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Authenticity is key to building your confidence

One of the biggest pitfalls when it comes to confidence is believing that you have to feel and act confidently when you don’t. There’s this idea that if we just pretend to be confident, then things will work out.

Fake it till you make it!

Just act confidently!

All seemingly common and accepted one-liners that get thrown out there a lot, but really, they’re meaningless when you’re in the throes of self-doubt.

True and lasting inner confidence can only come from being authentic and not trying to be anyone other than who you are. If you don’t, you continue to project an image of who you think you need to be – and you simply keep on reaffirming the message that you aren’t good enough as you are.

To be confident will mean different things to different people. Confidence is a deeply personal journey that will look different for each one of us and is not an end-goal that we can get “to”. Rather it’s a continuous exploration of our own sense of self and how we relate to the outside world.

Authentic confidence must by default be deeply rooted in who you are, grounded in self-awareness and built on a foundation of your sufficiency.

For some, it may mean applying for that promotion. For others, it may mean speaking up during a meeting. And for others again, it may be learning to set clearer boundaries and prioritising your own health and well-being. So really, the question is: what does authentic confidence look like to you?

Ultimately, I believe that authentic confidence comes from a deep understanding of who you are and what matters to you most. An inner knowing and belief that says: whatever comes my way, I know I have the resources to handle any situation and I know that I can and will act on this.

What confidence is not is 100% certainty of any outcomes, not pretending to be someone who you are not, not failing or making mistakes, and it’s certainly not being fearless.

Authentic confidence doesn’t mean that you never experience doubts and insecurities about who you are and what you are capable of. Rather it’s an acknowledgement of who you are and the gamut of feelings and experiences that you have.

Rather than hiding part of who you are, it’s showing who you are – and the paradox is that the opening up of yourself actually makes you feel more confident and in integrity. When we stop suppressing the feelings of insecurity, we can in fact allow those feelings to flow through us more and we can tap into a deeper sense of self that is not clouded by thoughts of insufficiency. To feel is to be human, yet these feelings don’t need to define you or your actions.

Authentic confidence is therefore based on an acceptance of the fact that at times you may feel insecure but that you know this doesn’t need to define your actions and you can act courageously on the basis of your values and sense of purpose.  

Self-doubt often shows up in a range of negative thoughts about who we are and what we are capable of. But thoughts are simply that – while they may feel real to you, they are simply the workings of your mind. Your thoughts need not define who you are and what you are capable of and you can choose to listen or not.

While we may not be able to control our thoughts, we can control whether we act on these thoughts or not. We can take committed courageous action on the basis of our values and sense of purpose in life. We can learn to manage our response to our thoughts through mindfulness skills and we can set ourselves up for the best through self-compassion and self-care practices.

You can be afraid and brave at the same time. In fact, confidence often is a consequence of the courage that you call upon within yourself and courage, by definition, can only exist in the presence of vulnerability. The paradox is that by embracing your own insecurity and dropping the need to present yourself in a particular way, you become more confident.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela

Is self-doubt stopping you from taking the next step in your career?

What is self-doubt?

Self-doubt generally is a lack of confidence in yourself and your abilities. From my own experience and that of working with many clients on this, it can truly stop you from living the life that you desire or at the least, it makes life a lot more difficult than it needs to be. Self-doubt can drive you to ignore your dreams and ambitions, miss opportunities, not take care of yourself, and a wide range of other issues.

It often saddens me to hear the stories from clients when I start working with them. They often don’t see their own brilliance, keep pushing themselves to just work harder, don’t take up leadership opportunities, ignore their own health and wellbeing and live under the tyranny of a relentless inner critic.

While they may still be able to achieve their goals, the price they pay is high. Often overworked, the toll on their health and peace of mind is high, and what pains me the most: there is an underlying feeling that is a constant companion that drives their life: the feeling of not enough.

What opportunities in your career or outside of professional life have you missed because of self-doubt?

It can be a painful process where you just don’t feel as you are able to show up as yourself and stand powerfully in your life. It feels like your potential just can’t come out. It’s frustrating and painful, yet it’s also incredibly important to know that if you are feeling this:

  • You are not alone. Most people at some point in their lives experience self-doubt in some shape or form.
  • Your self-doubt is not indicative of your capabilities and of who you are. You are not broken.
  • There are ways of managing your self-doubt so it no longer holds you back from living the life you want and pursuing the career that you want.

Why you may lack self-belief

I believe self-doubt is inherent in the human experience. In the words of Brené Brown:

We are hardwired for connection.

Human beings, more than any other species, need love and connection in order to be able to survive, so it’s built into us to seek that connection. Self-doubt in that sense is really just a protective mechanism to keep us safe from rejection and abandonment.

Our upbringing as children, and in particular our attachment style (the blueprint for how we learned to relate to others), can play a significant role in the relationship that we have with ourselves and the outside world. Did we learn it was safe to be who we are or were there certain conditions placed upon us? What were your family of origin narratives that influenced you and how you learned to show up in the world?

