How to Become Confident

Hustling to Nowhere

After several years of non-stop hustling (going to school and working full time), it started to occur to me that I could spend the rest of my life hustling, but still never accomplish what I want to accomplish in life.

It took me over ten years to come to this realization. I used to think that, if I hustled and worked as hard as I possibly could, all my dreams would come true. As the daughter of an immigrant and first-generation American, I watched my parents work themselves into the ground multiple times. I thought the harder I worked, the more successful I would be. This might have been the case many years ago, but it is certainly not the case today.

Climbing the Corporate Ladder

In recent years, I started to feel defeated because I worked harder than anyone I knew, but I wasn’t even close to outperforming everyone I knew. So what did I do? I worked harder. What this led to was me saying no to social functions, saying no to any extracurricular activities, saying no to spending time with people all for the simple goal of spending more time on my homework and more time working my job.

I wanted to be at the top. It didn’t have anything to do with wanting to be better than anyone. I just wanted to feel worthy of having a seat at the table. I wanted to feel as good as all the other people around me who were living their best lives.

After accomplishing a 4.0 GPA and graduating with as many honors as possible, I fell into a period of depression. At first, I had no idea why I felt so bad when I had done everything “right.” Then it began to become clear to me that I certainly had not done everything right–and to make matters worse, I wasn’t proud of what I had accomplished.

There were some school projects that I felt proud of, but the majority of work I submitted in school felt so forced, and, believe me, it showed in the end result. This, of course, made me feel sadder about the poor decisions I had made.

However, it wasn’t until I spent two years working professionally that it really hit me: I was never going to feel satisfied climbing the corporate ladder. The only way I was ever going to feel proud of my life was by making decisions that made me proud. It only took a few weeks after this realization for me to quit my job.

To many spectators, it looked like a rash and quick decision, but in reality, it had been in the making for over a decade. I didn’t care that I didn’t have another job lined up because I was so fed up with feeling the need to have a fancy corporate job with an enviable title. For all I cared, I would get a job as a grocery clerk if necessary, and I probably would have enjoyed it more than my current job.

To be clear, I had saved several months’ worth of living expenses in case I had trouble finding another job. Thankfully, I did not have a hard time finding another job because I have literally spent months of my life perfecting my resume, cover letter, LinkedIn, professional portfolio… etc. If you are in a similar position in that you want to leave your current job, please make sure you are fully prepared to do so. This post does not promote anyone making reckless decisions.

If you want to quit your job and do not have another job lined up, check out my post on side hustles:

Learning the Real Importance of Minimalism

Minimalism is not just about reducing the number of things you have. It is not just about decluttering your basement and organizing your pantry. It has so much more to do with living your best life. I wish I had understood this years ago–but better late than never.

I mentioned that I quit my job without having another job lined up. I reached a point in my life where I felt completely at ease selling some possessions and moving into a cheaper living situation because I realized that, while possessions and money can help you in your journey to happiness, they certainly do not define it.

Minimalism to me is cutting out the fluff–anything that doesn’t make me happy, anything that makes me feel bad about myself, or anything that takes me away from my life’s work. I think what happens when some people pursue minimalism for a variety of reasons, is that they start to let go of possessions they can live without, and this triggers something in the brain. It sends a loud and clear message to the person that they can thrive off only the things they need.

This information is internalized and applied to all areas of your life. I am speculating, of course, but there is a link between decluttering and significant life changes. Marie Kondo mentions this in her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. She says that, when people declutter their lives, often significant life changes follow. This has definitely been the case for me.

I could not have guessed that it would lead me to quit the best job I’ve ever had to pursue doing what I love full-time. For me, it did start as decluttering physical spaces and then it quickly turned into decluttering my mental space. I became more mindful about my decisions and started to recognize that some of the people in my life were a negative influence.

Cultivating Pride

A lot of my journey had to do with the pursuit of happiness. As a child, the very first thing I wanted to be was a doctor so that I could help other people. I could not tell you about the origins of my motivation to help others, and while I no longer necessarily want to be a doctor, I still–just as badly–want to help others.

But, as we all know by now, you can’t help others before you help yourself. For most of my life, for numerous reasons, I was very self-centered. Everything was about me. It was exhausting. But I had to go through that period to learn how to care for myself. Some of us have an easier time learning this when we have parents who know how to care for themselves, but remember that I am the daughter of immigrants. They put making money to provide for their family before everything!

Thankfully, we can all learn how to take good care of ourselves (including my parents who are quite good at it now). Part of taking care of yourself is monitoring your mental and emotional life. Most of the time, physical, mental, and emotional health are interlinked. For example, I know that when I see someone who is overweight, nine times out of ten, they are overweight due to mental and emotional baggage or serious trauma.

Of course, there are exceptions because some people do have medical conditions that greatly impact their body weight. I also hope that one day we will all be more accepting of different body shapes because trying to be skinny is a complete waste of time. Caroline Heldman often talks about how we can waste our time and mental space worrying about how we look.

This aside, you can usually look at someone and tell right away if they are proud of themselves. They walk with shoulders back, head up, and speak clearly. I used to think confident people were born confident or they were born to parents who raised them to be confident. That might be true for some people, but it certainly was not true for me. I had to learn that, in order for me to be proud of myself, I have to be proud of what I do. I have to be proud of the decisions I make, and I have to be proud of how I choose to show up in the world.

Choosing to Be Yourself

Honestly, I really wish I had learned this as a child because it would have saved me so much time and money! I grew up in the era when marketers started targeting children. I thought confidence was synonymous with the latest and greatest things. I certainly spent a lot of money trying to fit in, but clothing wasn’t the only thing being sold. I was also told growing up that being an introvert was a great way to never have any success. If I wanted to be successful, I had to walk, talk, and act like an extrovert.

What made this total nonsense worse: People often told me that I needed to fake it until I made it. Just pretend to be an extrovert and eventually, you’ll be one. Wow. I really wish I could go back in time and share some choice words with the people who said that to me. Please know that if you are an introvert, if you have social anxiety, if you are not great at striking up a conversation with someone you don’t know, there is NOTHING wrong with you.  

When people say, “Be yourself,” most of the time, they mean, “be yourself within the confines of whatever social structure that makes me feel comfortable and good about myself.” What I have learned is that being yourself often makes other people very uncomfortable. Embrace that. We need get out of the little bubbles we live in that give us a false sense of security.

For example, I love sending people letters, gifts, and notes of encouragement. I cannot tell you how many people react poorly to receiving these things. First, some people think I’m insecure and need to latch on to other people for safety, so they think I go out of my way to buy my friendships with the currency of niceness. This could not be more incorrect. I go out of my way for every person in my life while still maintaining my own life, feeling totally secure in who I am. For example, I spent three months making a birthday gift for my mother. To me, this did not feel like a big deal.

Check out Women of Impact’s video about learning to like yourself:

Just because other people don’t understand who you are is not an excuse to stop being yourself. In fact, I have learned to like people’s reactions to my generosity and my love of other people. I think it’s funny that being nice (or overly nice) makes people uncomfortable. I also want to be the change I want to see, so I’m certainly not going to stop doing the good things I do. Of course, I am very flawed and do things every day that upset me and other people. (I pray for your sake and mine that we never cross paths while driving in our vehicles.)

It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about making other people happy. It’s certainly not doing things that make you proud 100% of the time. It’s about making decisions with intentionality, making decisions that are true to your real self, not the ‘self’ other people want you to be. It is only when you can begin to make decisions you’re proud of and put work into the world that makes you proud that you will begin to feel confident.