No Apologies: I Changed My Default Setting From Self-Deprecating To Confident

Everything has a default setting. Sometimes it’s good – for example, I actually like the starry background that came with my iPhone. Sometimes, however, the default setting may need to be changed in order to make the product usable for your daily life. I’m assuming no one is just letting Hulu Plus play the next show, even if it’s something they would maybe watch–and if you are, that is sheer madness. Stop it.

Men and women alike seem to hold the expectation that my default setting should be modesty, even self-deprecation. This has become apparent in both my personal and artistic life.

I’m a comedian, and attempting to be one full-time. I perform a lot, and I’ve been rewarded with some great opportunities. I’m also quite used to rejection. The beautiful and awful thing about comedy is that even the best of the best can have a mediocre set.

I’ve performed to the type of laughter that makes me feel as though I’ve floated out of my body and am watching myself achieve my dreams. Whereas other shows have felt more like my dreams have died, and I’m at their funeral.

It’s a hard business, but if I didn’t think I was good I wouldn’t be trying so hard to make my living at it.

People act surprised when I believe in myself. I don’t understand this, because as a comedian, if I didn’t think I was funny, then why would I bother? Everyone who is attempting to do comedy on a professional level believes themselves to be funny, or trying to do it would be pointless.

It’s possible that I’m experiencing this more frequently now that I’ve given up on being modest, self-effacing, or insecure. This hasn’t always been the case–there were a lot of times in my past when I should have fought harder.

I had a friend of mine fall for me. He was the cute, desirable, great boyfriend type that a lot of my friends were interested in. When I mentioned that I thought he was interested in me, these were some of the reactions:

“Really? He could date anyone. Like, he could date a supermodel.”

“Are you sure? I mean I thought I saw a spark between him and Carla.”

The third reaction was primarily pitying stares.

Guess what? All those motherfuckers were wrong. That dude DID like me, we had a magical movie moment of a kiss and it was pretty cool. What wasn’t cool were people’s reactions even after the evidence that I was right started piling up.

One friend, a close friend, actually asked “I mean, are you sure he wasn’t just drunk?” You’re probably thinking, dang, maybe you just have shitty friends (possible). But the fact is, if you’re not a conventionally attractive person, people are surprised and even ill-at-ease when you display confidence. If you feel good about yourself, then who can they feel superior to?

Putting you in your place makes them feel better. I’ve had female friends talk about how fat and disgusting a certain celebrity was, a celebrity who was my size or in some cases, smaller. Calculated or not, it served its purpose of keeping me in my place. Watch a ‘friend’ like this scroll through her mind for someone she finds “acceptable” for you to date. It’s never someone she’d want to be set up with. It’s never based on common interests, but rather, her common opinion that the two of you are lesser and thus, deserve each other.

Looking back, I wish I would’ve stood up for myself more. But instead I just accepted these comments, and didn’t defend myself or just straight up tell people they were being awful, which they certainly were and they should have known it.

In my next relationship, I went the other way. I was constantly self-deprecating, even though I knew my boyfriend found me attractive. It was always clear, but I kept pushing him away because people had finally gotten to me. Maybe I wasn’t good enough. Maybe he wasn’t telling the truth. Or maybe he was, but I also shouldn’t let him know that I believed it too. This is fucked up thinking, but it’s also been around since even before the days in old movies when women would say “Oh this old thing?” about their fabulous ball gown.

When he broke up with me, one of the things that devastated me most was when he told me: “You never believe me when I tell you how beautiful you are.”

I felt like screaming “Of course I do! I always have. I just felt like I needed to hide that from you so you wouldn’t think I was conceited!”

Obviously that wasn’t the only reason we broke up, but it sucks to hear from someone who cared about you that you didn’t believe in yourself enough.

I’ve had men tell me they don’t want to date someone funnier than them. I’ve had men be offended that I would have the gall to be attracted to them, as though that somehow said something negative about them.

In the past, I’ve toned down my intelligence and humor to be more acceptable—tried to be more chill, more go with the flow. Normal pride reads as hubris to the insecure. Loving yourself is labeled conceit. I’m fucking tired of living that life.

It has taken time, but I’m in a good place where I believe that when people tell me I’m attractive, they mean it. I believe that I’m good at what I do. There’s a difference between being conceited and being confident. Conceited is thinking everyone wants you. Confidence is believing someone when they make it clear they do.

I’ve got better friends now. One good friend told me he’d punch me if I apologized to him one more time. Another supported my decision to be bitchier for my New Year’s Resolution. I quit a job I hated after realizing that I didn’t deserve to be so unhappy all the time.

Recently, a man said “You’re sure modest,” to me in a jokey, but still disapproving tone.

I said “Actually, I’m not. And I won’t ever apologize for it.”

Kristin Clifford is a comedian and writer in Chicago. You can follow her on Twitter at @kristincliff.