You may moreover also have experienced events in your life that influenced and in some cases, scarred you. Memories from childhood, but also events in later life. We’ve all had defining moments in life that shaped us. While hopefully many of those were positive experiences, some unfortunately may have left an imprint that you still carry with you today. And while you can’t change those experiences, what you can do is to take responsibility for your life and see how you can start creating a new narrative for your life.

In addition, our cultures are rife with narratives and messages of scarcity and “not enough”. We get bombarded with messages about who we should be and what is socially accepted. In a highly connected (and disconnected) world, where lives are on full display on social media, it’s difficult not to get caught in the comparison and conformity trap. In the words of Ralph Emerson Waldo:

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.

Finally, there may also be times in life when we need to step up the game or the doors of opportunity open. When we are called to grow in some form, take up new leadership positions, open a business or present our creative work to the world, self-doubt inevitably will show up if the next step is meaningful to us. Some of the best minds in the world have done their greatest work while thinking that their work had no value. Self-doubt is a natural consequence when we are stepping into growth.

How does self-doubt show up?

So how do you know whether self-doubt is showing up for you?

Let me ask you this:

  • Do you have a strong inner critic that keeps telling you that you or your work is not enough? Feel you need to be the best at what you do and find yourself pushing and striving? Often find yourself working harder to get the job done? (Come join me in the proving yourself club)
  • Sit in your office wondering when they’re actually going to find out that hiring you was a mistake and that you just got here by luck? (why hello Imposter syndrome)
  • You just need to do a bit more, tweak things again and again. Oh, let me do some more research, actually perhaps let me get another degree or do another course.  I’m just not quite ready yet. (perfectionists unite!)
  • Do you often put your needs and desires on the backburner? Do you find yourself saying yes when you actually mean no? Boundaries huh, what? (welcome people pleaser!)
  • Do you keep “busy” but somehow the things that really matter most on your to-do list just don’t get done? Does cleaning the house just seem like a much better proposition than sitting down and actually pulling your CV together for that dream job or writing that newsletter with your latest offering? (join the club procrastinators!)
  • Just can’t move. Just can’t do anything? Feeling completely stuck? (P-p-p-paralysis)

If you answered yes to any or all self-doubt may be holding you back and making life a lot harder for than it needs to be. Knowing that this might be the case is so incredibly important. I often say, you can only change what you can see.

Making the invisible visible

Making the invisible visible is very valuable as it allows you to find ways that you can manage your self-doubt. Unfortunately, there often still seems to be quite a lot of stigma attached to the topic of self-doubt, especially in professional settings. It’s vulnerable to admit that sometimes you doubt your own abilities and is something that we are not keen to share in the workspace.

Yet opening up the conversation about this is incredibly important. Sometimes even just knowing that it is self-doubt that is leading you to procrastinate or stay stuck in perfectionism can help you to move forward. Knowing that self-doubt is common normalises your experience and allows you to move on more quickly. For others, it may need some more commitment and work to help manage your self-doubt.

What is most important however is that you know that self-doubt, while it can feel intense at times, does not need to stop you from achieving your goals, taking the next step in your career and living the life that you desire. There are tools and strategies to manage this and I look forward to sharing more of this along the way.

If you have any questions at this point or if I can support you in managing your self-doubt, I look forward to hearing from you.

The journey from self-doubt to inner confidence

When we’re stuck in the throes of self-doubt, it’s sometimes hard to believe that there is a way out. You might believe that you’re just not cut out for this, that the voice in your head is never going to quiet down and that this is simply never going to go away.

I know you’ll keep going. You’ll continue to perform, prove or please your way out of this. You keep thinking that if you can just keep pushing your boundaries, there will be a day that the inner critic who is giving an ongoing commentary on your life will just quiet down. You just need to do or be more and it will stop. The more time goes by, the more you worry that maybe there’s just something fundamentally wrong with you. Surely, one day, people will find out that you’re just a fraud.  

But then, it never ends does it?

Because you can’t out “do” your inner critic.

There’s no magical day that comes up that says “right, now you’re done, now you’ve proven that you are good enough”. And that’s exactly the problem, you’re trying to “solve” your feelings of self-doubt by working even harder. Or for others, the answer to self-doubt is just not trying at all or just to keep postponing, because you know, one day you’ll be ready.

The point is that either you’re just working up to exhaustion or you’ve given up on your dreams because you’re too scared to fail. Neither scenario is good, because truly:

You deserve to feel good.

You deserve to do the things that you desire.

You deserve to feel at peace with who you are.

I get it. I hear you.

I was you.

When I left my last job years ago at an all-time low, I had lost the confidence I had and frankly, it was already in low supply to begin with. You see, I had spent a big chunk of my life trying to fit in and belong, to feel like I was good enough. My way of trying to do so was by proving myself, trying to be “perfect” and people pleasing. The price I paid was depression and anxiety, and ultimately, becoming removed from myself and my dreams, hopes and desires for life. I had done whatever I needed to do to be “good enough” and belong. So when one day the thing happened that I was most scared of, someone thinking that I was “not good enough”, my world came crumbling down.

