One of the things I didn't expect the pandemic to take from me was my confidence.
[alt-text: cracks in the pavement with rainbow-colored oil stain]
I’m trying to not have a panic attack for the third day in a row this week.
I woke up again worried about all the work I have to do—a book, a podcast, an imprint, a panel, a talk, etc.—and the small amount of time that I have to do it in. Work happens between 8:00 am and 2:10 pm every weekday. It’s the time between when the kids are off to school and when I head to the school to pick them up and sit in the car rider line. I can eek out work while sitting in my car, just nothing of quality.
But my brain cycles around to one particular worry over and over again: whether I can do it all.
After we get home, I can work at in the afternoons when they ignore me to play video games or Legos (the nine-year-old) or hang out in their rooms and talk to their friends or make amazing art (the teen). But, this work time is often interrupted and fragmentary. I can maybe read some of things I need to read for the book I’m writing. But my focus tends to roam elsewhere to all the other things that crowd my brain at any given time, to all the other things that need to be done..
I woke up worried about a kid, who may or may not have a health problem. We have to wait to see a specialist to rule it out and who knows how long it will take to get that appointment. I woke up worried about the other kid who has a minor medical issue that can be resolved by antibiotics, but still I worry.
But my brain cycles around to one particular worry over and over again: whether I can do it all—work, parenting, partnering, and all the other hats that I wear. I woke up worried about whether I can do any of it without failing catastrophically.
I’m not confident I can handle all of it. I’m not confident, some days, that I can handle any of it. And I hate that I feel this way. I hate that I lack a confidence that I used to have.
Before the pandemic, I worried too. I worried about whether I was doing a good job as a parent. I worried if my work was good enough. I worried about failing at one or the other, but I still had the confidence mostly that if I wasn’t doing the best I could that I was doing good enough or just okayish.
I hate that I lack a confidence that I used to have.
I took on book projects with the confidence that I could write a book not just because I had written them before, but because, even if I had doubts—and all writers have doubts—I had the confidence that I could see a project through to the very end. I pitched columns. I wrote essays. I started a darn a newsletter that became this one. I blogged. I edited two magazines. I put myself and my writing out in the world.
Yes, I had doubts, but I had confidence that my voice mattered. I had confidence in my work.
I had as much confidence in my parenting as is possible when you welcome two agents of chaos into your home and your life. And you do your best to love and raise and support them—all the while hoping that they turn out to be compassionate, decent human beings and realizing that you can guide them there but that they ultimately make their own choices about who they are going to be. So I had some confidence and a whole bunch of concerns about messing up. But some confidence isn’t no confidence.
But when the pandemic hit, work and home lost what little definitive boundaries that they had, and suddenly, my partner and I were responsible for parenting, work, and school simultaneously. And I was more responsible because my work was more flexible. Suddenly, I was a parent, worker, teacher, and partner all the time with no separation. I navigated virtual school while trying to write my monthly column. I entertained kids while also checking my email. We were always together, it seemed, unless we were sleeping, and I was always managing something. And something was always going wrong. Printers didn’t work. Trying to understand virtual school assignments made me feel small and inadequate. My work product slipped. For two and half years, my kids did virtual school. I worked for two of them. I felt like I was failing at everything, not for every moment, but for large swaths of time.
I tried not to personalize the mistakes, the problems, the failures, the mishaps, the miscommunications, and the calamities. But, I didn’t know how not to. And that’s before I turned down opportunity after opportunity for my career because I just didn’t have the time. My confidence in my abilities was dinged by every mistake and mishap. My confidence was eroded by the problems and missed opportunities. My confidence was battered by the failures.
My confidence in my abilities was dinged by every mistake and mishap.
It’s no wonder that now three years into the pandemic, my confidence in my abilities remains low. I feel like the shell of the person that I was before. She was at least mostly confident in her abilities and determined and assured, and I’m less so. I’m nervous and worried and tentative and tired. I wish I were confident, but I find myself afraid that maybe I can no longer do what I once did.
My therapist tells me that of course, my confidence took a hit during the pandemic. I was doing too much at once, so I felt like I was doing a not great job at everything. It was too much stress and too many things. Now, she assures me that I will build my confidence back up with time. After all, the kids are back in school. I have time to work. I’m doing intellectual labor, which I haven’t in a year, which takes some practice to get back in the habit.
Time, my therapist reminds me, it just takes time to be comfortable in my abilities again.
But, I feel like I don’t have time. I feel like I need some sort of way to regain my confidence right now. I need to be able to tell myself everything is going to be okay and that I can accomplish everything that I need to. I need to be confident in my abilities again.
So, I wonder if this isn’t one of those fake-it-til-you-make-it kind of scenarios, in which I just have to be confident. Maybe if I decide that I’m a bad ass who gets shit done and act accordingly, then I might become a bad ass that gets shit done. Maybe telling myself that I’m a confident bad ass enough times will make it true. Maybe doing my work every day, even though I’m losing my mind a bit, will help build my confidence too—chipping away at my to-do list shows me what I can do. Maybe giving myself some grace and compassion is what I really need because I can’t quite get back what I’ve lost.
I need to be confident in my abilities again.
My previous confidence is long gone, but maybe I can build a new sense of confidence that works for me right now. That admits that I might worry. That admits that I might have doubts. But also admits that I can do the things that lay before me. I can do them, if I take it easy and don’t rush. This newfound confidence might start out shaky, but maybe, just maybe, it will end up being stronger than the forms that came before it because it was broken down and created anew. At least, that’s what I’m hoping for.
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I hope do too. Worth a try.