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What Goes Up…

Modesty, in some cases, can turn you on as much as confidence. I realize that a little self-effacing humor can be cute and healthy once in awhile; after all, nobody wants to be seen with someone who appears too confident for his own good. But on the flip side, it’s also no fun hanging out with a Debbie Downer. Even so, lately (and by "lately" I mean for the past 5 or years so) I feel like I’ve put myself into that latter category.

Somewhere there has to be a balance. It’s obviously harder for some us to find it, but there has to be this middle ground where you’re neither too proud nor too sorry. Where you’re not afraid to talk yourself down while simultaneously talking yourself up. And where you succeed in thinking less of yourself in order to leave room for others to think more of you.

We all try in our own ways to tow this invisible line between humility and self-assurance. Sounding too conceited for your own good can lead others to thinking you are anything but what you say, while constantly degrading yourself can exact feelings from listeners that are less like compassion and more like pity. I’m sure we’ve all had our missteps and equally have experienced the hot or cold reactions that happen as a result.

I have this one friend, who although being constantly assailed by romantic suitors, never ceases to wail about how he is, and I quote, “totally without game.” Okay, I’m all for batting down any deluded ideas of self-importance because it can keep you from getting a big head, but I mean, c’mon, there has to come a time when, after obvious displays of what can only be termed as a “wealth of game,” any kind of dumbing down becomes a sort of false modesty. It quickly turns the sympathy into resentment and ends up making you look smug. I’d like to believe that I’m not the only one who, because of his own unfortunate dating situation, is totally annoyed by it.

Come to think of it though, I guess I’ve always been more inclined to think the worst of people, and I’ve never really put much stock in giving them the benefit of the doubt. That sort of thinking on its own is unpleasant enough but add to that mentality an affinity for self-deprecation and well, frankly, it wouldn’t take someone like Dr. Phil to explain why that might turn strangers off. For one thing, it can lead to embarrassingly lame attempts at conversation. For instance, “my friend wants me to ask you to dance with me” isn’t exactly the most flattering pick up line.

Part of it is a self-defense mechanism, I’ll admit. After all, few things hurt more than rejection, so why not act as if you couldn’t care less whether or not he says 'yes' in the first place? I suppose it all started with being shy. Shyness notwithstanding though, I’ll be the first to tell you that despite always trying to hide behind humor, I’m in fact more confident in myself than I lead people to believe. Maybe that’s the problem. At some point, the quiet confidence I thought I was trying to exude by comfortably displaying my insecurities to others slowly gave way to self-loathing.

I’d like to think that I’m stronger than that though. Feeling sorry for yourself is too easy a way out. I always believed that if I was confident in myself, no matter how I chose to convey that to others, be it a sarcastic remark or an indifferent demeanor, they’d somehow pick up on it. So I’m sick of always being labeled the pessimist. At the most, I’ll admit to an overriding modesty.

Optimist or not though, inevitably what goes up must come down. The ones you see having such an easy time meeting people and getting people to like them can go on believing otherwise as much as they want. The reality is that nobody’s immune from feeling like a human drip sometimes. That alone doesn’t make you a Debbie Downer. Nobody is off the hook. Inevitably we’ll all experience failure and, perhaps to a lesser degree, success. Just try not to let it get to your head and certainly don’t take it to heart.