But what was a difficult chapter in my life, turned out to be one of the most important ones as I set ought to answer this question:

How do I find my way back to confidence?

Honestly, in the beginning I wasn’t even sure whether it was possible. It seemed like the internet was rife with quotes like these:

“If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life. With confidence, you have won even before you have started. ”

Well, that’s just great isn’t it? Defeated before I’ve even started.

But I soon learned that confidence, just like anything else, can be learned – or rather like I like to say: reclaimed.

I spent considerable time learning about what was necessary to really feel more confident in who I am, what I was capable of and perhaps most importantly, what a life on my terms looked like. Little did I know when I started coaching that the journey I was on personally would actually be the journey that informed my work the most:

The journey from self-doubt to inner confidence.

While I will be the first to put my hand up and say there are still days when my self-doubt shows up, I can honestly say that those are far and few between. Moreover, the self-doubt I experience doesn’t stop me from doing the things that I want to do. My experience of life has become so much more peaceful and joyful. The relationship that I have with myself (and others) is so much better than before and I feel that I’m living my life versus how I thought I should be living. I continue to uncover more and more layers of who I am and what I desire for my life – and I love the sense of novelty and adventure that comes with that.

Is it all roses?

Of course not, just like everyone else, there are challenging days and moments, but the big difference is that I can move through those moments more quickly. Ultimately, I feel like I can handle whatever comes my way: I feel safe with myself and I enjoy my own company. I listen to what I need and I take care of myself. And if challenges do arise, as they inevitably do, I know that I will find a way to tackle those. In short:

I’ve come home to myself and found a deep sense of belonging within myself.

The road to inner confidence isn’t a straight line from A to Z, it’s layered and complex but so incredibly valuable. It’s a deeply personal journey that is different for everyone, but below are some of the steps that I believe are important elements in each of our journeys:

  • Building self-awareness and a deeper connection to yourself

I believe we all came into this world confident and bursting at the seams with potential. We didn’t run around as small children asking:

Who do I need to be to belong? Am I getting this right? Am I good enough?

We just simply were. Period. Nothing we needed to be do or do until the messaging about who we thought we needed to be from our parents, communities and societies started to be layered on top.

The better you become at adapting yourself to others, the more you can get removed from who you are. As such, it becomes incredibly important to get to know yourself again and really build a sense of self again:

What do I like?

What do I think?

What do I feel?

What do I want?

Developing this stronger set of self is key. If we don’t truly know ourselves, then how we can design a life that is authentically ours?

The work then isn’t really to do anything different, but rather to connect more deeply to your being: to understand who you are, what you stand for and what matters most to you.

The work is to be so deeply rooted in yourself that no matter what the winds of change bring, there is a core of stability within you and you are guided by your own inner voice. The better you know yourself, the easier it becomes to make decisions that are aligned with who you are and how you want to show up in this world.

  • Healing the wounds within

A critical piece of the work is to understand what prevents you from feeling like you’re good enough to begin with – and to bring healing to some of those stories. This is deep work, but an essential part of reclaiming your confidence. If you don’t heal the wounds that lead you to believe that you aren’t good enough to begin with, no mindset work, goal-setting and action planning is going to cut it in the long-run. It’s like putting on a band-aid, but you never really heal the wounds underneath.

This doesn’t have to mean years of psycho-analysis and digging at all, but having an understanding of why we behave in the way that we do offers a pathway of change:

only when you can see your behavioural patterns and why you engage in this way, then can you truly making lasting transformations.

  • Self-care and self-compassion practices

Another important element of making the journey to inner confidence is to understand how you can treat yourself with more compassion and care so that you can flourish.

Just like a plant, the more you water yourself with love and compassion, the firmer the roots will take hold and the stronger you will grow.

This work is really about prioritising the relationship you have with yourself and putting yourself at the centre of your life. This is also generally what many of the clients I work with struggle the most, because they’ve taught themselves that to do so is selfish.

One of the most important mindset shifts you can make is to understand that you are deserving of the same love and care you give to others AND that your self-care serves others. You can’t support others if you are running on empty.

To prioritise the relationship you have with yourself means to live from the inside out, i.e. making conscious choices of how you want to show up to the world and what you need for you to be the best version of yourself. Being kind and caring towards yourself essentially means that you create a space of safety and security for your authentic self to show up with more courage so that you can move into action, learning and growth – confidence’s kryptonite. 

  • Learning to redirect your thoughts into a mindset of growth and courage

Confidence just like anything else can be learned and is a consequence of our courage and the competence we build over time. The more we step out of our comfort zone and the more often we practice our skills, the more confident we become.

What is critical then is the mindset that you cultivate that allows you to show up with more courage and with an openness to learn new skills.

