On Cultivation

You know the phrase “fake it till ‘ya make it”? You know, that mantra for most 20 to 30-somethings that some days is the only way we get through the day without pulling out our hair (or dying it strange and wonderful colors)? It works. I remember once I had asked to play with the praise band for my church’s middle-school youth group, and once I got on the stage all of my years of playing packed bags and left without saying another word. I was petrified, but the song started to play and for a while I strummed gentle chords till I picked out the pattern, hummed along till the words came back to me and then a couple minutes later I was jamming along with the rest of the praise band like nothing had ever happened. I faked along – played the chords, went through the motions – until I made it and was actually a part of the players and the experience.

However: I don’t think that everything can be faked till it falls into place. You won’t ever be able to pretend to study and then magically walk into a test and ace it (personal experience talking yet again). You won’t ever be able to walk into a high-profile job interview and pretend to know the answers. I mean it’s facts, the phrase isn’t applicable to ever single situation.

By far the most important – at least in my mind – exception to the “fake it” rule is the concept of confidence. Not the fake confidence that you see so often walking through the halls of high schools or universities across the world. I’m talking about the type of confidence that is deeply rooted in your soul. The type of confidence that people take notice of not because it’s loud and visible, but because it’s genuine. A confidence that is deeply rooted in the abilities of one’s own abilities and limits is more powerful than “manly” bravado or boasting any day of the week, 365 days a year.

“A feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances”


I’m blessed to have come across two people in my life whom I credit with instilling in me the basics of confidence, though these two people could not be more opposite in their approaches to it. I guess to really drive the point home that I’m trying to make, I have to explain why I needed them to come along when they did.

So when I started freshmen year at Calvin College I was still suffering (and I’ll stick with that word choice) under the toxic perceptions of masculinity and confidence that I assimilated into my personality while still attending high school. I came into a place that was friendly and inviting and threw all the wonderful gifts I was given back into the faces of those people that offered them to me. I still thought that confidence meant having the world’s worst RBF (resting bitch face), keeping earbuds firmly planted in my ears and my music turned up at full volume. I threw out judgement left and right and generally wasn’t a very good person to spend time around.

I guess in hindsight a portion of my general demenor of being an asshole came from being scared, but I’ll address that later.

Regardless, I finished the first year at Calvin in a worse place than I started with no real friends to speak of and a whole lot of new experiences and ideas to think about. It turned out that I needed to take a chemistry class to take one of the main classes in my geology track. So I signed up for a summer class with my best childhood friend and prepared for a long, hard slog through a class that I was sure I wouldn’t enjoy. I’ve never been more wrong about something in my entire life.

Through that class I met my best friend Jesse, and through some of the afternoons we spent together I came to realize that he was probably the most self-assured person I had ever met before. He was relatively independent, an incredibly thorough thinker and – most importantly – knew how to conduct himself around people (a skill I’ve always sorely lacked, partially due to my rampant ADD). Through spending time with him I came to understand how to cultivate a sense of confidence, and through him and our conversations I began to think more critically about the world I lived in. He isn’t perfect – no one is – but he was a good figure to begin my self-exploration around. Jesse also introduced me to Maia, who’s the other figure whom I credit with so much of my growth through my college years.

Maia was the perfect counterpoint to Jesse’s calm reason, rationale and logic. She’s a chaotic individual – don’t worry, she’d agree with me – and the literal personification of a dumpster fire in human form. Yet she still taught me things. She showed me what empathy means and what it looks like for different people, she showed me Tan France and introduced a newfound love of fashion and style, she showed me how to balance self-care with productivity and, most importantly, she was a figurehead for what a strong, independent, confident woman was in today’s world. Again, she ain’t perfect, but she’s pretty damn close.

My two best friends showed me something that I would have never found on my own. For the longest time I had constantly suffered under the delusion that all the aspects of my personality that I had considered flawed (ADD, extroversion, emotion, ect.) were all things that I should constantly try to change or alter. I thought that they were these parts of me that no one wanted to see, much less deal with. After spending enough time with Jesse and Maia however, I began to realize that they’re part of what makes me individual from those other people around me.

Really there’s nothing else I can say just yet, because my next post will be about cultivating non-toxic confidence (specifically masculinity), and that’s a whole other rant that y’all do not want to keep reading. I will however end this post with quotes from several friends and coworkers who I consider exceptionally “confident”.

Like I said before, the cultivation of confidence is a process that is going to take lots of hard work and dedication. It won’t be easy or comfortable, but nothing that’s worth having is ever easy. Cultivate genuine confidence, don’t just fake it till you make it.

“A healthy amount of confidence is an ability to acknowledge insecurity without ruminating. It is actively taking those self doubts and accepting them, putting them away so that you can focus on exploration and growth.”

Cecily Bobrowski

“Everyone has something they’re ashamed of: being gay, being quiet, being loud, having a stutter, being skinny, being fat, having a small dick, being clumsy, being poor, being anything that someone once told you was less than. And confidence comes in knowing that maybe it’s true, but that you don’t need it to change to be happy.”

Caleb Lawson

“It’s about knowing that not everyone will appreciate my whole being and that’s okay– my worth is entirely derived internally. It’s about knowing how eminently valuable I am as a human and radiating that out to anyone I come into contact with.”

Maia Madrid
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