itch to break free, to live a bit, to stretch my muscles and indulge my senses. A so-called balanced lifestyle should be the object of most people I guess, and though I think I’m different to most people mine seems seriously out of whack.

Perhaps because I am feeling this so starkly my mind has wandered into deeper matters. Traditionally I have framed these opposing ways in terms of lifestyle – drinking, eating, wenching to my hearts desire, and not (or perhaps, in moderation). I’ve twigged, much too late, that there is an underlying component of this which mixes philosophy with psychology. I am torn between different ways, and conflicted by the battle. That conflict has become a central part of my life. It’s time for me to own up to it.

Fundamentally I think I’m a decent man. I’m generally kind to strangers, I have a concern in the issues that affect us all, and I have a strong ethic towards ‘doing the right thing’ – whatever that might be. The responsible citizen in me wants to settle down with wife and children, wants to build a home, imagines a lifestyle much as I grew into as a kid – the dull, but cosy existence of being a homemaker, tending the garden, planning renovations, picking up kids from school, going on family holidays, et al.

There is another side of that though, what a shrink might call the shadow. This is the fun side, the Mask against Stanley Ipkiss. Back in the day I might have termed this the excessive half of my persona, the invitation to live big and don’t shirk the details. Over the years I’ve greatly enjoyed this life, and gone hard at it. At some stage always I tend to grow tired of it. It seems ultimately shallow, living for livings sake without any real sense of permanence or future. It’s all today, all now in fact, and so I drift back to the kind of aspirations that dull Stanley Ipkiss dreamt of.

The fact is I get a little guilty. I remind myself I’m getting older, that I should be more responsible. I tell myself that some of my excesses are unseemly, and betray a need to be still youthful. Truth be told there are occasions I wake up after another banal episode remembering that mostly reality doesn’t measure up to expectation. So, why do it?

Actually, there are many reasons. I love to be social. I love to drink, to eat well, to flirt, to fuck, to dare myself and others towards the edge. None of this is new to me, but they seem like facts I’ve tried to deny, or at least subvert, for many years. That middle class conventional side of my self thinks I should be Stanley Ipkiss or some variation of him. The other side yearns to be Hank Moody, or to slip on the mask and go for broke (“…somebody stop me.”). If I continue in this conflict I’ll end up like another classic cinematic character, Lester Burnham. That’s not what I want.

From a purely rational point of view it seems silly to deny who you are, but then human beings are generally irrational. I’m rationality personified in things external to me, but all bets are off when it comes to my self. Could I live that deeply domestic lifestyle I described above? Probably not – not in it’s entirety in any case. And though I love the sensual abundance I sometimes partake of I couldn’t live that way all of the time. The time’s come to be perfectly honest with myself.

I love to eat well, to drink, and I love to fuck a lot, and that’s not something that’s ever going to change, and god forbid that it does. This I have to own up to and quit denying. I’d rather have a warm breast in my hand than a pair of garden shears. That may well be my destiny, but there remains the hope in me that I come to experience some variation of the domestic scene I described above. I do want wife and children, and though I protest I’ll happily do some work in the garden and around the house – but I want more too. For me at least both ends of that spectrum are without soul if that is all they are. The trick is not to alternate between personas, but to integrate the two into one. That means owning up to the shadow without judgement, and applying some of the abundant pleasures inherent in that to that other, domesticated* side, to make them one.

What does that mean? It means I’ll continue to wench to my hearts content, and without judgement. I’ll stop when I feel it. One day hopefully it means I’ll wench and live some of that sensuality with my wife. I’ll mow the lawn sure, I’ll pick up the fucking kids from school, but I also want to indulge myself – ourselves – in the pleasures of being a physical being. Too much dear, is never enough.

*That’s a word, or inference I hate actually: domestic, domesticated, etc. It feels much like a horse being broken in, or a dog being neutered. It’s a collar around your neck. I don’t ever want to be domesticated, not all the way through. I think there’s a sense of wonder that is part of being undomesticated, and too easily lost otherwise. I want to be irrational and irresponsible sometimes, to go with raw instinct rather than measured intellect, to recall I come from primitive stock. I don’t want to fit into anything but my own skin. And I want to go as I feel, to colour in outside the lines as I get there. Part of that is to remember that nothing is pre-ordained, that there is nothing that I’m ‘meant to do’. There’s nothing wrong in digressing sometimes, or being selfish occasionally, and refusing to play the role others want you to. Wild is fun.