Do you believe that you can learn whatever you set your mind to and do you see effort and failure as essential parts of your learning process? Or rather as indicators of your own inadequacies?

What I’m describing above is essentially Carol Dweck’s important work on the so-called growth versus fixed mindset. By learning to adopt a more growth-oriented mindset, i.e. by focusing on the process of learning rather than on the outcome, you will learn to tackle challenges and build new skills, all important elements in building your confidence.  

  • Managing fear and taking action

Ultimately, action is what builds confidence – there is no other way. The feelings of confidence come after the actions of confidence.

That means that there will always be a time when we experience a certain level of self-doubt and we must show up courageously. What matters is how we manage that fear and the type of relationship we have with fear.

The end game isn’t about being fearless, there is no such thing, but rather about developing a different relationship with fear and perhaps even learning to welcome it. Fear can be a powerful compass that helps guide you. I’ve come to learn that whenever fear shows up, it means that I’m actually heading into the right direction. Because I know that whenever you choose to grow, fear will accompany you. It’s your choice how you interpret that fear, how you relate to it and how you let fear determine your actions or not.

These are what I believe are some of the critical pieces in the journey from self-doubt to inner confidence. Exactly what that journey looks like for you will be slightly different but my hope is that this is an adventure that you will start. Because you see, you deserve to feel good and to be at peace, to live your life in the way that you want to, to pursue your passions and be happy. Self-doubt can truly stand in the way of these things, but it doesn’t have to. You can become the confident person that you deserve and long to be.

My hope is that my journey can help inform yours – and if I can support you in any way, please do feel free to reach out.

The Letters: to infinity and beyond

Infinity.

That’s the word my client Laura chose after I asked her:

If you were guided by a word, what would it be?

This is a question that I’ve been known to ask people and I’ve had some amazing responses over the year. But this one really blew me away.

Why I asked her, what does this mean to you?

Because it reminds me that my worth is infinite. 

My worth can’t be expressed in words or numerical values. When I know my worth is infinite, it helps me to stay deeply rooted within myself, to follow my intuition, to trust myself, to speak up and most importantly, to believe in myself and not sell myself short in any way.

I was stunned to hear these words from her. You see, when I first started working with Laura, she was a rather shy and withdrawn young woman with big ambitions. She lacked the confidence to put herself out there however. Tormented by an insistent inner critic, she would continuously doubt herself and was very hard on herself. This is what often happens when you doubt your own abilities. You believe that by being hard on yourself, you’ll just “get things done”.

Sound familiar at all?

It’s certainly one way of motivating yourself and sometimes it works. The cost is high however, harsh judgement is often followed by even more anxiety. So what Laura and I worked on was improving the relationship she had with herself through self-compassion and self-care practices. And guess what, this proved to be the fertile ground for her to grow her confidence over time.

So much so that she realised she was ready for her next career step. Now Laura is ambitious, she was already working in the international development field and she wanted a position that would give her even more influence. Through intense preparation from her side and support in how to present herself confidently and authentically from me, I’m incredibly proud to say that she got a new job at one of the leading foundations in the world.

You want to know one of the best parts?

One of the interviewers commented on how she had met Laura a few years ago and that she had developed into a calm, confident woman who really had something important to share with the world. Goosebumps right?

This wasn’t an overnight process, nor did this mean that Laura didn’t experience any self-doubt. One of the main things she realised was that it was ok to be scared.

Rather than seeing her self-doubt as something that needed to be “pushed away” or “fixed”, it was something in her that needed her love and attention. What mattered most was how she responded to herself. Rather than being her own worst critic, she became her own best supporter. 

Most importantly, she knew deeply within herself that regardless of whether she got the job or not, her worth didn’t depend on it. And to me that was truly the biggest victory.

How would your life change if you treated yourself with love and compassion? 

To infinity and beyond dear beautiful one!

With love,
Naomi

PS: The Letters are a compilation of personal letters to my mailing list, which cover a wide range of issues relevant to the topic of confidence and worthiness. If you’d like to receive The Letters, please sign up for my newsletter. There’s a subscription box on the right-hand side of this post! And I promise, no spam, your inbox is very valuable to me!

How to find belonging: the journey home

Note: This is a follow-up on my previous post The mixed-race experience: the search for belonging.

It took me a long time to find a sense of true belonging, but the irony is that it was always right here.

I looked for belonging externally, only to find it deep within myself: knowing that whatever happens, I’ve got my back.

What that means is that you can find a deep sense of belonging within rather than looking for it outside of yourself through achievement, approval and all of the other external “goodies”. It means you put yourself at the centre of your life and at an equal footing with others. It also means taking responsibility for yourself and doing whatever is necessary to take care of yourself in the best way. You give yourself what you need and you stop waiting for someone else to take over. You get to be your biggest cheerleader, parent and caregiver.

