Like many young girls, I struggled with self-confidence for years. My perception of myself, whether tied to my external appearance, physical or mental capabilities, or personality traits, never measured up to a person that I saw to be “worthy” of pride. I could always be smarter, prettier, more accomplished. There was always something to be desired about who I was and what I did, which resulted in an adolescence filled with discomfort and self-consciousness.
I always thought that someday I would be a person who was worth feeling confident about. I truly believed that I was inadequate, and some day, I would drastically and suddenly become better. I didn’t have strict qualifications for this “better” version of myself, only a vague image of someone who glowed with happiness and ease. They were the kind of person people wanted to be around, someone who got things done without complaining, someone who was important and desirable, someone who earned the right to like who they were. I didn’t know how I would become that person, I just knew that as of this point in my life, I was a world away from being the kind of person who really, truly liked themselves.
There were people around me who were confident; strong, powerful men and women who exuded competence and a carefree attitude. I figured they were just born that way- better than the rest of us. Like it was a genetic trait passed down through long, carefully protected bloodlines of extraordinary people. I wondered what it would be like to be so perfect that liking yourself felt natural. I wondered what it would be like to go through life never doubting yourself, feeling insecure, or, frankly, feeling as uncomfortable and perpetually out of place as I did.
The flaw in my reasoning, however, lies in my interpretation of what it takes to become a confident person. In my mind, it was something in their genetic code, something that made them physically, tangibly different from me. They were born to be, well, better-than. Because I couldn’t remember a time where I wasn’t unconfident, I just assumed it was as unchangeable as the color of my skin or the color of my eyes. When I glowingly pictured “the day” when I would be a confident person, it appeared to be a sudden shift in my creation, like a second-puberty thrusting me into assurance.
When I was struggling to recover from my eating disorder, I wondered what it meant to be a “recovered person”. Being disordered felt so deeply engrained in who I was that being recovered felt just as intangible as someday waking up with bright red hair- how could a sudden shift in what appeared to simply be how I was made occur? I could see the motions, the patterns recovered people went through, but inside I was clinging to the disordered patterns that had overtaken me. Sure, I could eat three meals and two snacks a day exactly when my doctor told me. Sure, I could go to therapy and talk about uncomfortable things. Sure, I could stop anxiously and obsessively checking lists and labels and charts. But when I tried not to, it felt like wearing someone else’s skin- putting on a mask as I did things I truly, deeply, did not want to do.
I’ve slowly come to learn that this is what recovery is. It’s doing things you don’t want to do, because if you pretend to be someone long enough, you start to become them. It’s the same reason good people become bad people, or the shy girl in elementary school suddenly becomes the bubbly head cheerleader in high school. We’re simply conglomerates of our actions, summations of the patterns we repeat again and again. The longer you act like something, the more you become it, and soon, you can’t distinguish between what once had to be conscious decisions to be someone else, and instincts that have evolved out of who you’ve become.
I one day realized that to be recovered, I had to act like it. I had to go through the actions, say the words, embrace the process, and accept that someday it would begin to feel normal. When I applied this concept to my recovery, I started to see that this is the only way to change who you really are. There isn’t some genetic shift that will suddenly be made, no secret code, no 180-turn out of the blue. It’s long, slow, and it really boils down to this: fake it till you become it.
Fake it. Pretend that you are the person you want to be. Do the things that person would do. Speak up because that’s what a brave person does, smile because that’s what a happy person does, be accepting because that’s what a tolerant person does. Read because that what smart people do. Give because that’s what kind people do. Journal because that’s what mindful people do. Meditate because that’s what calm people do. Listen to loud music because that’s what fun people do. It’s not putting on a mask, it’s shifting your habits, shifting your life. If you want to be different, you have to do different things.
I didn’t start practicing yoga right away because I wasn’t “a yogi”. I figured I’d walk into class and be “the new kid”, someone who was out-of-place, a sore thumb. But looking back, I see just how silly that is. Of course I wouldn’t walk in the door an age-old yoga practitioner, and I’m still not one today. But to not do something I want because I’m not already a master of it simply does not make sense. It’s the same concept of not going to school because I’m not smart enough yet, or not learning a language because I can’t speak it yet. Life is a process of learning, and if your end goal is to be a happy, confident, peaceful person, you need to be willing to immerse yourself in the journey of learning those habits.
I’ve slowly learned confidence, and in the process realized that it’s not something you have to earn or be born with. Confidence is a learned trait, just like anything else. We are not born grateful- we are taught to say “thank you”. It is in the same vein that we are not born confident- we must be taught to say “I love you”. We are not born all that we can be.
You’re worthy of loving yourself. I know that I, for a long time, didn’t believe that I was. I didn’t think I was smart enough, pretty enough, or good enough to be content. But contentedness doesn’t need to be earned, just in the same way a child doesn’t need to prove to it’s mother that it’s worthy of love. There are so many things on this earth that we simply have to choose to embrace, to welcome in with open arms and allow them to weave into the fibers of our being.
We can choose to be whoever we want to be, because we always have control over our actions and reactions.