It’s been a couple of big weeks for me as I’ve been working on a topic that is very close to my heart: confidence. It’s so meaningful to me because in so many ways my journey has been one of finding my way back to confidence and truly gaining a deeper understanding of what it is and how to reclaim it for yourself. I’ve shared a lot about this in my presentation and workshop at The Practice earlier this month. The article below is an attempt to share part of my own story for those of you who were unable to join in the hopes that it will serve you.
It’s been such an interesting experience sharing my own learning from a path that in some ways still feels vulnerable to me. There is a voice within that says, who are you to do this? To share what you have learned as if you know it all. And the honest truth is, I don’t. I can only share with you what I have learned so far throughout the years of falling and getting back up again with the hope that it will bring you something. I have no doubt that the learning continues each and every day. In no way is what I share with you the only way to go, it has been my way and if it is of use to you, then so much the better.
The words I remember were ‘you are not doing a good job, I’m not happy with your performance’ – or something of the sorts. Actually, let me not give you a polished version. What I heard was –
You are crap. Your work is shit.
Honestly, I don’t actually have any recollection anymore about what was precisely said. All I remember is walking away from the conversation feeling broken. I had been working so hard, the words cut into me like a knife. This had never been said to me before. I had always been known as a professional, a hard worker, intelligent.
Pieces of my identity coming off one by one, crumbling into a pile that somewhere was supposed to resemble me.
It was the one thing that I had been most fearful of my entire life – not being good enough – and it was the only thing I heard. I literally fell apart. It seems so strange now to write this and to realize how vulnerable I was. How vulnerable it still feels to put this onto the imaginary paper of my screen for you to read.
But the reality was that I was very open to hearing those words. I had spent most of my life working so hard, trying to be everything to everyone, always wanting to be liked, always pushing myself, the never-ending quest to prove myself and be perfect. Mission impossible of course, but I certainly tried. I wasn’t all unsuccessful either. I graduated high school with good grades while attending intensive ballet training, I went to university in some of the world’s major cities: London and later on Tokyo – both ivy league of course (come on, what else would you expect from an overachiever?) and I graduated from my MA with distinction. I was lucky enough to visit a ton of beautiful places across the globe and after years of perseverance, I managed to get a job working in international development at a reputable organization – it was my dream. And until that day, I had been known to be the warm, kind, pleasant colleague who was smart, organized, got shit done and was good at her job.
Until those few words… and really, the details of what had happened do not matter. Neither does the question of whether it was true or not. (And I’ll be honest, there is still a part of me that wants to prove I was doing a great job, but that is not the point or purpose of this story.) What matters is that I learned some very painful but much-needed lessons during this time. I learned that my sense of self and my confidence were so vulnerable that I crumbled under the words spoken. Most of all, I learned:
If I don’t believe in myself, things can go very wrong.
If I don’t trust and listen to my own voice of intuition, things can go even worse.
I truly believe that there is meaning behind everything that we go through in our lives. I also believe that life is always trying to teach us something. If you don’t listen, it will create experiences for you to finally get the message.
I had been a young teenager when I suffered my first depression, the first in a range to follow over the years. Depression said to me: you are incapable of living. There is something intrinsically wrong with you, you’re a faulty model. On top of that, I am of mixed heritage, which meant that I wasn’t sure where I fit in. As an only child, I felt alone and missed a sense of belonging. It led to a pressure cooker of constant striving and trying to fit in. Forcing myself through life was almost a quest to say, I am able, I am capable, I am worthy, I belong. Yet the underlying current of not good enough stayed with me.
So life delivered what felt to me like an almighty punch in the gut. But it was what was needed to learn that enough was enough. The pushing, needing to be liked, wanting to be perfect. It was never enough. In actual fact, it could never be enough because I felt I wasn’t enough. The only reason that the words spoken to me that day had such an impact was that they echoed what I already believed myself. The fact that I fell so hard and didn’t stand up for myself only pointed to the wounds that needed to be healed.
This wasn’t a journey that just started on that day, nor did it end that day. It was just the kick up the arse that the universe provided for me. I didn’t see it as that at the time, but I’ve come to realise what a pivotal moment it was. It was the moment that I really learned how much I could hurt myself by not believing in myself.
I also learned that the people who loved me did so because of who I was not because of what I did. I had always already been enough. Even if, what I believed at the time, I had failed in a career that defined my identity. In essence, I fell flat on my face, it f-ing hurt, but the world didn’t collapse. And that was a beautiful realization.
