Monday 6th February 2017
Today I’ve been wondering when confidence becomes ego.
There’s this old joke I always tell whenever anyone paid me a compliment. It’s probably me deflecting my embarrassment of being unable to handle praise, but I always reply “and I’m really, really modest”. Most people get it, and even if they don’t it never gets mistaken for arrogance.
But I was making a version of this joke yesterday and someone called me out on it. Now I’m not sure whether they thought I really was being self-centred or were just giving a witty comeback, but it got me thinking. Now that I’m trying to be more confident, at what point does that go too far?
To say I don’t have an ego would be a lie. I mean, there’s a certain amount of arrogance to anyone who writes something with the view of other people reading it. The very act of doing so is to say that your words have weight and that people should give you their attention.
Back when I was running Action-Figure, things sometimes got crazy. I’m glad that I managed to take some of my friends along for the ride. Whether it was having the owner of one of the world’s largest distributors beg you to have a meeting there and then with them on ways we could work together; or sitting on a rooftop terrace in San Diego at the Lucasfilm party surrounded by massive ice sculptures as we drank the profits from Revenge of the Sith; or even that time when (in a situation so reminiscent to that scene in the movie Ted that it’s truly scary) I had Flash Gordon call my name across a crowded party because he wanted to chat business – someone was there to share it.
My friends and I developed this thing called bragfest, which would me telling these crazy, crazy things that happened to me, and my close circle of friends trying to outdo it or take the piss. It was like a pressure valve and it kept my head level. I saw plenty of people go what we called “rock star”. I saw what internet fame (before Internet fame really became a thing) as well as real fame did to some people. Confidence became ego, became something sometimes darker.
When I packed that life in to try and a make a serious writing career for myself, it really was like starting over. I was aware that I had enough connections that if I’d been more business savvy I could have exploited them to get a deal (at least in non-fiction). I gave it all up to start from scratch. Why? Because I wanted to earn my stripes from my actual writing, I wanted to prove to myself that the ‘success’ I enjoyed wasn’t a fluke. I was confident enough that I believed, given enough time, I could make it.
In many ways, I felt quite naked. I was used to being someone people came and sought out. I went to my first SFF convention and no-one spoke to me the entire weekend (something my circle of friends found incredibly amusing).
In hindsight, it was probably good for the soul. I faced my writing career with humility and just worked hard, keeping a lot of the details of my “past life” secret. It impacted my confidence (although some of that can be attributed to illness).
But now… well, there’s no guarantees in publishing, but I’m a little more self-aware. I know a lot of my strengths and quite a few of my weaknesses. I know I don’t need to be afraid of the process and can afford to enjoy the journey. For what I want to achieve, I need to be more confident, and that’s why in 2017 I’m being more open, more positive and most importantly allowing a little more of my ego (with a small e) come into play.
And so I think the difference between confidence and ego really comes down this: Am I bigging myself up at the expense of putting other people down or can I back up what I say with cold hard facts?
I believe it’s the latter, and I’ve come to realise that I shouldn’t be afraid of that. To ignore it is just as dishonest as making claims that are unreal.
My euphoric high of yesterday was not because I disparaged those I fought against, but because I can back up my 4th place victory with the evidence of turning up to every training session, of going to the gym and lifting ever heavier weights, of battling health issues to rebuild muscle, of the fight that has been getting my nutrition right so I don’t plummet 6lb overnight.
And that was put into focus later today when I received a letter from the hospital. Basically, the diagnosis I googled and hoped was wrong because it scared the shit out of me, was actually correct.
Now trying to put it in context after spending several hours of going over the medical information, the symptoms of this rare autoimmune disease can range from cosmetic to life threatening. There’s a 70% survival rate, but I’m pretty sure the 30% may be because things were not diagnosed in time. I’m not sure though. What’s been discovered so far is largely superficial but reading deeper there are an awful lot of specific symptoms that match the oddities of my metabolism. That means that there’s a good chance that I’m not just cosmetic, but have internal symptoms as well. I don’t have shortness of breath (although I’m going to be a complete hypochondriac for the next few weeks every time I do exercise) so I probably don’t have symptoms developing in my lungs, but who knows about my liver or heart? On the plus side, it seems that symptoms have actually lessened in the last year, which likely means I probably had an acute attack and have probably gone past the dangerous bit, at least for now.
OK, so it could be worse. I think what scares me is that the worst might be behind me. That sounds odd, but it’s possible that leggeddon was more serious than anyone realised. I don’t like the fact that it possibly got missed by my doctors or myself (although I don’t blame anyone), and that only by me taking control of my health this time last year when I realised I felt terrible, did things improve. I don’t like not being in control and not knowing about the future.
Perhaps the best analogy is the feeling of shock an hour or two after you had a near death experience. You didn’t die… but you might have.
As you can imagine this left me in a funny mood for the rest of the day. I wasn’t going to go training, especially as my google searching made me run late, but in the end I remembered back to that time right after Leggeddon when it all got on top of me and I realised that I had two choices: I could lay down and die, or fight. Fuck it, if I didn’t want to win Swordfish before, I do now.
And just like those two options for my actions, I have two options for my outlook. Whilst I think anyone in my shoes would be a bit shaken by it all, I can choose either to let anxiety take me into pessimism and despair, or I can choose to be positive. So, I went to training and had fun. I even managed to take a half decent selfie.
And so to bring it full circle, do I worry that my refound confidence might turn into ego? Yes, and whilst I’m sure everyone will have differing opinions on when one becomes the other, ultimately that’s for me to decide. So long as I’m not putting other people down and can back it up, I don’t see any problem with being confident.
Today has put things sharply in focus of what I want to achieve (and it says a lot when the answer is: all the things I’m currently working on), and as uncertain as the future feels right now (it’ll feel better in a few weeks when I’ve had my next appointment), I could still be hit by a bus tomorrow. It’s even more reason to have confidence in myself and not worry what other people may or may not be thinking. I don’t have time to worry about that. I have more than enough going on in my life right now to keep me modest; really, really modest! (Does that joke still work?)
If you want to follow more of my journey, then be sure to check me on my social channels. Likewise, if you’d like me to expand on any point mentioned above, please say so in the comments.