Practices to cultivate a sense of belonging

I’ll be the first to admit that this is a lifelong practice – and like everyone else, I’m right there on this journey with you. I’ve outlined some of the practices that I feel have been most important in cultivating that feeling of home within myself:

  • Belonging must start from self-awareness: get to truly know yourself. Spend more time on your own, explore your likes and dislikes, your hopes, dreams and desires, start getting to know what feels good for you and what doesn’t – body, mind and soul.

Be patient, this is the process of a lifetime. There’s no endpoint here that you’re working towards. Self-awareness literally is a process where you uncover more and more of yourself as you dedicate time to this. Some of the tools that I have found incredibly helpful here are journaling, meditation, and working with therapists and coaches.

  • Set up a range of rituals to help you stay deeply connected to yourself. For me, that means I like to start my day with making my coffee, meditation, journaling and reading. See what works for you. It doesn’t have to be in the morning either. What is most important is that you create sacred time just for yourself, to check in and see how you are, to connect to all that is important to you so that you can make sure you are prioritising the things that are meaningful to you. 
  • Put your self-care at the centre of your agenda: what do you need to feel at your best? Taking care of your own needs – and knowing that you are safe in your own hands – is one of the most important things you can do for yourself.  And yes, sometimes also one of the hardest things. We often come up against various arguments why our self-care isn’t a priority and that it’s somehow selfish.

“What do you mean what do I need? I have no clue?”

Yep, I’ve heard this come up from time to time with clients. Why not do a short bodyscan? Sit or lie down, close your eyes and focus your awareness to the crown of your head and then slowly scan from top to bottom through your body. How do you feel? Do you feel any strain anywhere? Any aches or pains? Simply bring awareness to your feelings, what’s coming up for you?

  • Speak kindly to yourself. Feeling safe with yourself is one of the most important things in finding belonging within yourself. How you speak to yourself is incredibly important in this. Frankly, most of us do a crap job of this. We’re often much better at treating others with love and kindness than we are for ourselves. Become aware of how you speak to yourself and replace your harsh and critical tone with encouraging and supportive words. This might feel strange in the beginning, but I promise you, it will make ALL the difference.

“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.”

  • Put your I before the WE and advocate for yourself: again, this must come from a place of self-awareness: What do I need? What do I think? What do I want?

It may mean that you need a bit more time to explore what your answers are to these questions are. If you don’t have the answers just yet, that’s ok. You can simply start by taking out a bit more time for you to answer these questions for yourself. Rather than asking everyone else for their opinion immediately, ask yourself first.

  • Take responsibility for yourself, become self-directed and validate yourself. Without realising it, you can sometimes give away your power and look outside of yourself for the answers that only you can provide yourself. If you’re not aware of your values and your priorities (yes hello self awareness!), it’s so much easier to get distracted by what you believe “others” want from you. Many of us still look to others for permission and approval. This is a natural tendency that we all have, yet it keeps us looking outside of ourselves rather than within.
  • Set boundaries that delineate what is OK for you and what not. Boundaries are hard work sometimes, but oh so important in cultivating a stronger sense of self and taking care of yourself. Boundaries are challenging for us recovering people pleasing empaths (I hear you!) because we’re so aware of the other person and we fear we may upset someone. However, not setting boundaries means you run the risk of betraying and upsetting yourself, and it’s critical to know that you can trust yourself. Setting boundaries doesn’t necessarily mean anyone gets upset (although sometimes it will), and it can be a beautiful way of safeguarding your relationships, including the one you have with yourself.

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.”

Brené Brown
  • Stop hiding who you are and learn to accept all of who you are. In the process of “fitting in” we often disown certain parts of ourselves that we deem not good enough. In this way, we make our enough-ness conditional and may hide parts of who we are. True belonging can only happen if you show up to the world fully and bring into the light your so-called “shadow” parts. You may never completely love all of it, but understanding that you are human, just like everyone else might help you to accept yourself more.

As said, these are all practices: you must commit to these each and every time – and by no means are these necessarily easy. These practices will inevitably get you to the edge of what feels comfortable and you will run into resistance. That’s ok: your edge will show you what might need further healing.

Why should you do this work?

Having a deep sense of belonging is a fundamental human need and I believe it is critical to our sense of happiness and wellbeing. The relationship that you have with yourself is the most important one that you have. If you are somehow in disharmony with yourself, you can’t fully show up for anything else in life. You may be wildly successful at work or in your social life, but if at heart, you are not happy with yourself, none of the other happiness indicators matter.

The journey back home to yourself and finding true belonging within yourself is one of the most important journeys you can make. It’s the journey that marks my work in the most profound way and in many ways I believe is the work that I am meant to do.

I’ve come to realise that so many of us feel separate, often for many different reasons. And if that is you, I just want to let you know this: ⁣

I’ll be different with you, each one of us in our own way, united in what it simply means to be beautifully human. You are home. You always have been and you will always be, because that which you have sought outside of yourself lives within you.⁣
⁣Hello my friend, welcome home. ⁣

I hope this series of posts has served you (please also see The mixed-race experience: the search for belonging) and I’d love to hear from you! Send me a note at info@naomisaelens.com or leave a comment below.

