People who know me do not immediately classify me as insecure. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I have never tried weed (even though I have lived in Amsterdam most of my life), I don’t wear make-up and I dress the way I like. I cannot remember the time I caved to group pressure to do something that I really did not wish to do… I believe the last time was when I was about 9 years old. I have always had a very strong sense of self. Other than on stage or in drama class I never pretended to be someone that I am not. I have always only been me.
And yet, despite knowing who I am and never pretending to be otherwise, I lack confidence. MASSIVELY. Yes, you can be yourself and still be completely insecure in being it. Don’t get me wrong, I have slowly been gathering confidence over the years, but it still needs a heck of a lot of work… So, I have decided I am going to start a project for myself: Project Confidence (I like the double meaning in it).
So why am I insecure? I am not going to bore you with the details about being teased as a child in primary school for being overweight or having a head the colour of a tomato when I was warm. Yes this left its scars, but I have not had it nearly as tough as some of my readers probably have had it. I had friends and never felt completely isolated. I probably came home crying once or twice, but definitely not every day, every week or even every month. The kids did not make me perfectly miserable. But that does not mean that the comments they made did not leave any scars. It somehow left me with the feeling that I was different and that I did not quite fit in.
There is, however, one event that took place whilst I was still in primary school, though it happened outside of school, that I would like to share with you. This had a really big impact on me. I have not shared this story with a lot of people… If I have ever shared it at all.
When I was about 8 or 9 years old I went to an open air swimming pool with two friends from school and their parents. We were having fun jumping into the water off of a little bridge making all sorts of crazy faces and poses. As I was attempting to climb up the side of the pool, I suddenly felt my leg being pulled down, causing me to scrape my knee against the side of the pool. As I looked around in wonder why anyone would do such a thing, I was confronted by two boys. One of them was a white kid with blonde hair who was rather broad and big. Honestly, he was the absolute stereotype of what a bully usually looks like in cartoons and movies. He evidently was the one who pulled at my leg. Next to him stood a skinny, slightly tanned boy with brown hair. When I asked why they did that the skinny kid was immediately up in my face telling me how I had brought that on to myself, because I had smiled at him. Yes, I had the audacity to give him a smile. I distinctly remember him saying the following words in Dutch: “Only pretty women can smile at me”.
I was dumb founded. First of all, I had not noticed him and his friend at all. Why you may ask? Because I was wearing goggles to protect my eyes from chloride. Now if any of you have ever worn goggles, you know that when you are going in and out of the water every 30 seconds they tend to get more than a little foggy. In other words, I couldn’t see more than about two feet in front of me. But try to explain that to a tiny, skinny fellow who is evidently having a power trip. Yeah, not working. I also tried to explain to him that I always had a smile on my face (which was the truth), and that I wasn’t smiling at anyone in particular. Yet, as you can imagine that didn’t help much either. Thankfully at that point my friend’s father jumped into the pool and very effectively chased them away.
This entire experience was incredibly shocking to me. Not only was this the first time that a complete stranger had called me ugly, but definitely the first time that anyone had found my smile offensive. I began to wonder if other people might think the same way, and gradually stopped smiling as I walked down the street, in fear of unintentionally offending someone… Yes, I let one pesky, skinny kid rob me of my “forever smile”. And this despite my parents always assuring me that I had a lovely smile and that I was beautiful. Trust me, I had a very good support system at home. But even this could not always shield me from the outside world.
Fast forward to secondary school. I remember the teachers being worried if I was going to fit in with the class, because by now I had become a shy, quiet, insecure kid. Little did they know that I was wondering the exact same thing. Although I did not realize it at the time, it was probably in my final year (my sixth year there) that I finally felt like I completely fit in with the group. Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining or accusing anyone. Many of my classmates were awesome, and still are. Yes, there was a situation where someone told me to my face that I was creepy (always great to hear) and there were some situations where I felt rejected… But honestly, I have NOTHING to complain about. I was never bullied or teased; EVER. And I really do not blame any of my classmates for the way I felt. That was all me. What’s more, I am glad I went to that school, because it seriously ROCKED! Next to the ordinary subjects like history and maths we had dancing, drama, audio visual, drawing and even ceramic classes. You name it, we had it! My teachers were very encouraging and appreciative of creative talent. It really helped me to become who I am now. But despite how awesome the school was and how great my classmates were, it still took me a five years to feel like it was OK for me to be there. Like I was truly part of the gang.
