Craving Confidence: How Lonely It Sometimes Feels to be Certain

A little over a month ago, at a modest cabin near a gurgling creek, I spent a weekend with a mishmash of friends. It’s the second year we’ve gathered in this humble wonderland where we cook and play games, talk late around the fire, and make ourselves tired on sunshine and laughter.

And, after a year when coming together has felt so complicated, the invitation to return to the cabin felt like a miraculous breath of normal. It was more than just a prospect of reunion. It was a hopeful reminder that all shall be well.

For my Northern and Midwestern readers, I can liken the feeling to the one we get that first day of brisk sunshine after the cold, dark months of blizzards. Winter is not over yet, but for the first time, we know it will be.

For my friends in the South, it’s hope that tastes like the air right before rolling rain clouds crack open to wash across the earth after months of charred grass and parched skin. The drought is about to end. Our cisterns will be filled again.

Whatever your landscape, the earth has ways of reminding us that the great, unending forever will someday yield new life. In 2020, the cabin was my reminder.

That Saturday morning, the early risers among us wrapped ourselves up in sweatshirts and thick socks, poured tiny cups of Folgers coffee, and took up residence on the back porch. Soon, stories and throaty chuckles flowed among us as we rubbed the sleep from our eyes and took turns topping off each other’s mugs.

At the end of one of my stories, my friend Sara looked at me and said, “I had no idea you wondered about that, Katy. You always seem so confident to me.”

My cheeks grew hot, like I had done something wrong, but the shame didn’t last. Sara’s eyes told me that I was all right just the way I was, but her words unlocked a grief and hunger inside too. It is not news to me that often the people around me have no inkling that I am unsure, or in doubt.

I have always struggled with the chasm between confidence and vulnerability.

In many ways, I come by that struggle quite honestly.

I grew up in a home of decided opinions.

As a child, I didn’t recognize that the decisiveness and assurance I learned to associate with self-expression weren’t traits all those around me shared. Confidence was automatic—it’s how you communicate your ideas!

I have no regrets for that confidence; it was one of the greatest gifts I was given as a child. I trust the voice inside me that says what needs to be done, and then, I let that voice speak.

But I also want to be brave enough to say, “I don’t know,” when doubts plague my typically certain self.

Yet when life gets scary, I get more certain. I resort to my protective confidence to keep from feeling too exposed or overwhelmed. Maybe I’m not alone in that experience. Maybe a lot of us have chosen certainty to manage our worries and fears.

But when I speak with only confidence, I notice that I forfeit the chance to receive the care I’m craving in my stories. I’m heard, but not seen. Accepted, but not touched. If I trace my conversations back, I see that I’ve been speaking with certainty quite often, for quite a while.  It’s been a long season of feeling scared and doubtful and working not to show it.

That choice has taken its toll. These days my shoulders are tight, my sleep is fitful, my anxiety plays out in either snacking or in NOT snacking when I am NOT really hungry.

Good grief.

At the cabin, Sara let me wonder if perhaps I have been on guard for long enough. Perhaps that great, unending forever of protection has played out its course. Perhaps the people around me are inviting my lack of surety, my doubts and questions, my messy, “What if it’s not all going to be well?” Perhaps they have proven themselves worthy of my fears, even if sharing them doesn’t always feel safe.

I know my confidence won’t stand down easily; there will be days when I summon her back. I can choose to be gentle with that instinct, and bless my self-care as good. But overall, I think it’s time to start welcoming friends into my undone spaces.

Maybe the same is true for you. Maybe, we all need far less certainty than we crave.

Katy Johnson lives, dreams, writes, and edits in a messy, watercolored world. She’s a 31 year old, discovering her hope, her longings, and the wild spaces in her own heart. Her favorite creative project right now is called Will I Break?, and someday, that manuscript may see the light of day. For now, she shares her thoughts here.