There are lots of things I’ve been thinking about recently.
Ok, that’s a banal opening to a blog post. There are always tons of things I’m thinking about - my mind jumping from all the coverage of Page 3 to conversations I’ve just had with friends about the weird nature of celebrity, to observations on how much I want to buy Zadie Smith’s collection of essays, to OOH look at that person’s hat! All in the space of a few minutes.
But there’s something specific that’s been looping through these other brain-mutterings and I find myself returning to it. Not sure why. Call it newfound New Year clarity (ironic, considering how adamant I was about not making resolutions), or just a congruence of time, place and circumstance.
Either way, I’ve been mulling over the relationship between confidence and contentment. To hone it down further, the consideration has been of how I currently view myself; how I feel about where I’m at right now. And I feel good. Pretty damn great, actually.
It’s surprisingly tricky to articulate without relying on clichés or irritating stock phrases. But I felt that a lot of it was caught in this absolutely bloody brilliant video that Lex Croucher recently put up, where she talked about appreciating oneself and asserting your own value. Those may be over-used phrases, but she does something both fresh and refreshing with them - especially in her practical tips for moving to the position of essentially knowing that you’re pretty ace, and being comfortable in acknowledging that. It’s a wonderful watch.
Every time I see women – particularly young women - talking/ writing about the power of self-confidence, it makes me incredibly happy (even though I wish there were a better term for it than ‘self-confidence’). So much of the time we’re told that it’s unattractive to be female and to embody satisfaction or out-spokenness or conspicuous achievement.
I’m not advocating rampant ego-centrism or narcissism here, by the way. You can be self-confident, and still humble. There’s a massive distinction between knowing your own worth, and thinking you’re some glittering gift grandly bestowed on humankind.
However, maintaining a sense of quiet assurance was a skill I took a long time to learn. Although by no means finessed, I’m much more comfortable now in being able to celebrate what I’m doing well - rather than remaining in a state of slight, gnawing dissatisfaction at what’s missing.
After all, we’re often encouraged to focus on the things we lack: the stuff we haven’t done yet, the areas we’re missing out, everything that could be improved. Whether that’s body size, not being in a relationship, seeing other people get things you want, work problems, not getting up at 5am to do yoga, a social group that doesn’t quite fit right… There are all sorts of markers we’re ‘meant’ to aspire towards, the suggestion being that without them, we can’t be at ease with ourselves.
This set of measures is ever shifting. Got a great job? Yeah, but you’re still single. Surrounded by wonderful people? Yeah, but they can all afford holidays you can’t. Feeling proud of a particularly good set of wardrobe choices? Yeah, but, there are so many things you haven’t achieved yet. Hit some personal goal? Yeah, but others are more popular/ successful/ admired. Know that others think you’re fun to be around? Yeah, but you could be more beautiful, or productive, or fit, or brainy. Those ‘yeah buts’ are really corrosive. They encourage you to see yourself as a summary of failings, rather than a fabulous, composite whole.
Of course, ambition to do even better at something isn’t bad. For many, it’s natural to keep on reaching for the new and the next. Lots of us like to see our own lives as a narrative where things move towards improvement. Ambition and big aims and the desire to strive for all sorts of things currently beyond grasp – how wonderful, and worthy of pursuit. Similarly brilliant are the smallest of achievements, the tiny things that seem inconsequential to others, but worthy of celebration by us, on completion. Complacency isn’t fun (personally, at least). But you know what? Contentment is.
To me, at the moment, contentment is something to do with knowing my own worth – in feeling settled with all that I already have, rather than constantly dwelling on what I haven’t yet got. It's in realizing there are so very many adventures possible, but also recognizing how many I’ve been making for myself already. It’s in taking each day on its terms, giving over enough time to myself – to lie on my bed listening to records, to go out and sit with a book and a glass of wine, to drink whisky with friends and have long, rambling chats about EVERYTHING, to enjoy long walks in the winter sunshine, and to take spontaneous trips to museums and films and plays. At the core, it’s in appreciating that I’m already doing pretty well.
All of this is wrapped up in confidence. Obviously there are all sorts of reasons - often with situations or events entirely beyond control - that make either contentment or confidence feel utterly out of bounds. Maybe both qualities have various privileges attached to them. In my own case, at least, I’m highly aware that I have time, health, financial security (while I'm still a student: before I have to start thinking about repayment of my student loan) and independence on my side. Plus, as Rosianna Halse Rojas points out in her fantastically articulate video, it’s also totally ok to admit that you’re not ok – to be honest about feeling like you’re inadequate or not enough (especially when comparing oneself to this seeming image of 'perfection' so many people project online). Elements of what she said were very recognisable indeed.
I don’t know what's switched recently. Too many things to try to untangle here. But I do know that in the first weeks of this year I’ve been making a concerted effort to harness both confidence in myself and contentment with what's in front of me. And it’s working, so far. I want to maintain this equilibrium, this sense of being grateful and excited and more sure of things. Maybe that’ll change (almost guaranteed - the one thing we can be certain of being change). But for now, it’s rather lovely.
The divine Dina of She Loves Mixtapes took these ace images of me in Oxford last weekend. We jumped around in the sun at the Botanical Gardens, and I also snapped these shots of her in all her Boden-coated glory. Here everything I'm wearing is second hand, other than the shoes - which were from ASOS. The necklace belonged to a great grandma, and the clutch is the vintage pyjamas case I keep my laptop in. This is just about the closest I'll ever get to comfort dressing.
Out of interest, do people prefer the photos at this size, or a little larger? Would appreciate any opinions.