All through my one year off university college and five years of university (bachelor and research master) itself, I slowly gained a little more confidence. I had people that I really got along with, liked to hang out with and made some lovely friends. And still… I often felt like a socially awkward person that did not fit in. Why? Because that is what I believed, even though no one ever gave me cause to think this.
And then.. I started to work at my current workplace. I cannot begin to explain how grateful I am to have ended up there. My colleagues are all fantastic. To give you an impression of the company: the first day I started work at the customer care center I got a bouquet of flowers to welcome me. And this even though I was working there via a job agency! (They do this for every employee, which I just think is fantastic) The result, I immediately felt welcome and at home. I did not have any trouble talking to my colleagues and wasn’t suffering as much from shyness as I usually do in new situations. And yes, despite this it took me a while to feel confident enough to go on the section outings. Four years to be exact. But by now I have been to two of them, and I actually looked forward to the last one because I knew it was going to be fun!
Apart from this, the company has always given me the opportunity to grow and given me confidence whilst I was developing myself. After working at the customer care center for three years, I was offered the position of Information and Process-coordinator. When I started in this position I was only working 16 hours a week, and as such could not get involved in the big projects. However, since I started working 24 hours a week about 1,5 years ago I have been offered the opportunity to take part in quite a few projects. And you know what? …. It turns out I am pretty good at this project support/ management thing. So, I got given the chance to get my Prince2 foundation and practitioner certificates so I could actually become a certified project manager. How awesome is that?! Does the prospect of having to manage my first project scare me? Hell yes! But, do I feel like I can do it? Yes. Yes I do. Because next to giving me the opportunity to do this, my manager and colleagues have also given me the support I needed in order to gain the confidence to think: yes I can do this.
Those of you who have read the about me section, or perhaps my first blog, also know that I am a part-time PHD student. Well let me tell you, you need BOAT LOADS of confidence if you want to get through that. And yes sometimes I feel like I am not good enough. I sometimes cry when I look at all the notes that my supervisor has left on my work. I sometimes think that there are so many people out there better than me… BUT! I feel that the research I am doing is important and significant. I have something new to bring to the table and I am bloody well going to do it. So yes, the idea that I have something to contribute to my field gives me confidence and keeps me going.
So, some of you will think by now: you seem to be pretty confident. Yes and no. At this point I can say I am mostly happy with my personality. Yes, there is room for improvement, but over all: I think I am a good person. However, the one thing that makes me super self-conscious still are my looks.
I have always been my worst critic. I am a hopeless perfectionist… My criticism is not limited to the work I do, the things I do or say. It has also extended to my body. I never look good enough. So yes, I diet. And then I look sort of OK, but never pretty. I always find new things about myself that I don’t like: my front teeth are to big and they are slightly crooked, and let’s not forget yellowish. I really don’t like my back fat… The list is endless.
And why? I have only recently begun to ask myself that question and could only come up with the following answer: because I think that other people see me that way and have the exact same negative thoughts about me. I have seriously let my happiness in this respect be curbed by the anxiety of what some people, mostly perfect strangers, might think of me. That s/he might think: Oh that t-shirt is too tight, it shows her back fat! That someone will once again pull my leg down just to tell me that I shouldn’t smile at them, because only beautiful women can. And this even though I am never going to talk to them and will probably never see them again.
Honestly? How ridiculous is that?! What a waist of perfectly good energy I could use for so many other things!
So I have decided: I am going to be like the little chihuahua in the movie Beverly Hills Chihuahua and yell, NO MAS!
No more. I am done with being self-concious and feeling insecure. I am going to get back my “forever smile”, which I let that skinny boy take from me. I am going to get back the sparkle in my eyes and be me, confidently.
How am I going to do this? By taking little steps. This is going to be a long process, but that’s fine. Rome wasn’t built over a night. The first step? Stop looking in windows whilst walking past them to see if my jacket really does look OK on me, if I don’t walk funny and if my hair isn’t a mess because of some non-existent gust of wind.
Second step? I am going to be reading the Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance and do the little tasks that the author Rosie Molinary prescribes. I will do a review after a month to let you guys know if it is worth while for those who are also struggling with insecurity.
So what about you? Are you confident about yourself? If so, I would love some tips. If not: why not start your own project confidence? I would be more than happy to read your post and to offer encouragement and perhaps tips if I bump into any that really help me. I will also be more than happy to listen to your story if you do not feel confident enough to share it with the rest. Just pop over to the Contact page on my blog to send me a few (or a hundred, or even a thousand) lines.