I hear an awful lot about balance. The popular one tossed around these days is work/life balance, but opportunities for getting out of balance abound. As a person who knew no bounds when it came to, well just about anything bad for me, I can testify that finding the balance in all areas of life is essential. My early life experience with booze and drugs is testament to the detrimental effect of prolonged lack of balance. Because I was unable to find a healthy drunk/not drunk balance in life, I ended up with the inability to choose. And the experience of those I have known over the years shows that, once that particular balance is lost, it never comes back.
I have also seen that other types of balance are difficult to achieve, and even harder to maintain. But one example I have been experiencing lately is the balance between self doubt and self-confidence. Now that will strike an awful lot of modern day Americans as a patently false statement, based on our cultural belief that doubt is bad and confidence is good. And there is a quote that I love which seems to support exactly that conclusion.
“The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.”
― Charles Bukowski
But rather than being a damning of either doubt or confidence, I believe that what Bukowski is decrying is being full of either. While it is indeed stupid to be full of confidence, it is equally stupid to be full of doubt. Both confidence and doubt are essential. A situation unfolding in my life lately has been highlighting this idea, so I wanted to explore it a little more deeply here.
I have a friend in recovery who was seemingly stuck in a certain pattern. From where I was standing, it looked like this person would be better served by breaking out of that thought pattern and moving on. My own experience seemed to point to the idea that the problem was not the behavior, but it was the underlying beliefs driving that behavior which was doing the actual damage and allowing my friend to be stuck in that pattern. I felt pretty certain that addressing those mistaken beliefs would be critical in breaking out of the cycle. What to do, what to do?
Well, on the one hand I am certain that I know what this person needs, and convincing them of the rightness of what I believe will set them free, will make them feel and be better. On the other hand, who the hell am I to make these kinds of judgments and what makes me so sure I am right? But I know I am right. But what if I am wrong? But I am right. Unless I am not. What if, what if, what if? Essentially, I was in stuck in the middle of a situation where failure to share my beliefs could result in a person continuing down a destructive path, while sharing my beliefs could end up causing that same person to end up causing unforeseen complications and end up spinning wildly out of control.
Being full of confidence in that situation would be absolutely the wrong way to approach it, and yet giving in to the doubt would result in a failure to act, which could prove even more destructive. An as a result, I am so grateful for the doubt, but equally grateful for the confidence which eventually allowed me to speak my mind. Absent that doubt, my friend may have gotten a bunch of poorly thought out ideas, presented as imperative statements about “What you need to do next is…”. And although I recognize that I am an insightful person with a lot of experience, I have never been through anything that matched this situation at face value. The circumstances are different enough my advice, no matter how well intentioned, may have ended up being entirely off base. So doubt was, in that case, not only good thing, it was essential.
We have all heard the expression “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”. And I know many confident people, myself included, who will rush into such a situation without thinking things through, only to have everything backfire. Invariably, the circumstances don’t directly affect the person who advised the course of action, or they are able to shuffle the blame off to someone else. They earn that characterization as “stupid people” for failing to think through their actions.
In the meantime, the intelligent people are not doing a very good job of earning the right to keep calling themselves intelligent. Sitting on the sidelines, doing nothing because something might go wrong, paralyzed by doubt; that is a certain path to destruction. It is akin to shifting a car on a hill into neutral and jumping out, fearing that I may not be able to control the descent and crash. My inaction will certainly cause a crash, even though it may be different from the type of crash that I feared.
So what do I do about finding that balance between doubt and confidence? The answer will be different for everyone. Personally, I like to put the question to my Higher Power and let Him provide direction on my next steps. Others would suggest quiet time or meditation. Essentially, I have to get quiet for a while and let some of that confidence simmer down a little bit. Unless my problem is too much doubt, in which case I need to summon up some courage and take decisive action. Because it seems I an never full of just one of those ingredients, never on an exclusive path of either confidence or doubt.
But I remain convinced that, while it might seem silly to ask myself if I am acting based on questionable motives or giving bad advice, asking those questions is essential to coming to clarity and finding the right path to take. So I am grateful for the doubt, as well as for the courageous and insightful actions it may end up driving.I have to find the productive blending of doubt and confidence. An awful lot hangs in the balance.