The mixed race experience: the search for belonging

A lack of belonging

Belonging – the word itself carries so much in it, yet it’s a space I didn’t allow myself for a long time.

From an early age I was taught to not take up space: be quiet, be good, be nice. Don’t upset people. Keep everyone happy. It was something I was so naturally good at. You see, I spent a big chunk of my life trying to keep the peace and fit in.

I’m mixed race. Hāfu is what they call me in Japan (literally meaning half). Een halfbloedje (half blood) in Dutch. Too white, too Western and too tall to be seen as Japanese. My eyes a defining feature of my non-whiteness. My tendency to hide my feelings, to not speak up and conform – hallmarks of a culture that emphasises the importance of the group.

By definition, I was never meant to fit in. One leg in, one leg out. Where did I belong?

It wasn’t until relatively recently that I realised how deeply this has affected me. I have often felt a deep loneliness. The loneliness that looked for belonging and recognition in and from others. The loneliness that longed to hear these words: I belong to you.

I’m Japanese.

I’m Belgian.

I’m Dutch.

I’m British.

(and yes, all of these apply to me in some way or other)

As an only child, I didn’t have siblings to share my journey with and my parents didn’t fully understand what my experience as a mixed-race child, growing up in a predominantly white environment, felt like. How could they?

At the time, there were few people around me that shared the same experience. To some degree, I think I was even unaware how this feeling of separation impacted me until fairly recently. The lack of belonging meant that I felt different from others – and different to me felt like less than.

While I believe the world has changed vastly from when I was born, and there is so much more diversity around us (hallelujah!), I’ve come to realise that this feeling of separation, of being different, is something that so many of us experience for different reasons. I’m writing about this now in the hope that my experience of it can serve others in some way.

So what does a sense of belonging really mean?

“Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

– Brené Brown

One of the ways that we often define ourselves is through our nationality, race or family of origin.

But what happens when you don’t neatly fit into one of the boxes? When you’re the in-between space? The “other”?

My lack of belonging wasn’t simply by being mixed race. In many ways, I have often felt I didn’t belong as a woman or as a sensitive soul in this world dominated by a preference for the masculine and rational. In fact, so many of us feel like we don’t belong, often for many different reasons. This feeling different can result in the feeling of not being good enough.

In what ways do you feel like you’re “not good enough” or perhaps even “too much” of something?

My lack of belonging resulted in an ongoing search for belonging outside of myself. I kept looking for ways that I could “DO” my way into belonging – that place that unconditionally says: you are good enough to be part of that mythical place of US. A long list of “shoulds” that said: if you do, be or have enough of this, then you will be loved.

The problem with that?

I got further and further removed from who I truly was. Adapting and molding myself to whoever I thought I needed to be for others and in the process I lost myself. I developed an underlying feeling that said: you are not good enough as you are. To be different from others felt like less than. And perhaps most importantly, I never deeply experienced true love and acceptance for who I was.

And this is the key risk:

When you don’t dare to show who you truly are, you will also never experience what it’s like to be loved for who you are – and you mistakenly believe that you need to project some external image in order to be loved.

Tell me, what’s the image that you are portraying to the outside world?

What are the signs of not belonging?

I have spoken to a number of people who shared their experience of being mixed race. What follows below are some of the common characteristics that I saw in myself and have heard come up for others:

  • You’re so good at adapting, you don’t actually feel connected to yourself anymore and you start feeling inauthentic. This disconnection can lead to an unawareness of your own needs, feelings and desires. My past tendency would have been to always ask the others first, what do you want? Then I’d fit in.
  • You disown the parts of yourself that you don’t deem good enough or worthy. For me, this actually meant that I disowned most of my Japanese heritage. As a child that meant that at some stage I refused to speak Japanese or go to Japanese school (interestingly, I did however decide to study Japanese at university as part of my search for my “roots”.)
  • You walk the tightrope between being good enough to belong, but also not too good so you don’t stand out. You see, they are two sides of the same coin: you’re trying to fit in so you don’t want to risk standing out by being worse or better than anyone else. It’s like a constant heightened awareness of how others perceive you. Sound familiar anyone?
  • You focus on maintaining the relationship between people. This can be a beautiful thing, but can be risky if you don’t speak up for what you need, think or feel to safeguard the relationship. I became a master of focusing on the other person, whilst not taking up my own space. There’s a questioning inside that says: is it ok for me to be here and who do I need to be in order for me to belong?

Focusing on the other person was a fail-proof way of getting the other person’s approval: yes, I like you, you belong here. Typical behaviour that can show up as part of this:

  • Being overly diplomatic
  • Not advocating for yourself
  • Not voicing your opinion
  • Not setting boundaries
  • People pleasing
  • Or interestingly, the opposite: you stay away from people and building more intimate connections. The idea that other people won’t “get” you anyway or couldn’t truly  understand you. There’s a real risk of even losing yourself more when entering into intimate relationships, so one strategy could be to stay away! Real intimacy requires you to show up authentically and vulnerably – and to do that requires self-acceptance, one of the key things that you may miss.
  • You focus on helping others feel at home or part of the group. You may project your own pain of exclusion on others and don’t want anyone else to experience the same.

