In a constant state of preparation for my first 3 days of grad school, I spent hours this week piecing myself together. I was fixated on all of the delicate, tiny, particular details of my appearance; the way my hair was going to fall, how dark my eyeshadow was going to be, how tall I’d be in my heels. In my head I had drawn a schematic, mapping out all of my bests; my best outfit, best lines, best makeup, best wit, best perfume, best jewelry. By the time I was dressed and present on my first day of school, I was a walking china cabinet displaying all of my most valuable pieces. There I was, sitting in a stale, hideously lit classroom, primmed, pressed, and prepared for note-taking, laced in all of my tangible assets and still, even as a walking showcase of all the greatest and most professional things that I had to offer, I still found cracks.
I still found ways to plunge holes into myself.
“Oh, she’s wearing a dress. I should be wearing a dress.”
“Crap, my makeup is probably too dark.”
“How damn ungraceful I must look galloping around in these stilt like heels.”
“Would you freaking look at my arms in this tank.”
“I’m so pale.”
…And on and on and on. There was a slew of self-deprecating comments polluting my internal monologue.
If there’s ever a good time to be swimming in self-doubt, it’s not your first day of your very serious, very professional graduate program. You want to be poised and ready and calm. You do not want to be a fumbling, doubtful mess, and yet there I was.
I was there in my business casual outfit with my lashes curled and hair sprayed. I was in my best, but I was also in my nerves, in my uncertainties, in my fears and my confusion. I was wearing my hesitance around my wrists and my worry across my neck, my insecurities there on my sleeves and my over-excitement in the balls of my feet. I was not wearing only my best. I was in my best and in everything else that I had. I couldn’t completely sift through everything I am and stand there with only the good. I couldn’t leave all of the less-than-bests at home and come only as this fragile collection of perfection.
And all of that, all of my less-than-bests, all of the places where I punctured holes in myself convinced that I was less, that’s where light got in.
My less-than-bests led to nervous laughter and unrehearsed jokes and hilarious conversations over how sweaty and uncomfortable we all were. If it hadn’t been for my flubs and mess ups, I wouldn’t have laughed with a professor in the hall or spoke with the guy on the bus or met friends in my classes. The moment I stopped trying to hide all my less-than-bests, I found ease in embracing them. Yes, you just saw me trip. Yes, I just spilled water down my shirt. Yes, my stomach just growled audibly in class. Yes, yes, yes, I am a mess of a woman fueled by coffee and poorly timed laughter.
There’s something really intoxicating about being the best. We can get swept up into it. We love the rush of praise and the thrill of ambition and confidence and pride. But complete and absolute confidence is not built on knowing that you are the best. Complete and absolute security in every word you breathe, in every curve of your body and angle of your face and curl in your smile is imaginary. It is a thing of fiction because we can all find holes. We all at times let those holes eat away at us and we all waste precious moments trying to fill those holes with tangible items.
Real confidence though, is letting those holes exist. Letting yourself be. Letting those holes welcome in light instead of letting them dissipate your being. Letting yourself be a fumbling, doubtful mess and letting that be your best.
“Be messy and complicated and afraid and show up anyway.” -Glennon Doyle Melton
My best is my hair straightened, in a dress because I hate pants, tripping in my heels that are probably making my toes bleed, laughing over something stupid I said or did, flipping my palms up welcoming whatever else the day has for me. It’s stuffing my backpack with a pair of flats and emergency touch-up makeup. It’s fidgeting in my seat and being all too aware of the person behind me watching. My best is plowing through the day regardless of my insecurities and hesitance. It’s not knowing what to say or where to look, but saying something and looking somewhere anyway.
That’s my best and not everyone’s going to like my best, but it’s me. And it’s all I’m willing to be because to be without my less-than-bests is to be without me.