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No. 24 - Where Does All The Confidence Go?
Practice Space is Turning One! + A Special Guest Post
Hello, my dear practitioners!
It’s been a while since you last heard from me. Lots have happened in my personal and creative life, and I’ll be making some changes to the way I operate this blog. I’ll publish a post detailing my plans for the future really soon.
But for now, less work, more celebration!
Practice Space is turning one year old! I truly can’t believe it’s been that long since I joined Substack. I remember the person I was one year ago: so nervous about this experiment, with no idea what I even wanted this column to be. I can happily report that I’ve changed a lot. This year of constant, scheduled writing has been very good for me.
So I wanted to celebrate my first anniversary in style! I’m a sucker for collaborations, which is why I’ve done a few (hi and !), but I’ve never invited another writer to guest post for Practice Space.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I love ’s writing. The personal essays he publishes on his newsletter are raw, real, and vulnerable, yet they never fail to entertain and deliver a hefty portion of hope.
You’ll also know (because I wrote about it here) that I once took a Zoom workshop with him which helped me immensely.
I admire Lyle, both as a person and as a creative, and I thought: who better to celebrate my anniversary with?
So I asked him to write an essay for Practice Space.
Without further ado, here it is, our first ever guest post by the onlyin the world.
Where Does All The Confidence Go?
Or, how I’m attempting to become unapologetically me
It was a cool, crisp, sunny Fall day, and I was perched atop a rock next to a calm offshoot of the river, fishing with my dad and brother. The water was so clear I could see all the way to the bottom. Fishing was an activity I liked back then, for the most part. The day had been relatively uneventful on the catching fish front. Yet I didn’t care. I was mostly trying to see how far I could cast my line. I always thought reeling in a fish was fun. But touching the fish and yanking the hook out of its mouth? No thanks.
Our dad had recently bought us new Ugly Stick fishing poles, which are apparently quite good. He always told us part of the reason why he started working young, and why he worked so hard as an adult, was to be able to buy the nice things his family couldn’t afford when he was our age. As a real estate agent, he drove a luxury car—probably a Jaguar during this period of time—and wore custom-tailored suits with perfectly polished dress shoes. I can still recall the unmistakable smell of his shoe polish set and the swooshing sound of the brush on command. He usually didn’t settle for anything less than the best.
“Check this out,” I said as I flung my line out as far as I could. I reeled it in too fast to reasonably expect to catch anything. Then I reared back and flung it out there again. Over and over, I reeled it in and flung it out again. And again. I had to break my own record. A record nobody else cared about but me. I kept trying. With each throw, I felt a little more confident and put a little more oomph into it. Until one throw, when I really reached back and gave it my all, when my entire fishing pole slipped out of my hand. And I watched it slowly sink to the bottom of that clear offshoot of the river.
My dad was furious and I was embarrassed. Through the ripples on the surface, I could see the wavy silhouette of the pole resting on the bottom of the river adjacent to a boulder.
A stranger who overheard what happened offered to dive into the freezing cold water to try to retrieve it. My dad said he thought he was nuts and not to worry about it, but the guy insisted and started shedding his clothes down to his boxer shorts. After a handful of dives, the stranger couldn’t capture it. The water was deeper than it looked from above and the slight current made it too difficult for him to get all the way to the bottom.
I’ve second-guessed every cast of a fishing line I’ve made since that day.
I eagerly popped the tape out of the camcorder and into the VHS adapter. My brother and I had just returned from De Anza College where we were rollerblading and filming ourselves, and our friends, doing various tricks. We rolled backward down huge sets of stairs descending from administrative buildings, letting the toes of our feet bounce up and down like they were on springs. We jumped over the other sets of stairs completely, landing a 180º or 360º spin on the way down.
Those tricks were impressive, but what I really wanted to see was the riskiest and most exhilarating jump I attempted during our session. Next to the stairs leading up to one of the classroom buildings, there was a short concrete wall, at roughly bench height, where students would hang out, study, eat their lunch, or whatever. Since nobody was on campus, and therefore nobody was sitting there that day, I mustered up the courage to jump from the top landing, up over the concrete bench, and descend all the way down, roughly seven feet below. And I nailed it.
Our VCR had a feature where you could pause a video and then keep pressing the pause button and it would nudge the video forward, frame-by-frame. If you pressed pause repeatedly, it was like your very own slow-motion video capture—a huge deal for us at the time because we wanted to critique and analyze our moves to get better. But mostly, it made us look cooler.
I fast-forwarded through the other tricks and the goofy banter we recorded that day until I found the risky jump. I got it queued up and started the slow-mo. It looked amazing. I couldn’t believe I tried it, let alone pulled it off. But something caught my eye.
I hit rewind and went frame-by-frame the second time. That’s when I noticed that I missed the concrete bench with my front wheel by less than an inch. Meaning I was less than an inch from clipping the edge and taking a header straight down to the concrete of the quad seven feet below.
With my finger still hovering over the pause button, I pictured my unhelmeted head splitting open, blood gushing out of it every which way, and I felt sick to my stomach. I never attempted anything remotely that daring ever again.
During my Senior year, I was one of the best pitchers on my high school baseball team. I didn’t throw very hard. But I threw something like eight different pitches, including a nasty knuckle curveball, and I could paint either corner of the plate with almost all of them. I loved making a batter look foolish because he was completely fooled by my pitches.