All of these traits are on a continuum, and as with most things, these traits are not necessarily bad at all. In fact, there are many positive sides to these. My experience has really cultivated a deep sense of empathy and awareness of other people, I’m great at cultivating harmony in groups and fostering teamwork as well as building relationships of any type.

But to own these, we must also see when they become “risky”. For me the biggest risk was losing myself in a quest for belonging and when you do that, you risk “true belonging” as you can only ever experience that when you are really fully yourself.

So how do we make the journey toward belonging?

Please stay tuned for part 2 of this series! In the meantime, I’d love to hear what this blogpost brought up for you. Please feel free to email me at info@naomisaelens.com or leave a comment below!

Life coach Amsterdam online

How do you treat yourself?

How do you speak to yourself?

My guess is probably not very well.

In fact, would you ever treat a friend in the same way?

For many of us, the answer is no. The reality is that we often treat ourselves much more harshly than we would ever treat anyone else. 

Self-compassion is probably one of the tools I work with most and hands-down can have the biggest effect on people – present company included. It took me a long time to even be able to use the words. It was such a foreign concept that for a long time, my response was: 

What do you mean be kind to yourself?

Self-compassion – what is it really?

Self-compassion relates to our ability to be accepting, kind and loving to ourselves, welcoming and befriending our emotional and physical suffering. 

Or simply said:

It’s being kind to yourself

And while it’s often a foreign concept, we actually know what to do. 

What do you do for yourself? 

Let me take a guess.

If you’re faced with some challenging feelings, you might tell yourself “to just get over it”. You tell yourself you’re weak or that you shouldn’t be feeling what you’re feeling. Actually, you might add another layer on top of judgement and make yourself feel stupid for feeling what you’re feeling.

Something like that? Tell me, how’s that working for you?

Thought so. It works – to a degree. But it’s not sustainable and frankly, it feels crap. 

So why do we do this?

We’ve often been raised to believe that being tough will allow us to achieve our goals – moreover, there is a strong cultural narrative that being kind to ourselves is a form of self-pity, weakness or that it’s selfish. 

In fact, none of these things are true and in fact, it has been proven that self-compassion actually leads to greater agency and responsibility, increased resiliency and is a far stronger motivator than self-judgement and punishment. And honestly, it just feels so much better. 

How do you start being kinder to yourself?

Start with becoming aware of how you treat and speak to yourself. So often, we live our lives on autopilot and aren’t even aware of the relationship we have with ourselves:

  • What do you typically judge and criticize yourself for?
  • How do you speak to yourself? What type of language do you use? 
  • How do you feel when you are critical or harsh on yourself? How does it change your behaviour?

There are various ways to be kinder to yourself, and one of the easiest shortcuts is to answer this question when you notice that you are suffering:

How would I treat a good friend?

You take time out for them. You listen. You empathize. You say something caring or comforting. There might even be a hug thrown in somewhere (guaranteed with me, so if you’re need – come on over!).

Give it a try and see how this changes things for you. In the beginning this can feel a little awkward, especially as you might not be used to it, but as with anything, with practice you can improve. And be compassionate even in the practice of self-compassion! 

Life coach Amsterdam online

The inner critic sounds something like this:

You’re never going to amount to anything. 

You can’t do this. 

Nobody wants you here. 

You don’t have anything new to say. 

Who do you think you are?

Ouch!

Yep, that’s some of what my inner critic used to throw at me – and occasionally still does. 

The inner critic is the voice of not good enough. 

We all have some version of this inner voice and if we want to grow and develop – and perhaps most importantly, find freedom – this is the voice that we must learn to manage. 

Your inner critic is like the guest that showed up to the party uninvited. As much as you’d like to chuck them out, sometimes it’s just better to keep the peace. Because here’s the challenge:

The more you focus your attention on the inner critic, the stronger it gets. The more you fight it, the more it starts pushing back. The more you ignore it, the more it starts asking for your attention.

So what do you do?

  • Understand that your inner critic is only trying to keep you safe. Its intentions are good, but its execution lacks a bit to be desired. It can be helpful to ask your inner critic: what are you trying to protect me from? Get a little curious.
  • Know that your inner critic is most likely going to pipe up when you’re about to do something that is really important to you. So sometimes it means you can actually use that voice as a guide. Louder inner critic? You’re on to something! 
  • Have a little fun with it – turn it into a character, change the tone of its voice. When I went to Tony Robbins last year, he had us stick two fingers up our nose and then say whatever it was that our inner critic was saying. Trust me, you won’t be able to take it seriously after that! 
  • Don’t do what it tells you to do. The inner critic is just a voice. Its words are simply thoughts. Create some more distance by simply observing the thoughts. It can help to note the voice: “I’m having the thought that … I’m never going to be able to do this.” More distance, less impact. 
  • Turn up the volume of love. The inner critic is really just like a small child. It just wants to be heard. There’s another part of you that is much wiser, compassionate and loving. Speak to yourself from that place of love, be gentle and kind. Thank your inner critic and let it know that you are safe. Nothing scary is going to happen, you’ve got this.
  • Connect to the present moment. The voice in your head somehow either brings you back to the past, or propels you into the future with images of what could go wrong. But if we really connect to the present moment, there’s often a realization that nothing scary is truly happening right now. The easiest way to connect to the present moment? Your breath. A simple couple of deep belly breaths can already offer great release. 

