Ask Hot Chicks Dig Smart Men, Edition the Fifth

Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Today's question comes from academic historian and godless liberal commie socialist David, who asks,
At what point did you stop and say to yourself, "I think I have finally got the hang of this 'life' thing"?

Not when you had it entirely figured out, since if that were the case you should be sitting on a mountain dispensing advice to the rest of us. Just when you got the hang of it.
That is a very interesting question, and I've been thinking about it since you posted it. And the answer is, What makes you think I have the hang of it? That may seem like a flip response, but it has the virtue of being true.

Back when I was doing the necessary work to become a self-sufficient member of society and changing my life for the better, I was under the mistaken impression that once I had my emotional act together, then I would finally feel like a competent adult. I would finally be able to approach new situations and new challenges without feeling like an awkward child, and navigate my life with confidence, if not ease.

Yeah, right.

What actually happens with me is that just when I start to feel like I have a handle on a specific skill set in my life, that skill suddenly becomes obsolete. For example, the Smart Twins are adults now. Both of them are kicking ass and taking names as they prepare for their careers, him in the Navy, her in college. And you want to know when I finally started to feel like a competent parent? About 10 minutes ago. And every new required skill set makes me feel gawky, stupid, agonized.

The only area where I've not suffered from a chronic crisis of confidence is in my professional life. I've always been successful in my professional endeavors, and I've worked hard to ensure that fortune favored my prepared mind. I think age has tempered my confidence into something more realistic (compared to youthful arrogance), but I'm good at what I do, and work hard to remain so. Unfortunately, though, this confidence has not translated very well to my interpersonal relationships.

This is not to say that I'm not a more competent adult now than I was when I was 20, or 30, or even 40. I am, and in fact I think I've made tremendous progress since I "officially" became an adult. I'm less inclined, for example, to tolerate behavior in relationships that hurts or belittles me, and that improvement has led to healthier, more satisfying relationships. But I still don't feel competent by any objective measure...and I'm not sure that's such a bad thing.

People who have supreme confidence in every aspect of their lives always scare the crap out of me. It seems like such blind faith, especially in yourself, leads to mistakes, to megalomania, to an inability to examine reality in an objective way and make considered decisions accordingly (*cough*George Bush*cough*). Agonized self-doubt has been a huge pain the ass for me, but I suspect it has led to some pretty significant and profound changes in my life. If I was the kind of person who thought I "got it," I don't think I'd be too inclined to engage in the self-examination that leads to improvement and growth. After all, what incentive do I have to change if I think I've arrived from a life competency perspective?

So, no, I don't "get it." And I'm okay to muddle along, doing the best I can. Thanks for your question, David.

5 comments:

David said...

So, no, I don't "get it." And I'm okay to muddle along, doing the best I can.

What makes you think that isn't the same thing as getting the hang of life?

The reason I think you've gotten the hang of it is that I've read every word on this blog and can recognize the obvious. It's about knowing who you are, what you know, what you will accept and how to get from where you are to those points. It's about recognizing limits and growing anyway. It's a messy process, yes it is, but messy is not the same as non-existent.

And yes, the people who believe they have nothing to learn - who think they've got everything sewn up and whose confidence long ago crossed into arrogance - they scare the hell out of me too.

Confidence isn't about thinking you've got all the Correct Answers already. Confidence is about knowing how to find answers that work when you need them to work.

Janiece said...

Well THAT's a scary thought. :-)

Although my life's work (i.e., the work of my life, not my job), is a messy process - and hard, and a pain in the butt, and completely, utterly worth it.

Nathan said...

I've always (well, at least since becoming an sorta, kinda adult at around 35), thought a key element of "getting it" is the ability to take a step back occasionally to ask yourself if you are, in fact, right or wrong on a topic. And I'm pretty sure that sane, reasonable people never attain the ability to attack every new challenge with confidence; they just develop the ability to dive in instead of being paralyzed by that lack of confidence.

I'd say you qualify on those counts.

Anne C. said...

It seems to me that the more you know, the more you realize you don't know and when you get comfortable with that, you're on track to doing "OK" at life. I would add to Nathan's description (with which I agree) that knowing when you CAN'T or SHOULDN'T dive in is equally important (being an observer of end-of-life experiences right now is giving me a sneak peak at this issue).

I would in no way describe that as "getting it" since that phrase implies the opposite of what actually happens. It's like implying that when you learn to sail, you "get" the ocean -- when really, you've learned to work with it as best you can and when you screw up, you accept the consequences, knowing you did what you could.

beatrice in Paris said...

This is off topic, but if Dave is a godless, socialist Commie, how would you describe somebody to the left of him? Do I sense a tongue in cheek here?