Up to this point in the season, I had pitched a no-hitter and a one-hitter that really should’ve been a no-hitter but the umpire made a bad call at first base, which HE LATER ADMITTED (!) to our first base coach. But I digress. The point is that my confidence was riding high. I knew if my pitches were working, I was tough to hit.
We were playing Saratoga High, a formidable opponent and one of the better teams in the league. They had a couple of players who were being scouted for top college programs. One of those players came up to the plate for the second time. He was a powerful, muscular guy who also played cornerback for their football team. I had gotten him out on a hard ground ball to our shortstop the first time around and I was feeling good about my stuff that day.
During this at-bat, he put me through the paces. He didn’t fall for some pitches purposefully off the plate. He swung and missed one. He fouled a few others off. Until he connected on a pitch that was hit so hard and high and far that had I not been a supple young man, I might’ve suffered from whiplash. I had given up home runs before. But nothing that jaw-dropping.
Before then, I had inklings that I didn’t necessarily have what it takes to get to the top levels of the game as a pitcher. The velocity on my fastball left a lot to be desired, and because of that, I relied on too many junk-ball pitches to get people out. And if those weren’t working, my outings didn’t go very well.
Yet that home run, in particular, was the one that made me realize that maybe baseball wasn’t my calling after all.
I worked at Sportmart in Goleta, California, and had somewhat recently broken up with my long-time girlfriend who probably would’ve married me if I asked. I say that because she routinely “accidentally” left bridal magazines around our apartment. That was before I moved out and into a different apartment with a coworker of mine. If that wasn’t the writing on the wall, I don’t know what was.
Things were moving too fast for me. I was in a band and it was looking like we’d be signing a record deal soon-ish. I didn’t want to settle down quite yet.
But also, there was this other worker of mine I liked.
Her name was Michele. She was cute and we got along great at work. I asked her out and she agreed. We had dinner somewhere I don’t remember and then she came to my apartment and we watched some silly movie with my roommate, whom she knew well since we all worked together, and a few of our friends. We had a great time. And many laughs were shared.
One of my friends cornered me in the hallway as I went to use the bathroom and said, “Dude, Michele is cool as hell.” I said I know, while inside I hoped she felt the same way about me.
I drove her back to her place later that night. As she was about to open the door, I leaned in for a kiss. And she totally denied me. Like, straight out of a movie where the woman turns away as a guy swoops in for kiss. At least I didn’t get slapped, though. I thought I had felt something in the air between us, but I clearly misread the vibe. I tried to not let it phase me and asked if she’d like to do something again sometime. She said something like yeah, maybe.
And I felt the writing on the wall.
I could feel the heat of the stage lights, but also the heat of the pressure to perform our best. After touring and playing in front of audiences of thousands of people with my old band Pressure 4-5 for the better part of two years, I was no stranger to playing on stage. But I left that band to join my brother’s band Ambionic, and this show at The Troubadour in Los Angeles was the culmination of months of hard work to drum up interest from some music industry people.
It wasn’t that we were brand new to playing live; we had rehearsed our set countless times, both in our practice studio and at small shows up and down California. It was a tight 30-ish-minute set we could practically perform in our sleep.
The set started off without a hitch. My brother on drums, Bobby on guitar, and me on bass. We were locked in from the jump. Yet I could tell when our singer Jason started in that something was off. To this day, I’m unsure if it was nerves, performance anxiety, or something else entirely. Whatever it was, it was clear that he wasn’t comfortable. I could hear it in his voice.
I tried to look out in the crowd to find the face of a potential band manager I had been in contact with, but I couldn’t see much beyond the first couple of rows through the glare of the stage lights.
After our set, we felt deflated. We weren’t at our best and we felt like that was our best shot yet at getting our big break in the industry. At the same time, I was feeling burned out by the industry—it had changed a lot since 9/11 and the rise of file sharing. Just getting someone to show up to see us play felt monumental. But we had to be perfect. And we weren’t.
I never did hear back from that manager.
After being together for 12 years and married for seven, I got divorced. For most of those years, I was confident that we would be together forever. But one small thing led to another small thing and another small thing, and those all added up to the big, unthinkable thing, and it was over.
Confidence is one of those feelings where the more I think about it the less I truly understand it. You have it in abundance when you’re younger. Yet as you gain more life experience, some of those experiences create scars—it’s one of the closest approximations to the “death by a thousand cuts” expression that I can think of. And those scars create uncertainty and doubt, which breeds resentment and regret.
This is a both-and situation, though.
Conversely, confidence is also created through experience. As I build up my experience in some domain, I become more certain about my abilities, and therefore become more confident. Eventually, I might hit a confidence ceiling that I’m unable to break through. Maybe the answer is to keep going. Or maybe it’s time to call it quits and try something new instead.
The questions I’ve been sitting in recently are: How might I rebuild and nurture my confidence? How might I shed my apprehension and hesitancy and let my true self emerge and flourish? What would it feel and look like to be unapologetically Lyle?
There are, of course, no simple answers to these questions. Perhaps I don’t ever need to answer them. Perhaps all I need do is live my life with more awareness and conviction.
Confidence has to come from within. Or, as a friend of mine once told me, “You can’t go buy more confidence at the confidence store.” If it were that easy, we’d all be overflowing with self love and acceptance, and a bunch of inspirational sports movies wouldn’t make much sense to us anymore.
That’s it. Thanks for sticking with me for so long. Know that I really appreciate you guys. And if you liked today’s essay, do let Lyle and I know by pressing the little heart button below 💙
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