Book report #23 (2021)

On Confidence, by The School of Life. Pub 2017

In building up a library for an upcoming course, I found this book in one of the “if you like X, you’ll also like Y” section of the bookseller’s website. I’ve seen The School of Life books online and in shops before, and this one seemed well timed for my current circumstances, when boosting is needed and confidence is challenged.

This is a short, quick read, with lots of thought-provoking passages that encourage the reader to dig a bit deeper into themselves. Like many good philosophy and self-help books, there are no easy answers or formulae here, and much is very familiar and common sense. But the book is also written to challenge the reader, to say, “you already know this, just think about it a bit more”, with a no-nonsense tone that some might find off-putting. It is neither gentle nor subtle, but I enjoyed that approach very much. Examples of passages I found helpful and provocative:

  • In big and small instances, we cave in to the judgements of The System, beside whose might and invincibility our own hopes seem feeble and disposable.
  • The present has all the contingency of the past, and is every bit as malleable. It should not intimidate us…We should be confident…of our power to join the stream of history and, however modestly, change its course. 
  • …inaction is not in itself cost-free, for in the wings, outside of regular conscious awareness, there is something arguably even more frightening than failure: the tragedy of wasting our lives. 
  • We cannot change the presence of an enemy, but we can change wha an enemy means to us…from being devoted, impartial agents of truth about one’s right to exist to being – more sanely – people who have an opinion, probably only ever a bit right, about something we once did, and never about who we are (that is something we decide). 
  • Our negative view of confidence may be overly dependent on the quirks of our own histories, on the sort of people we first encountered confidence in who were not its best or most reliable representatives…confidence is in its essence entirely compatible with remaining sensitive, kind, witty and softly-spoken. 
  • We should come to terms with…just how hard and unnerving it can sometimes be to get close to the things we truly want. 

That latter point reminds me of an inspirational quote I heard from an unlikely source: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you NOT to be?” Source, Marianne Williamson, former and somewhat-mocked Democratic presidential hopeful.

The book itself is one of those lovely little gift books that you see and want to give to someone, but it turns out is better for oneself. It doesn’t take long to read, but does require a bit more time to absorb and understand properly.

10 – a book of essays
25 – a new author to me
30 – philosophy/religion

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