“Get Confident, Stupid!”

Brimming with confidence and a kick-ass stache to boot.
Brimming with confidence and a kick-ass ‘stache to boot.

I love self-help books.

I don’t imagine there are too many alcoholics out there whose rickety IKEA bookshelf aren’t overstuffed with all the classic and latest Tomes of Wise Nuggets to Live By.  There was something magical about cracking open a new book telling me how I can Change My Life For Good.  Just follow the basic exercises and in just 30 days, my life would turn around! A new ME!  Problem is, active alcoholics like me didn’t like doing exercises that made us actually look into ourselves, to find the real us, just itching to burst free like a new born golden goose. To look into myself would mean circumnavigating around that very obvious Elephas maximus that was my alcoholism. So I tended to read the first 10 or 12 pages and then dust it to the remainder bin.  Next.

My favourite sub-category of the self-help genre was the Leadership Guide.  I figured that since changing my life from the inside out wasn’t an option (see Elephas maximus, above), so it made sense that it would be easy to fix it from the outside in.  And the simplest route was in the realm of the workplace.  No emotions involved, no personal relationships to worry about, nothing but quarterly objectives to hit.  So, being a leader (if I read the back covers properly) would bring happiness to my life, would fulfill me, would put me on the road to power and prestige. I would arrive.

Buckaroo Bonzai - possibly the best leader ever in the history of ever?
Buckaroo Bonzai – possibly the best leader ever in the history of ever? Take a bow, kind sir.

I had tons of books on leadership – from thin pocket-sized pamphlets to majestic hand-sewn Encyclopedias of Wisdom.  I could either learn in 10 minutes or take years in the practice of being Head Honcho not only in the workplace, but in life itself.  Now, I was already in management level, so people had no choice to listen to me, but I wanted more than that.  I wanted respect.  I wanted people to look up to me.  I wanted people to see me as a personal saviour, if you will.  I wanted to be seen on the scene, you hep cats.  I wanted to be a Level 5, Kim Jong Un type of Glorious Leader.

Of course I failed miserably.

You see, much of what these books relied upon was a single, simple precept.  They were based on an unspoken agreement that the reader had that one thing that they needed to even begin the process of being the new Captain Picard or Colonel Potter. That thing was confidence.

Confidence.  I would read the word over and over again and it struck no chord with me.  It was a blank stare into a mirror.  But without the mirror.  Nothing up against another nothing.  The word might as well have been in Sanskrit for what little I could comprehend.   My life had been devoid of confidence for so long that it was alien to me to think about somehow reviving this thing they spoke of in self-help circles, in Take Back Your Life seminars and bumper stickers.

Confidence. The thing that so many people had shooting out of them like a sprinkler, showering us with glittery godliness and super white teeth.  The thing that I mistook for overblown ego and machismo and blowhard bravado.  The thing that I craved so desperately that I would do anything to have it.  The thing that pushed me into the dark corners and away from the place I really wanted to be – with all of you.  My insides screamed to look like your outsides.

Confidence. None. Zilch. Zero. Nil. I stared at your shoes while I offered a weak handshake.  I trembled in the presence of those who made the mistake of liking me.  I hated and despised those who were comfortable with themselves.  Phonies. Charlatans. Ass kissers. Egomaniacs. And yet, I so wanted to be like them.


I was jealous of the guys at my work who would charge the hill even without knowing all the facts.  I hated them for that and at the same time envied them.  How could they know for sure what to do without all the information?  How dared they lead others on a hunch, or on something other than compelling evidence?  I feared when they were right.  I feared when they were wrong.

Many years ago, I was forwarded a well known power point based on the leadership style of General Colin Powell.  The part that caught me attention was this:

“Don’t take action if you have only enough information to give you less than a
40 percent chance of being right, but don’t wait until you have enough facts to
be 100 percent sure, because by then it is almost always too late. Today,
excessive delays in the name of information-gathering breeds “analysis
paralysis.” Procrastination in the name of reducing risk actually increases risk”

I was the 100 percent guy.  I was the absolute-sure-beyond-measure guy.  I was the no-one-can-argue-this-ever guy. And why was this?  Why did I have to be completely right before leading the team in hopeful victory ?  What was it in me that needed to be so utterly armed with irrefutable facts before engaging in even the smallest of discourse?

