I’ve lived with low self-esteem my whole life.
In high school, my biggest fear was not chemistry or even advanced geometry class (I suck at math), but socratic seminars in literature, a subject i love. It’s not that I had nothing to say - I had plenty. To prepare, I had already crammed my book with color-coded stickies and annotations.
But during the actual discussion, I was paralyzed. I always thought that I wasn’t good enough, that really all my thoughts were wrong, somehow, that the other thirteen intellectuals were actually lit people, and will just laugh at everything I say.
Obviously, that never happened in real life, but somehow, I let myself believe it. I let myself construct a fear so large and vivid that it consumed into my reality.
Stupid, right. I made myself scared.
Perhaps this is due to the way I was brought up. I am an only child with two Tiger parents (mom, especially) and for a whole year, I was only allowed to hang out with my friends a few times. Even during breaks, I was rushed from to tutor to tutor along with SAT prep camps.
But this is typical. Most Chinese kids experience this.
My mom was different in turning a self-deprecating eye towards even my daily behaviors and decisions. She criticized my outfit often, “Why are you wearing that?” Or, when teaching me how to knit for the first time, she asked, “Why are you so stupid?” Disappointment flooded her face. And that wasn’t the only time she openly disparaged me.
Both focused more on weaknesses than strengths, asking questions like, “Why didn’t you get an A? Why did you get a 90?” And they constantly compared me with Jo who “passed the piano exam” and Jack who “got a 4.0+ GPA” while I just spent hours studying but not achieving any results. Well yeah, I don’t really care.
Except I did. I grew up listening to this. I grew up comparing myself to others and living up to a perfectionist ideal. I know that my parents wanted the best for me. They love me and I love them back, but their approach wasn’t always right.
Their judgmental voice soon became mine that would haunt me in the most ordinary situations.
Cue a typical high school lunch time: I talked about a book I was reading and my friend reacted with, “You’re reading books? Books are so boring.” Anger took hold of me as I stormed away immediately. I am overtly self-defensive.
Cue bio class with my crush: *Glance at him, *smile, then I went back to looking at my notebook while saying “fuck this” in my head, because I had no courage to go up to him. I looked like shit and I had no friends - what right did I have to talk to him?
Cue everything else in my life where I just didn’t have confidence.
This carried on with me to college, where I would feign confidence, but it never really lasted that long.
During the first few weeks of school, I tried to act friendly and optimistic - I would even voluntarily sit with strangers in dining halls. But I realized that the more I sat with people, the more insecure I felt.
If the person seemed like they liked me, or wanted to know me more, a voice would creep in, “Why did they think I’m cool? I don’t even have any friends.” Or, “if they knew how weird I was, they definitely wouldn’t want to be friends with me.” Etcetera.
Piles on piles of doubt.
It was crazy, and I realized this summer that I need to get past this.
So here are some confidence hacks I have developed this summer. Most of these hacks are thoughts you should keep in mind especially during bad moments:
- You’re interesting. You're not bad. You are not worse than the person you are talking to.
Seriously. I don’t have close friends so I always feel like there’s something wrong with me, but I just need to remind myself that the less confident I am, the less people will be attracted to me.
And I do have some strengths too, even though it’s harder for me to identify them. I write and I have a blog - I mean, that’s sorta cool, right. And then even though I'm a business major, I love tech and design, but I can’t code or use photoshop, which is sorta weird (but that's just another word for interesting, right).
I'm also different from a lot of people, which can be seen as a strength. I'm very individualistic (and independent), as in I have a strong vision and I need to do things a certain way. Ex. I need my dorm room to be optimized so each furniture choice/placement maximizes my ability to stay productive in this workspace. It wasn't until my BF pointed this out that I realized this is actually a strong characteristic of mine.
Also, if I put my mind towards something and actually set that as my goal, I work hard for it. Like really hard. Good grades in all my classes this year is my goal - it will be difficult, I already know, but I'm willing to sacrifice for it. I'll put off joining clubs this semester for it. I'lll quit one of my clubs, or go to less social events - whatever. I believe that youth is the best time to learn and I have the rest of my life to play, so, I know my direction now and I'm not easily swayed.
- The person across from you is only another human.
That means he or she also has fears, and anxieties, and things going wrong in their lives. Maybe he/she also has low self-esteem like you even if he/she may seem really confident on the outside.
Often, when you want to speak up or feel awkward for not knowing what to say, the other person is probably feeling the same too.
- You’re “normal".
Whatever that means.
Many people feel self-conscious (like me) because we think that we aren’t “normal” if we don't fit into the average stereotypes that define us, like I’m a nineteen year-old college undergraduate - why am I not partying more and wearing more makeup? But you gotta tell yourself that everyone’s different, that even if you don’t fit into a particular group, it’s okay, because you don’t have to. Because there’s nothing wrong with you.
No one really knows what counts as normal anyways, and everyone’s messed up in their own ways, so stop thinking there’s something wrong with you. (I tend to think this a lot)
- Smile and talk proactively to people.
Not just people who you want to impress or be connected to, and definitely not just your friends. Talk to anyone which means talk to the guy sitting next to you in class if you have a question - don't just hold it in. That means say thanks to the girl holding the elevator door open for you - I mean, it doesn't even have to be a real conversation, as long as you get used to doing uncomfortable things (sorry for alluding to my past post) and talking to strangers.
- Work hard.
Unfortunately, this hack isn't easy, but it is definitely worthwhile. If you actually work hard and are knowledgeable/passionate in something, you definitely feel better about yourself. My BF told me this, actually.
First semester of freshmen year, I didn't even care about grades. I thought they were lame (I was pretty immature), and that joining clubs were more important. He said better grades would make me feel more confident and consequently, enable me to socialize better. What? Well, he was right.. I got better grades last semester and I ended up feeling more qualified about my skills (not just in academic areas) but also in my ability to actually work and achieve a goal I set.
So those are the hacks.
This semester, I'm a different person. I know it because I feel it. This summer, I had to live by myself independently (with grandparents only) while interning, and then I came back to Beijing to learn driving everyday and controlled all of my own time even when I lived with my parents. They trust me more, but I can still take care of myself and manage my own time well. Perhaps that's what changed.. I might do a later post on this~
Anyways, hope these hacks helped!
Please give me any tips/comments or ways you dealt with confidence (or lack thereof), thanks!