It was late in the evening, perhaps even nighttime, and my mother asked me to come back into the kitchen. I ignored her. She said she needed to talk to me about something and I acted like I no longer spoke the language. I did not want to hear it. If memory serves, the first excuse I test-drove was needing to hurry downstairs to grab something. It was a non-starter. I panicked. I was standing close to a half-bathroom, so I told my mother that I needed to use the restroom.
She called my needing-to-go bluff, and moments later I began pacing back and forth in the kitchen over the spot where I normally stood (and still stand when I visit my parents). I was scared. I was staring brutal news straight in the face. She knew that fear was the reason for my being so difficult, so she wasn’t upset with me, but she had to tell me.
I never felt like that before then, I don’t think. I have since, but I cannot remember a time before then that I was so scared of one thing that I invented ways to avoid it. Unfortunately, since then, I can remember plenty of times that I avoided things. Not all of the things I avoid are this heavy, of course, but I know that I am good at squirming, at fence-sitting, at hedging, and at keeping people (or unwanted news) at arm’s length due to fear of any negative side effects.
Will wasn’t very good at that. He wanted to embrace everything. He couldn’t avoid things. He couldn’t sit on the fence about decisions. There were not enough precious moments left to allow fear to steal any of them. I never quite knew how he did this without thinking about the possibility of negative outcomes like embarrassment or, worse, failure. I always chalked it up to us finding ourselves at different stages in life and then tried not to think any more about it. (Yes, I realize that I just admitted to avoiding thinking about how someone refuses to avoid things. There is an at-arm’s-length-inception joke hanging in close proximity if anyone wants to take a swing.)
The trouble is that I love thinking about things. Often to my detriment, I love thinking through all of the possible outcomes. Recently, Will got under my skin. That is okay, as that is likely to happen when you embrace a person or thing. I started to wonder how he was able to attack life without worrying about those pesky negative outcomes, and then I got upset with myself.
All this time, I chalked up Will’s ability to handle things to his disease. And maybe that is part of it. Actually, I am certain that is part of it. But Will never let cancer define him. Throughout his battle, he never faked invincibility or became unemotional. He confronted everything. He knew better than I ever could about fear, doubt, and uncertainty. He stared those three daunting things in the face every single day. So, it had to be a special quality within him, not a disease, that allowed him to do this so fearlessly.
Given my self-disgust after the revelation that I had whittled Will’s bravery down to, “Ah, he sort of had to, right?” I decided to think about what other qualities might have produced his willingness to face anything.
He attacked life (and, when necessary, attacked a disease) with heroic confidence. He was sure he was better than you, and he was damn sure he was more powerful than a disease. And it rubbed plenty of people, from doctors and nurses to parents and peers, the wrong way. But not me, and not anyone else who saw him fight.
Fortunately, he saw leaving people perturbed in the wake of his confidence as a fair trade-off. Upsetting a few people in exchange for working toward his goals while staring death in the face every day? Sure. He signed up for that deal long ago, and did not plan to renege. Even if he had wanted to, he couldn’t. He was wired to be certain of himself. And I could not love him more for it. I only recently realized the utter importance of the confidence and assertiveness that was so naturally a part of him.
Further, I realized (again, recently) that you can be overflowing with confidence and still avoid arrogance. I thought too much and agonized about the negative possibilities associated with confidence. **What if I come across as arrogant? What if I am confident enough to put myself out there and the result is embarrassment in a professional setting? What if the result is embarrassment in a personal setting? There are possible negative outcomes, so perhaps I should avoid that attribute entirely. Perhaps I should fight it, even. I should run away from myself because what if this positive thing snowballs into something slightly-less-positive for a second.**
Now, I am not staring death in the face every single day, so perhaps I didn’t always need the confidence as much as Will did. I am staring weird, home-brewed hesitations in the face every single day, but those can add up and lead to my biggest fear: failing to reach my potential. Will taught me (not on purpose, by the way) that one of the best ways to attack anything from a minor insecurity to a single day to life in general is simply to do it. Have the confidence to go do it, not because confidence makes you less likely to fail, but because it makes you more able to stomach failure.
I used to worry that making strides toward increased self-confidence would make my warmth, compassion, or curiosity (qualities I often like about myself) disappear. I reali– er, am starting to realize, that confidence in who I am strengthens the positive effects of those qualities while also shielding me from slipping into a pattern of arrogance that I so fear.
Will developed a sort of bravado that left people, famous or otherwise, with the feeling that they had just met someone special. The reason they had this feeling is the same reason that he is still under my skin 6 years later: He was assertive enough that he left an impression, so it is no surprise that people felt something. He invited everything and everyone in because he knew he could handle it, and inviting people in is the best way to ensure that they feel something. He even invited fear and doubt into his life… just long enough to teach them a good lesson.
That feeling he caused, which stems directly from his heightened self-confidence, made it especially sad when he passed away. It made it seem unfair. Someone so full of potential, so warm, so in-control. Sure, maybe it was unfair, I do not know. Asking him to fight like hell every day was probably just as unfair, but that is another topic for another time. The fairness of him passing at such a young age is not the point anymore. The point, to me, is what has been or will be learned from his life.
The way Will lived ignited my learning process (more of a wrestling match, really) about the value of self-confidence and assertiveness. The most important condition in his life wasn’t his health or his time remaining. It wasn’t a need to rush through things. It wasn’t a decision to go numb because of what might happen. The most important condition, the one that made him so heroic to me, was his hubris.
It took me a long time to realize that, and it will take me longer-still to fully embrace my own hubris and wear the label as a badge of honor. It will take me a while not to care about those left in my wake, but I now see the value of that approach. I will still squirm and I will still keep people at arm’s length, because I am not as inherently confident as Will was. I am finding it, though, and when I do…
I’m squirming as I prepare to post this. I am wondering which parts sound stupid and if I should just keep it to myself. I am also wondering if it is about time I stop worrying about looking stupid and just… look stupid. I have a lot of lost time to make up for, after all, and I’m confident that I’ll bounce back. **Does that sound too corny?**