One word: Fear.

No fear for Tony.  He'll bury those cockroaches.
No fear for Tony. He’ll bury those cockroaches.

Fear of looking stupid.  Fear of failure.  Fear of not being perfect.  Fear of rejection.  Fear of being laughed at. Fear of making decisions. Fear of risking. 

Fears by the wheelbarrow.  Grab a spade and dig in.  Lots to go around.

What it came down to in the end had nothing to do with leadership, or learning certain goal setting skills, or being an expert on reading people or any of the other tools they laid out in those well-meaning books.  It came down to me being me, and liking what I saw.  It came down to learning to see me for my values, strengths and vulnerabilities.  It came down to seeing that I was not an order-barking machine that needed stronger steel and bigger batteries, but a loving compassionate human being who needed to love and to be compassionate to himself first.  It was about digging my hands into the gravel of my soul, rattling it and stirring it about, lifting my palms up to the sky and announcing to the world “I’m OK”.

And from that is borne true confidence – a contentedness about myself that can be reflected onto others.  A trust in myself and a chance to cut myself some slack that is extended to others. I can lead others because they see in me that centeredness that allows me to be present and knowing that I can be assertive, and yet make mistakes.  I can charge from a position of both humility and strength. I can finally lead by example, by character, by integrity and dignity – things I easily pawned for a bottle of vodka. I now sparkle from the inside out.

I lead by looking at and learning from other leaders, from the men and women in the rooms, from the spiritual leaders and their actions and teachings, from my own children.

I lead by following.

I follow you.


29 Comments Add yours

  1. Al K Hall says:

    Great observation. i drank for liquid confidence, but the confidence i’ve found in sobriety is so much more real. Sobriety has reduced my fear levels and replaced it with a sense of perspective. Thanks for this, brother.

    1. Hey Al – I didn’t mention anything about liquid confidence, but now I wish I did. I certainly drank my courage so many times, and while it may have seemed to work temporarily, it was just a facade. It was an illusion. Like you said, sobriety replaced that with a sense of perspective…true perspective.

      Thanks for the brilliant comments, as usual.


  2. furtheron says:

    Great post – love your list of fears – I identify with that so much

    1. Thanks Graham…I have a whole ton more fears if you want to glance over…lol.


  3. Well stated. The majority of my dusty self-help books deal with relationships. I wasn’t interested in leading anyone, but by God, I needed someone to love me. Uh, yeah. That someone was me. My Rob Lowe post yesterday deals with this same sort of thing – those who get down in it & do what needs to be done are those who come out as the true leaders. Though I’m getting better at it, I still find it unnerving that people will look up to me. In my head, I’m not that different from how I’ve always been. Externally, though, I’ve learned to do what needs to be done.

    1. Great comments – insightful stuff. You are right – that person that needed to love me first and foremost is me. Long time coming in that. I was laughing when you mentioned about being unnerved when people look up to you. I am the same – that old thing about taking a compliment, etc. It’s all an inside job, when it comes down to it. Thanks for dropping by – and thanks for your blog. Took a look at it quickly, but will jazzing through a lot more.


  4. Lisa Neumann says:

    Might be my favorite thus far …

    “I can finally lead by example, by character, by integrity and dignity – things I easily pawned for a bottle of vodka. I now sparkle from the inside out.”

    For me, (because I know not all agree here) we see it and heal it in self first. When we have extended the grace to self—first— we can then, in integrity, extend it to others. And that’s when life truly becomes magical … sparkly. I adore this post. So much deep thought. Thank you for moving me, challenging me to think.