The world keeps turning, life goes on and we have a choice to whether we allow ourselves to be defined by the events in our life or we pick up the courage again to continue.
So I chose to continue, yet this time on a different path. I chose the path of staying very close to who I am, listening to my own voice even if it was still shaky, and climbing back up again – legs like jelly and all. Most importantly, I finally had the courage to follow my dream, something I had already been working on for some time: to become a full-time coach and move to Bali. You see, as far as I was concerned, I didn’t have much to lose. The thing I had been most scared of had happened, and the world didn’t collapse even if I had temporarily. I felt I might as well take the leap and attempt what I had quietly been dreaming of anyway. I finally learned that my biggest failure would be to not try to achieve my dreams at all. To stay with a career that brought a level of security but, while meaningful, had not been entirely fulfilling to me. To really be alive meant experiencing life at its fullest, giving things my best shot – perhaps falling flat on my face again – but at least knowing that I had tried.
The biggest failure you can have in life is making the mistake of never trying at all.
And you know what? It turned out to be the best decision. While the past years have felt like a massive rollercoaster at times, I’ve never felt more fully alive, happier and on purpose as I have up to now. I feel called to this work. I’ve known it all along, I just didn’t have the courage and the confidence to listen. You see, it’s rather big to go for your calling, the stakes are high. Some would say it takes guts, but you see, there’s no choice – I don’t feel like I would want to do anything else.
This isn’t to say that the last years have been easy. We sometimes make the mistake thinking that to follow your heart and your purpose is easy. It’s not. There have been so many days that I’ve thought that I’ve lost the plot entirely. Who knows how this adventure might turn out, but whatever it is, at least I will know that I have tried and that I have lived. Fully alive, present, sometimes yelling and screaming, but always alive and learning more each and every day.
The path I have been on is one of reconnecting with and trusting the voice of intuition, of learning how to use the prowess of my mind in service of what I want to achieve and in managing the fear that inevitably comes up when we move out of our comfort zone to meet the world. Reclaiming our confidence is a profoundly personal journey for each one of us, and I believe it is deeply connected to meeting ourselves again with fresh eyes.
Who are we truly at heart? What matters to us most? What brings meaning to us? True confidence for me more than anything is making the journey back to our authentic selves.
You see, I believe we are all born as joyful, playful, confident children. Yet at some point, we lose some of this on the way to adulthood as we learn to hide those parts of ourselves that we deem unworthy of being seen (please also see “Why Confidence Matters”).
To reclaim confidence in your life can start small. It can sound and look shaky and feel awkward, to begin with. In fact, it usually does. It is the sprouting of a seed that is trying to make its way through the soil into the expansiveness of the air above. If we create the fertile ground for it to grow, and we water it with new thoughts and experiences, it can and will grow in each one of us. My personal journey has been around cultivating love and acceptance for myself and growing the seed of confidence within. Not the type of confidence that shouts loudly, but the type of confidence that says,
I know who I am and I know what I stand for
I know that I can trust myself
I know to seek my wisdom within rather than externally
I know my strengths and weaknesses
I know that I can learn so many things
I know that I have the ability to handle whatever comes my way
I know that I am supported
I know that I am capable of living fully alive and present to whatever this life has to offer
To all of you who might be doubting themselves, know that that seed of infinite confidence and potential resides within you too. While I am still learning every day and still struggle with self-doubt at times, I’m still amazed at how far I’ve come since that one day. I’ve had tremendous support along the way and I’m eternally grateful for that. I know that if I could do it with hard work, perseverance, love and support, you too can start moving beyond the limits that you impose on yourself. There are beautiful things you can create with your life. In fact, it would be a damn shame if you didn’t, isn’t that what you were here to do?
You see, I know this is not just my personal journey. I know it’s a journey for so many of us, and frankly, it upsets me to see how many amazing people hold themselves back because they don’t believe in themselves. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of not being enough – it comes up so often in coaching conversations or chats with friends. Just ask yourself this:
What have I stopped myself from doing because I didn’t have the confidence?
We allow fear to run the show, but if used wisely, fear can be your companion, a faithful partner in crime, showing you the way to immense growth and potential. So all I ask you to do now is to just believe in possibility.
Believe in the possibility that another way is possible and that you too can reclaim confidence.