Confidence in one’s self requires embracing life’s essential mystery.
French philosopher and novelist Pépin, who has extolled beauty, joy, and failure in previous books of popular philosophy, now offers a slim volume on self-confidence, broadly conceived as “confidence in others, confidence in one’s own capabilities, and confidence in life.” Although providing no evidence, the author is certain that we are all experiencing a crisis of self-confidence, caused by our loss of “direct contact with things” and even with “pinpointing our profession.” In one of many sweeping generalizations, he asserts, “being as super-connected as we are puts us all at a remove from basic doing and leaves us few concrete opportunities for developing confidence.” Pépin cites several individuals who seem to exude confidence—Madonna and Serena Williams, for example—to support his contention that having someone who trusts and encourages us builds confidence; so does honing a skill. “Among great artists,” he writes, echoing Malcolm Gladwell, “confidence comes first and above all from constant, devoted, almost obsessional practice.” Pépin, though, is interested in more than confidence in one’s ability. Through perfecting her skill as a tennis player, Williams discovered “what kind of woman she was. She understood she was the kind of person who becomes her truest self in moments of adversity.” As the author expands on his theme, confidence transcends its connection to mastery to mean “surrender” to “cosmos, God, or life.” This spiritual awakening allows us to respond authentically to nature and to beauty, trusting our feelings, with no need for experts’ validation. “Each time we recognize that something is beautiful without reference to external criteria, we are gaining confidence in ourselves,” Pépin writes. “But beauty gives us more than that: it fills us with life force and helps us find our courage.” Although drawing on many canonical writers and philosophers—Emerson, Nietzsche, Spinoza, Kant, and others—Pépin’s message is common to most self-help books: We must celebrate ourselves, “not relative to the value of others.” We are each “solitaire diamonds.”
A well-meaning paean to self-affirmation.