I have been doing some focused work on my own self-confidence and have come to some profound realizations while going through a literal shift in identity and belief in my ability. I want to share my thoughts with you because I think that many people will go through life-changing transformations and tell the story of their Before and After without acknowledging the self-confidence it took to get there.
What is Self-Confidence?
Many times, we think that self-confidence is just something that some people have, and others don’t. This isn’t true.
Self-confidence is something that can be cultivated. It is something that you can have. It is something you can generate more of. It is something that arises from a pervasive belief in yourself, a belief that is present even when there is no external evidence to prove you right. You create the evidence for this belief internally by choosing to believe in yourself in the first place. It is a necessary part of becoming someone you haven’t been before or doing something that once seemed out of reach.
A Story from My Past
Through personal observation over the years, there are things that I thought I knew about myself. Character traits that I thought were predetermined, or abilities that I thought were fixed and absolute, became a regular part of the way I identified and told my stories.
A common story I share is about how I was shy as a young student in elementary school, with a few good friends and a desire to belong. I remember having a new best friend each year, one friend whom I loved and could count on. However, the rest of my relationships took time to develop or related only to my accomplishments. As I entered into the transition years between life’s chapters (e.g. high school to college, med school to residency, etc.), I had developed meaningful relationships only to again say good-bye.
I remember being admired, and made fun of, for my grades. I was one to always follow the rules and was recognized to have humanistic tendencies, and simultaneously made fun of for being a “goody two-shoes.” I wanted to be liked. So much of what I did and tried to accomplish, in hindsight, came from a desire to just be seen, as I felt the loneliness of being left out.
I remember being invited to my first “cool kids” birthday party in third grade. I didn’t know where to stand, what to say, or how to dance. I didn’t know how I was supposed to act at school the next day. Apart from Ace of Base’s song “All That She Wants” being the highlight of the afternoon, the remainder of the details from that party are a blur to me. Yet, the physical feeling that I had at the time is still something I can recall. This is because my own brain unintentionally learned to feel small and lack self-confidence. Over time, these feelings became a part of my mental culture as my brain reinforced these thoughts again and again. My brain could only see the events in my world as confirmation of the perceived fact that I could never be good enough. I knew this feeling well.
Even into my thirties, this feeling showed up in new disguises. No matter how much I tried to hide it, the feeling shadowed part of my identity and how others saw me. Social shyness and insecurities, thoughts that I would never be good enough, self-doubt, and self-criticism were a norm. Even when I developed expertise and demonstrated accomplishment, the confidence that came from experience and practice was engulfed by imposter syndrome, which squashed any confidence that I transiently felt.
We Must Retell Our Stories in Order to Have Self-Confidence
I tell this story now as an illustration to demonstrate that our stories are just a collection of facts and our interpretations of those facts. These interpretations, occurring in the present moment, are thoughts that we are having about our pasts. The fact that we retell stories in a similar way each time is an indication that our interpretations are actually based in deeply rooted beliefs about ourselves and our world.
Self-confidence is a feeling we have as a result of thoughts that we have about ourselves. Put another way, the way we choose to think about ourselves determines whether we have self-confidence or not.
Therefore, we must note when the stories we tell about our pasts create a disempowering energy within us due to our inclusion of our negative beliefs about ourselves. Then, in order to cultivate self-confidence, we must learn to retell our stories in an empowering way – one that allows us to interpret the world such that positive beliefs about ourselves are reinforced.
Moving on to the Next Version of Myself
At the present time, there is nothing in the story I told above that defines who I am, or that I identify as real. It is simply a memory, a story of who I was for a very long time, and something that shaped me to become who I was, until I no longer chose to be that person.
When I started being coached two years ago, I started the journey of evolving myself into a new person and taking on a new identity. This was done out of necessity, because at that time I did not find it acceptable to continue to feel the way I did, nor did I think that the energy I was expending was sustainable for my health or wellness. I learned that the beliefs that I held about myself were a choice. With that small piece of awareness, the doors of possibility were opened.
In the last two years, I have taken control over my clinical practice. In saying this, I recognize that I have improved my efficiencies, but even more importantly I have gained a sense of control by changing the ways in which I see myself, my work, and my life. Seeing that control of myself is the ultimate control I can achieve, and in developing this skill, I have self-confidence.
For years I placed the development of my mind over the care of the body that took care of it; I have learned to appreciate and refocus on my body and have made huge strides in caring for it. I know that this is an area in which I will have to do the most work. I remain persistent in my actions to unlearn years of ingrained habit, as the personal philosophy (belief) of hard work and the culture of medicine have reinforced a pattern of neglecting one’s physical health within me. In knowing that I will reach my goals – no matter how long it takes, no matter what it takes – I have self-confidence.
My mind is less scattered, and I am less likely to resort to anger or sadness as a way of dealing with life’s circumstances. These feelings occur, but in more appropriate situations and more often by choice. I am more regularly able to pause following life events that are out of my control, and then be more in control my chosen reaction. In other words, my emotional resiliency has skyrocketed. Not only can I handle so much more of what life throws at me, but I can do so because I have such a strong belief that I can. In having this belief, I have self-confidence.
I have created a new identity in becoming an entrepreneur, something I had not previously thought was even a remote possibility, but which is now a reality. Life does not change by taking action alone, but by first creating belief in oneself and the possibility for something new. This requires the willingness to take on a new, more productive discomfort, in order to evolve into a new version of oneself. Knowing that I can handle the discomfort that comes during a journey into something I’ve never done before has built my self-confidence.
I look back on all that I have done and am so proud of who I am and what I have accomplished. I acknowledge that some of the choices, maybe even many of the choices I made, were done in order to be liked, or to avoid the judgement of others. It doesn’t matter now why I did what I did. All of it is still a part of me; I can own all of it and be proud of all of it. Lookingforward, I see myself as someone who knows what she wants, who knows how to decide what she wants with conviction. I set limits and boundaries so that I can preserve myself and serve only from a place of genuine joy and desire, and so I have self-confidence.
Self-confidence is all of these things. It is believing in yourself before anyone else does and before there is any reason to do so. It is knowing you can handle any emotion that comes your way, and even willingly looking for productive discomfort in order to grow yourself. It is being able to respect yourself to set limits, even when this doesn’t please others, because it will serve you and your ability to contribute more of what you were meant to in this world. It is the result of having an unwavering belief in yourself — even when attempt after attempt at reaching your goal results in a fail – because you see yourself at the finish line.