    What am I going to step into today, so that I can face the illusion of fear? I will never (at least today) give up my character for alcohol. It is difficult to imagine this WAS the daily routine.

    Thank you for bringing so my joy to my sobriety.

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words, Lisa. Means a lot coming from you.

      I like what you said about giving up character for alcohol. Seems that we lived our lives that way. Cheap and easy at the expense of chunks of our self-esteem and integrity and dignity. And then we drank because we were so bankrupt in those areas.

      Thank you for bringing joy into *my* sobriety as well.


  5. sherryd32148 says:

    What a fan-damn-tastic post. Thanks.

    But…um…how’d you get inside my head?


    1. Hey Sherry – ha ha, indeed, head jumping is something I try to avoid. I have enough problems with my own head.

      Thanks for being here – love when you drop by.


  6. First, thank you for the picture of Isaac, that brought a smile to my face before I even read your words! I had an interesting experience this morning that came to mind as I was reading this beautiful post. A group of about 10 of us went out to breakfast after my home group meeting, and we were yucking it up, as only AA people can do (actual side story here… another AA gentleman was sitting at the breakfast bar, and people near him said, “who is making all that noise?” and he thought before he turned, “must be AA people” and sure enough, it was!). But I digress, I had been there for at least a half hour before I realized someone was trying to make eye contact with me, and I saw an extended family member at a nearby table. Not sure how long she was there, or what she heard us all yelling about, but I had that half second “oh no!” feeling, and then I thought, “wait a minute, what the heck do I have to worry about? I really don’t care who knows I am in AA!” My God, it was SUCH a liberating feeling! And that is a confidence I have never had in all of my years of living!

    As always, Paul, you are my personal Yoda, and I thank you for all of your wisdom!!

    1. runningonsober says:

      ^ love this! 🙂

      1. Thanks, RoS. I am slow to comment, but I just read a dynamite post on your blog last night, and am STILL not through all the comments (the one about the dentist?). You are such an inspriration, now if you would just inspire me to run, I would be in your debt forever!!!

        1. runningonsober says:

          🙂 thank-you!
          and you reminded me I need to make a dentist appt. Blech. Been putting it off since I decided no more nitrous for momma, lol

      2. Thanks, RoS. I am slow to comment, but I just read a dymamite post from you blog last night,and I’m STILL not through all the comments (the one about the dentist?). I don’t know how I missed it the first time around. You are such an inspiration! Now, if you could just inspire me to run… 🙂

    2. Sober Life says:

      Can I chime in here? ^ I love your comment, so cool and yes quite liberating …. And thanks for the giggle, when I go out with my AA gang we seem to be making all that noise too! Lol!

    3. I am dating myself a bit with Isaac, but man, who can forget that cool cat?

      What a cool story there you shared (and thanks for that, by the way) – that feeling of liberation is wonderful, isn’t it? I haven’t had the experience you had, but I know that feeling of just being true to myself, of not caring what others think. Boundaries building is where that feeling comes to me – when I draw that line in the sand, and keeping to my integral self.

      Great, great comments, miracle.

      Thank you!


  7. runningonsober says:

    Isaac the Bartender!!! Wow, he was such an icon in so many ways, exuding confidence and pouring out its liquid version as well.

    Still have my copy of “From Good to Great” though I doubt I made it past the first two chapters of any of my leadership books either though. They sure looked good lining my corporate office Ikea (Pottery Barn, actually) bookshelf—all about the facade.

    Brilliant post, Paul, just brilliant.

    1. I have From Good to Great too…amongst the so many other ones I have. Seriously, I had to give a ton of them away as they were clogging my bookshelf. For me, now that I think about it, I wonder if having so many self-help books really *does* look good on a bookshelf! But I don’t really care what people see on my shelf now. I have what I have and that’s about it. 🙂

      Thanks for the groovy kind words, Christy.

      And thank you for the wonderful Boston-based posts on your blog.

      Touching and beautiful.


