“The most important thing a girl wears is her confidence.”
Like many young women in this world, throughout my life I have struggled with insecurity and the ability to feel confident in myself. I’ve spent a lot of time in my life feeling like I need other people to make me feel validated. I’ve felt like I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t smart enough, wasn’t pretty enough… I’ve felt like, without the love and approval of others, I was worthless.
Like with many young girls, these feelings really came about in the ever-awkward stage of life that is adolescence. It’s like you go to middle school and all of a sudden you’re surrounded with girls who seem so much older and so much cooler than you. It’s like everything you thought you knew about yourself and the world around you is suddenly proven to be incorrect, invalid, and just plain silly. It’s like being thrown into an ocean without knowing how to swim, and now you have to fight to keep your head above water just to prove your worth to the people around you. Just to be accepted.
Middle school is rough, and I think it has a very bad effect on young people. I fought my way through middle school with these newly found feelings of self-doubt, and I carried them with me through high school and even college. I would fight my way through the feelings, trying to find my own sense of value and self-worth from others, and my happiness in external sources. This worked for a while. And for a while I’d feel okay again. But every now and then my feelings would push their way back to the surface, happening most often whenever I was alone. So I thought, okay, as long as I surround myself with others and keep up with an active social life, I’ll be okay.
Well, as it turns out, living that way can be pretty exhausting, especially for someone who tends to be on the introverted side of the spectrum.
If I’m being completely honest, my struggle with valuing my own self-worth probably started a lot earlier in my life. Before middle school. I think that’s probably the case for most people. I just think that being an awkward adolescent in middle school kind of perpetuates the problem.
My struggle with self-doubt actually started in elementary school, where I was put in the care of America’s public school system educators. Educators who made me feel like I wasn’t as smart as my classmates. Educators who never gave me the chance to prove to them, and to myself, that I was more than meets the eye. Instead, they treated me like someone who was incapable. And all because I had a delay in the development of my fine motor skills (which was probably related to the fact that I was too busy pretending to be a dinosaur, an astronaut, a scientist, or something else really cool to bother with figuring out how to button my damn shirt).
I always believed in myself when I was really young. I was overflowing with self-confidence. Then, one day, in my fragile child-like state, I was told, you can’t.
I can remember the day that everything sort of clicked. I was twenty-three years old, I was working in a call center, and I was thinking about going to graduate school. But I was afraid. I was afraid that it was going to be too hard and that I was going to fail. Somehow, that got me thinking about all the things I didn’t do in life because I was afraid. Because I didn’t think I was smart enough, or pretty enough, or talented enough, or good enough, or whatever. The list was long. And I traced it all the way back to the third grade and the first time I ever wanted to try something that I knew would be hard—the first time I was faced with the “reality” that I wasn’t good enough, because my teacher told me I couldn’t. I was deprived of the chance to try something, and maybe fail, or maybe succeed, because my teacher didn’t believe in me. I asked again and again, and each time my teacher said “no.” Then, one day, the teacher told me that I could try the thing I wanted to do, if/when my handwriting improved. Something that he knew wouldn’t happen because of my delayed development in motor skills. Something that I knew wouldn’t happen. And I don’t think I recognized it at the time, but that was the first time I was ever made to feel like I wasn’t good enough.
I don’t blame my teachers for making me feel devalued. I don’t think it was something that they meant to do. I think that in their minds, they were doing what was best for me. I think they thought they were protecting me from failure and disappointment. But those are not things that we need to be protected from. They are actually things that we need to experience in life. Things that we need to overcome.
So there I was, twenty-three years old and recognizing for the first time that I had been continuing a cycle that began back in the third grade. I had been depriving myself of the opportunity to try things, because I was afraid of failure. I had been perpetuating my own lack of self-confidence.
I was twenty-three years old, and I decided that I didn’t want to feel the way I was feeling anymore. I wanted to feel good about myself. I wanted to believe in myself. I wanted to try things. And for once I decided that I wanted to take my own side instead of everyone else’s.
So, I did.
I decided I was going to start trying new things. I was going to start believing in myself more. I was going to find value in myself no matter what other people thought of me. I started telling myself that I was strong, confident, capable, and beautiful. I would say this to myself each night before I went to sleep. I would shut out the world and focus on those words whenever I started feeling overwhelmed. Whenever things got difficult. I reminded myself that I was all of those things, and those words became my mantra.
It wasn’t long before I started to accomplish things that I never imagined I could do. I had always wanted to live a healthy lifestyle, to be able to run long distances, build muscle, have abs, and things like that. So I set my goals and before I knew it I could run five miles. I was eating a clean and natural diet, and I was feeling great. I was building muscle all over, and I even got to a point where I could see my abs. After that, I started pursuing other goals, some of which I accomplished, and some of which I didn’t. But I was okay with that.
My confidence was soaring. I had never felt so good about myself, ever. I was feeling better about who I was as a person and where I was in life. But, most importantly, I was starting to believe the words I was saying to myself everyday.
I am strong, I am confident, I am capable, and I am beautiful.
I started carrying myself differently and people started looking at me differently. Creating a mantra and working hard to believe in myself and my ability to accomplish my goals completely changed my life. It completely changed me. I look at the world differently now. I look at myself differently. If there’s something I want, I no longer sit around and wish for it. I no longer think of myself as the kind of person who could never get the things I wanted. I no longer look at myself as “not worthy.” I go after it, because I know I am worth it. And not because other people believe that I am, but because I do.
Lacking self-confidence is a good way to guarantee yourself a life that is less-than; it’s a great way to invite self-hatred into your life, and it’s a sure way to feel incomplete. The sad thing is so many of us lack the confidence we need to live the kind of life we want. To live a life that’s full of happiness and love and acceptance that all come from within.
I was lucky. I was able to identify the things that were contributing to my feelings of worthlessness and recognize that they weren’t true. I was able to identify that I had the ability to turn my life around all along. Most importantly, I was able to figure out how to do it.
We all have demons that we have to fight with everyday. We all have different reasons for feeling worthless. We all have different experiences. But we all have the ability to kick our demons in the ass.
[Photo credit to Alex Wilson]
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