The go

It seems every year I have the conversation about how Autumn is my favourite Melbourne season. And if I were to pick a month March, with it’s combination of serene sunny days, the odd hot day remnant of summer, and the few more wintry days, is my favourite month too. It’s surprising how many agree.

It’s April now, but the weather is perfect, so perfect that everyone has cause to comment on it. The phone rings and someone says it as an aside. You buy a newspaper or visit the bank and it is mentioned as a fact of mutual pleasure. You think that if you were limited to a single weather pattern then this would be it, about 26 degrees, cloudless and sunny beneath the vast blue Australian sky, and just the whisper of a breeze. It’s easy to rejoice in weather like this.

The weather is a contributing factor to an improvement in my general demeanour. It’s been a week since my mum’s funeral, which seems so strange. It has passed so quick after time seemingly ticking by between her death and funeral. It is no bad thing.

While the weather is nice a dream I had last night has had a greater influence on my state of mind I think. It’s been a while since I had a positive dream. This dream had a message for me I think.

I was in a train on my way to meet with a potential client or employer. The train overshot my stop and I got off at the next station. I seemed to be in a more leisurely district with a lake nearby and people on holiday. I was in my suit. I wandered away from the station and somehow ended up at a nearby business. I met the owner, a youthful, pleasant, confident man, to whom I explained my situation. For some reason he seemed to take to me, and I instinctively warmed to him.

Though I had my credentials in my pocket and likely a spiel ready to be trotted out he looked at me without questioning them and offered me a job there. It seemed right somehow, and much more authentic than the usual rigmarole. He had sized me up and trusted me. I trusted him, and liked him too. It was clear he had plans and ambitions and was excited by what lay ahead. He saw in me something that could help him go forward, and as a partner in the journey rather than a minion. We were two men who had come to an understanding of mutual benefit.

Later I woke to feel myself infused with the spirit of the dream. The symbolism of overshooting my stop and missing my designated appointment seemed rich, especially given that it presented an opportunity to me that otherwise I’d never have known of. What did this mean? Have I been looking in the wrong place? Was what I really need/wanted elsewhere?

That’s how I took it. It’s how it felt. In bed awake I re-imagined in the context of my business. I began to articulate it in my mind much as I would if I spoke to this fictional ideal client. Sure, I thought, I’ll invoice you and you’ll pay me, but that’s only the commercial reality of doing business. What I really want to do is to work with a client who is excited by what we can do together. I want to stand alongside them in the bridge pointing out the opportunities ahead, and steering clear of the rocks. I want to partner with my client on the journey ahead, to build, create, to make something together.

I need to live, and want to live well, but to work simply for than is a pretty thin gruel, and does nothing for the soul. I want that journey, I need that challenge, I crave that excitement, and desire that partnership to make it so. If I could find that client as in my dream I would be delighted – mutual trust, ambition, and the same sense of excitement, that’s the go.

Keeping doing

It’s a rainy day. I know much of eastern Australia is either flooded or on flood alert right now, but I’m enjoying the rain. Autumn has come and with it, temporarily in any case, has come some late autumnal weather. This morning I went out in the rain and had breakfast and did my grocery shopping before visiting the local street market for a pile of lemons to slice up into my evening drink, and some boutique bread to indulge myself on. Home I worked as the rain fell softly outside, packing boxes full of books and wondering at those I had yet to read. For the last couple of hours I sat on the couch with Rigby in my lap and caught up on the TV I’ve missed, lazy and indulgent.

I’m much more than that right now. I haven’t written lately because I’ve not been in the right place to write. Things still come to me, thoughts I might share, sentences and even paragraphs fully formed, but I don’t have either the energy or motivation to write them. They wither like fruit left on the vine.

I think raw is a good description of how I’ve felt lately. And exhausted. That works too. There’s been a lot happening, and it continues to happen. I can’t stop because there is not the time to stop. I react instead, attending to different things in a random sequence depending on what is most pressing. The clock ticks, deadlines loom, and much uncertainty reigns still. I manage, and without any obvious issue, but I feel it. My emotions are very close to the surface – sometimes I feel very fragile. I’m exhausted because my emotions have been so stretched, because I am doing so many things at once, and because I feel I am running out of options. I am drained, but I persist.

