The holiday season is traditionally fraught with reflection. Appropriately, when confronted with the conclusion of yet another year, we take stock in our accomplishments and shortcomings. The brief break from the everyday hustle can be just long enough to become bundled in memories we’d rather burn in the fireplace. It’s also the perfect opportunity to do some karmic cleansing in preparation for the new year– something that I advise everyone to do. We’ve all got issues, the embarrassment should come from not working on them.
I caught a rare 30-minute break with my close friend Aidan a few days ago. I felt his personal snag this holiday season was worth sharing. Of course, names, details and other identifying information has been changed, but the message remains the same: real confidence is something external forces can’t change.
“I feel alone. I feel like I’m constantly working to project an image. I know I’m depressed, I have a sex life but it’s purely physical. I’m just tired of being this person,” he said.
Truth be told, I’d been waiting for this to happen. Aidan had gone through a series of monumental changes in the past year. He’d lost a considerable amount of weight, had started eating healthier, become more physically active and as a result become more confident. Of course, I was happy and proud of him. He had finally begun to view himself how I had always seen him: as a one-of-a-kind person with much more going for him than the average Joe.
“Can we have an honest chat?” I asked.
I explained how proud and happy I was for him for his weight loss and newfound confidence. I understand the discipline and mental regulation it required to lose a significant amount of weight; I had lost over 50 pounds a few years back. It wasn’t easy.
Then we unwrapped one of Aidan’s hallmark issues– one we’ve spoken of at length time and time again.
“You’ve always had a distance issue. You’re always one to keep others at arm’s length. I think it’s partly because it’s an old habit. Partly, though, I think it’s because you want to look, feel, and be a certain way before you let someone in. It’s like cleaning the house before guests come over,” I responded.
I’ve both read and observed that people with weight issues (myself included) are very protective of their soft centers, no pun intended. We keep people out with our weight (literally and metaphorically) and also with how our extra weight makes us feel. It makes sense that once previously heavy people lose weight and become more confident they begin to date. It’s no so much that they look differently; it’s because they look at themselves differently. Everyone else just follows suit.
“You weed people out who you think can’t take the real you before you ever give them a chance to see the real you– which is how you’ve always been. That is, unless they can read you right off of the bat, which takes the pressure off of you.”
“This is all very true,” Aidan matter-of-factly admitted.
Aidan and I have been friends for a very long time. We are nonromantic soul mates. I love him from the same deep place you love family. I know his dark secrets. In part because he’s told me and in part because I can read him too, too well.
“It’s going to come down to you letting people in when you’re not at your most pristine.” I reminded him that I’ve seen him in his valleys and acmes, neither of which has changed our friendship.
“I just feel like I want to attract the type of people I want. How will I do that if I’m not presenting myself at my best?” he asked.
“You attract what you are, not what you want to be seen as,” I replied. “You should always try to look your best, be your best, but there’s a certain point at which that becomes somewhat disingenuous. I think you’ve reached that point.”
We’ve all heard to be what you want to attract. This is partially true and partially misleading. While it is important to dress appropriately, use good manners, and be well-groomed, it’s also important to remember that you’ll always attract what you are and not the image you outwardly display. It seems like common sense, but to many, the outer becomes the focus. The outer is always easier to change than the inner.
“I know,” Aidan said, “but I’m attracted to the image of people. I mean the only two people from my high school and college days I keep in touch with are Noah and India. They’re both very attractive people who have real personality and soul about them. They are they type of people I want in my life,” he added.
“How do I go about feeling confident when I don’t look my best?” he asked me.
“Real confidence should come from who you are– from feeling good about you! It sounds like you want whole-package people. There aren’t many of them out there, in my experience.” I joked that he better include me in the ‘very attractive people who have real personality and soul’ category.
As our conversation wrapped up — mostly because Aidan had errands to run– I left him with my own experiences.
I’ve learned that confidence based on physical appearance is fleeting. While exercising, eating right and putting your best foot forward are important, the confidence worth cultivating can only come from within. Those ancillary activities are beneficial but shouldn’t be your focus. Placing so much emphasis on only one thing in one’s life is bound to reap disappointment. Besides, perfect bodies only exist in Photoshop and perfection in general is boring.
Real confidence, the kind that makes people sit up straight and take note of you when you walk into a room, should come from within. Remember, even the prettiest girl and most handsome guy can fade into the background when put in a room with someone who’s got confidence to spare. Like a steel rod that holds you upright, real, lasting self-worth and confidence is something that money can’t buy and that pounds, lost or gained, won’t change. It’s found through being kind to yourself (something I used to struggle with quite a bit), doing what makes you happiest, accepting yourself, being brave enough to hush negative thoughts (still a challenge for me!) and celebrating the parts of yourself that make you the most unique.