The reality is that we all have an inner critic and really, you don’t need to take it so seriously. It’s a part of you that is trying to keep you safe and if you change your attitude towards it, you might actually see that it only has good intentions. In fact, it’s there because it cares deeply for you.

When you stop fighting with it and give it the care that it’s, in fact, asking for, you will notice quite quickly the voice will start toning down and it shows up less frequently. There might even come a time when you understand where it’s coming from and perhaps even welcome it! With a little re-education, this might just be the start of a beautiful friendship. 

Live life on your own terms and be true to yourself

I’m amazed at the ease with which we throw out words into the world sometimes. Live your best life! Just be yourself!

Hey, I’m guilty of this too sometimes. It’s so easy to want to squeeze life lessons into some catchy words so you can meet the character count of FB, Instagram or Twitter. 

Catchphrases that can inspire momentarily but really we underestimate their significance by trying to capture them into brief, and sometimes, hollow statements. 

Because it’s not always that easy – and any effort to make it sound easier than it is can leave you wondering why you just can’t get it right. There must be something wrong with me no? Otherwise, I’d “just do it”, right?

No, and let’s just be clear: there isn’t anything wrong with you. There’s nothing that needs to be fixed or sorted out. It just means you are human. 

It ain’t always that easy people. 

We can have the best intentions, the greatest motivation, the right mindset AND there will likely be bumps in the road. Because life and change by nature can be challenging – and that’s ok. 

Live life on your own terms! This sounds great, AND the reality is in practice it can be hard. So what does it truly mean?

To live life on your terms requires you to truly know who you are, and to set up your life according to your priorities. It requires you to show up courageously because sometimes you have to go against the status quo. 

As creatures of comfort, it’s a place many of us don’t particularly enjoy. There’s safety in numbers – and hey, what if it turns out that I got it all wrong? 

To live life on your own terms means to live and be driven from a place of (self)love rather than fear. Sometimes you will have to make difficult choices and take courageous steps aligned with who you wish to be – even when others may not understand. 

The thing that gets in the way most is fear in its various forms: 

What will people think of me? Am I good enough? What if I fail?

But what you really need to ask yourself is this: 

Do I live my life according to what I believe others want for me or do I live on my terms? Do I define success in societal norms or do I define success in my own authentic way? 

I think you know my answer and I know this isn’t always easy. It can get lonely and you might question yourself. But true empowerment comes from living from the inside out. When you experience doubt, it is then that you must show up for yourself with the most loving, courageous, and warm heart. 

The heart that says: be true to me. 

The Letters: You are enough

Dear beautiful one,

I am enough.

3 simple little words. Yet so powerful. How would your life change if you finally understood that you are and always have been enough? That your worth is unconditional of what you do, what you look like and who you know. Yet this is one of the things we often struggle with most. You see, we’ve learned to make our worth conditional. As if it depended on what we do for a living, how much money we make, how thin we are, the clothes we wear, even the busyness of our schedules.

I know I’ve done it. My worth was measured by the grades I got in school, the jobs I got afterwards, the salary I earned, the number of friends I had, how many likes I got on a post and whatever else I could think of. A busy social calendar meant that something was right with me, no? Frankly, it’s exhausting.

Have you ever noticed how exhausted people are, trying to continuously be and do more. Until…  when exactly? When is it enough? When are we enough?

When are you enough?

My go-to methods for proving my worth were being liked by everyone and trying to excel in my work. Until I didn’t and one day I was told I was doing a crap job. I believed that story and I fell to pieces. The one thing that I was most scared of happened: I wasn’t good enough.

And yet… while it felt as if the world came tumbling down, I actually realised nothing really changed, nothing that truly mattered: I was loved despite what seemed to me to be a catastrophic failure. It was at once one of the most difficult and the most beautiful episodes in my life.

Something shifted. Slowly the realisation came: I am enough whatever happens. I always have and always will be enough. And perhaps more than anything, I started to learn that I belonged here no matter what. That isn’t to say that there aren’t days that I still struggle with feeling a true sense of belonging but I know I am on the right path.

I want this for you too. You know, Marianne Williamson says that miracles are a shift in perception. I believe this is one of the biggest miracles:

To understand that you always have been and always will be enough.

How would your life change once you know you are enough?

With love,

Naomi