There was an occasion early in the week. The phone rang early, it was my mum. She told me the doctor had seen her and said she was not so dire as we had thought. On top of that she didn’t have pneumonia after all. He said she might be able to go home for a short while. I was confused. I didn’t know what to think. Instead of feeling happy I felt doubtful. He had seen her for 5 minutes after returning from holiday. He had not examined her. He assessed her by sight first thing in the morning when she is rested and at her best. Could I really believe this? Then there is mum unhappy with the news, sceptical as I am, and wanting to go. There is no mercy for her in continuing to live.

I fell back to sleep afterwards. I had a dream. It was a dream of happy moments with my mum when she was healthy. Then in the dream I began to cry. I woke at that. I felt awful. I felt crushed by the weight of the world.

It’s been like that for much of the week. I don’t know what to think anymore. I had prepared myself for the end and now, possibly, the end had been put off. It felt cruel and confusing. I didn’t even know what to hope for. A quick end, as mum wants? Or a selfish clinging on? Everything in me has been in a state of volatile flux.

Throughout I have pushed myself to do things, but have felt little spirit in me. There has been much to consider, my mum yes, but then my own future and all the complicating factors there, and topping it all off has been my sister. Long denied, I finally accepted my sister is not the person I would wish her to be. That’s been the worst perhaps, a dispiriting, but undeniable truth. I’ve said nothing to her of this, or my disappointment. I know there’s no point. More fundamentally I love her still, she’s my sister, I don’t want to hurt her. I don’t like her, but I love her. I would protect her, even as I’m feeling all this I’m going out of my way to help her in her studies. It’s robbed me of something though, some spark. No-one wants to think these things of someone they love.

I’ve dreamt a lot. Several times I have cried in my dreams. If you need proof there it is, dreams do mean something. I shed the tears in drams I can’t in real life. Still I have felt the tears in me often. Exhausted, overwrought tears. I get embarrassed. No-one is there, but still I get embarrassed. It’s unbecoming for a man to feel this way. This is not who I am, a big, burly man, he doesn’t cry, or even have the need to. Most men reading this will likely understand, and every woman thinks me a fool – and they’re right.

It’s a funny thing this. I am embarrassed to own up to these things. I feel not so much vulnerable as self-indulgent. Still, I have made the commitment to be honest. That’s the point of this. I feel like apologising all the same, as if I am burdening my readers with my pathetic problems. I live that way too. I might cry at some point, and I’ll let the tears come. I resist the fragility though. I don’t collapse. I go on. I can look upon my problems and understand why I might so feel drained and bereft, and will excuse the emotions they draw upon. I can’t give in to them though. I need to keep going, to battle through: it’s what others expect of me, what I expect of myself. It’s what I want to.

Not everything has an answer; happy endings are in short supply. At some point mum will die. My sister won’t change. I can’t control those things, I can only mitigate some against the consequences. In myself I draw strength by continuing, and in the knowledge I will continue, that that is my way. I know things will get worse from here, and the cloud around my life thicker. I have to endure that, and I endure that by moving forward, forcing myself if I have to. One day the cloud will lift. Things will improve. A new vista will be put before me.

See, that’s what I do. I feel all these things and I churn them, and out the other end comes hope. It’s a handy trick. It only works if you do things though.

This morning coming home the phone rang. It was my sister. Mum was told she could visit home tonight. We got that from her, not from any official. Today she is dreadful though, incoherent, confused and barely intelligible. And yet they approved her home visit. My sister was to pick her up, but I had asked her to talk to the nurses, to get some sense out of the situation. So she rang me to say they had decided she would not pick her up, that mum would remain in hospital.

So many things remain unknown. I got a call during the week from the doctor at my request, but things had changed since without being updated. They communicate things to my mum – who wakes up and thinks she’s on a cruise ship – but not to any of us who can actually make sense of it. On top of that the palliative care I had left with the hospital – at their suggestion – seemed to have gone by the wayside. In any case we had been told nothing.

I rang the hospital and was put through to the ward. I spoke to a nurse – no-one more senior is there. I explained to her my grievances. I told her mum was in no condition to come home. I complained I had been told nothing of what was happening. I asked in future for nothing to be done without consulting me. She took notes and promised to do what she could. We agreed mum could not leave the hospital. And then I hung up the phone.

I felt relief. I complain, but I’d rather handle things myself than leave them to other people. For the moment we had a handle on things, though the situation is grim. I made the calls to update people and went back to things, returning to my life for a little while. Waiting and hoping doesn’t work. Not even words do. It’s doing that counts.