      1. runningonsober says:

        And thank YOU Paul. I gave about 95% of my self-help and biz books away after I left the corporate world. We grow, we mature, we simplify, we become aware of the passing of time, we study flowers and the human spirit instead of leadership models. But we had to go there to get here… All part of the journey, isn’t it?

  8. Sober Life says:

    Ahh… Thank you! So much in this post; the fears and the search for that person I wanted to be, oh it was never ending! I searched and read and pondered, how? Oh how? Then one day, while complaining about something to my sponsor – I truly can’t remember what, but I surely remember what she said! She said that what I am looking for is already in me, I just need to clear all the garbage away and let it shine thru! Wow! And for me too it is an inside job, the more I accept me the more I accept others, the more I take care of me the more I am caring of others… The more I get inspired by others the more I am able to inspire others. Lead by following… So beautiful! Thank you!

    1. I can’t say much more than what you said just now – awesome, wicked stuff.

      Thanks for the fantastic add-on!!


  9. SAM says:

    Confidence. Excellent topic and an immediate… ding ding ding.. close to home subject.

    I just returned from an AA Women’s Retreat and a woman told me right before we all parted ways, “I enjoyed meeting you. I like how you carry yourself with such confidence.”

    “Thank you.” I replied, smiled and gave her a hug.

    Inside however, I symbolically looked over my shoulder to the right… to the left. Who was this woman speaking of? Me? Confident?

    Which I later analyzed.

    Here’s what I came to: Confidence does not mean “free from insecurities” but instead a willingness to truly see and accept oneself. That doesn’t mean that I always like what I see but I’m confident enough to identify those issues, accept that I have them and take accountability to change them.

    Great post (again) and you DO sparkle and that is pretty damn infectious and inspiring.

    1. Hey SAM – thanks so much for the comments! It’s amazing how we see someone as so confident, and not know the underlying insecurities and fears they have – we just look at the outside package. I would have had the same reaction you did – looked over my shoulder to see who they were talking to! So in that vein, I really liked what you said about not being free from insecurities, but being to accept them. Very wise words 🙂

      Thanks for sharing YOUR sparkle here 🙂


  10. chitowndreamer says:

    Fear…it motivates me and yet isolates me at the same time. Great post.

    1. You’re absolutely right on there – it did (and still does at times!) motivate me and fully kept me from going anywhere or doing anything. Isolation is bad for alcoholics and addicts, and I still have to watch when I start to drift off (like I have been the last week or so – danger danger!). Fear is at the root of almost everything we do. Love is the root of everything else.

      Thank you for being here.


  11. Number 9 says:

    Confidence! Ah, that lovely thing I have never had. I remember my first boss telling me at my one-on-one at the annual sales meetings, “You’re doing great but you just don’t have any self-confidence..” That was um, 21 years ago. And then my mom saying last week, “Yes, but honey you have ALWAYS sold yourself short.” Do you think it’s an alcoholic thing? Who knows. I don’t have self-confidence but funny that I AM actually a risk taker. Go figure? So, I do things without thinking them through or having all the facts (ie. move to the beach? ha ha) and I sort it out later. All the while thinking maybe I’m not enough. AA helps SO MUCH with this. doesn’t it? It’s like the more I hear other women and their struggles, the more I realize how the same we all are and I’m not some big deffective (I can’t remember how to spell defective?) mess. love love you blog. I haven’t read any of my favorite blogs in weeks! loved this. thanks paul.

    1. Great questions / comments! I can relate to the selling yourself short thing, completely. I don’t think low self-confidence is something only we alcoholics have, but for us it’s a whole different ball game…or a deeper, sadder ball game. It cripples us more because we tend to be more in self, and that is not a great place to be..ha ha. We are ego maniacs with low self esteem, as they say.

      I am glad you’re back doing the rounds, and posting on your fab blog – missed ya! Thanks for the props – back at ya 🙂


      1. Number 9 says:

        i am definitely the ego maniac with an inferiority complex. and grandiose and insecure! lol.

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