I’ve heard that people actually look forward to reading my posts. This is a long one where I delve deep, deep into my insecurities and my past. It’s an estimated fifteen minute read! Grab yourself a cup of tea, we’re headed deep into my favourite place, Introspection Land.
Coming straight out of exams, I’ve been able to catch up with friends, whether hanging out or even over messages because I finally turned my notifications for messenger back on again! I’ve also been lucky enough to go to multiple orientations, training sessions and also summits which centre around leadership, influence and impact.
But somehow, I kept messaging my friends about how I was feeling… irritable and couldn’t sleep. I knew there was something BUT I couldn’t place my finger on why I felt so unusual. I told my friends that I really appreciated them listening to me being confused even when I couldn’t tell them WHY I was confused and would message them once I further unpacked and really sat down and thought about things. It comes with being introverted; I need space alone to bounce my own thoughts around my head and on paper.
After a really nice phone call with Julianne Nieh and hearing her talk about the growth and insights she’s taken from a three-day training program she’s been doing the past few days, and how her past narrative has been limiting her, I had a better sense of how I wanted to take my unpacking – I needed to get down to the root of my discomfort.
Part 1: Unpacking my discomfort
So like I mentioned in my last post, I really wanted to take on why I felt so uncomfortable promoting myself and talking about myself. I love free flowing brainstorms and nothing really beats pencil to paper, and so I really, really let myself write anything and everything down onto paper.
There are curse words and unpacking of gender roles, my culture, how I was raised, my relationships I’ve had with people… I’ll be honest, I really want to blur out this entire mindmap because I’m frankly very nervous and uncomfortable with what I’ve written down; but I wrote this down even before my conscious self could reject what my hand was scrawling out.
BUT I also gained lots of insight in this 10-minute brain dump. I’m not sure quite what to think of it so, like all of my blog posts, I’m hoping that typing this out gives me a better idea of how all this info connects together.
1. My inability to promote myself comes from a very, very low self-confidence.
I felt very defeated, yet also freed, coming to this realization.
After transferring out of McRoberts and into Richmond High, I became really close friends with Brian Fabula, my winter formal date and also Class Historian. Sometime between Grade 11 and Grade 12, we got to know each other a lot better and he’d always remind me to not have such a negative perception of myself. He’d try to boost my confidence by saying that I had a charm with everyone, named it, and every time I talked with someone he’d be like “that was the SP effect”. Sorry fab for revealing an inside joke, but really, that joke helped counter my negative self-talk that I was a burden to everyone.
Being in a leadership position, having incoming students and peers telling me how much they admired me… I’ve always been someone who stayed away from the limelight because I’ve hated attention. Now being here, I realize that every small thing I do makes double the impact it did before. The events I click “interested” in, the pages I like. I get surprised at who “likes” my activity and who comments on it. Because everything that I do, it sets an example for someone, somewhere.
But now being important enough to have a reputation attached to my name, my natural instinct is to deny and hide. In the last HeWe eats event, Adrian, last year’s VP Engagement, took a snap video asking me and Hannah Chiang (ExCO Chair! #explorewithExCO) what our favourite part of HeWe was. I was fidgeting so much, couldn’t even look at the camera, and was not forming complete sentences. I’m incredibly embarrassed that I had such a negative reaction to attention.
I’m no longer able to fake self-confidence and my instinct to hide is taking over my life and making it difficult to properly fulfill my role as a Second Year Representative. I’ve been hiding and self-sabotaging and rather than actively identify where my strengths are and telling myself that I am worthy of where I am. My negative self talk is louder than ever and I’ve been crumbling my own self-confidence after building it up throughout this year.
The next question I had to explore: Why do I cling onto this low self-confidence?
2. My low self-confidence stems from my upbringing: friends, family, culture, gender roles.
Having moved around five different elementary schools, I’ve always had trouble making and maintaining friends, because all the schools I went to had cliques. Literally, the only people who would talk to me were students who had special needs. While I really liked their presence and the stigma towards ableism is very unfair, I internalized the rejection from my peers being a new kid.
It was only in Grade 4 that I made my first friend, Miranda. She had me very confused, because she would constantly ditch me at school and have her friends run away from me but after school we would hang out. We have a strong friendship now, and without her help, I wouldn’t have made it through my time at McRoberts, but at that time, I internalized that I was an embarrassment of a friend.
Because I moved elementary schools, I lost touch with Miranda and befriended another close friend. I won’t name her but with her negative self-talk and me constantly trying to cheer her up, I lost my optimism and let myself get influenced by her negative self-talk. Body image issues, reducing my own intelligence, where the things she did and things that I internalized which affect my self-confidence today. I do not blame her for this, but I have to acknowledge her impact. We’ve cut our friendship many years ago, but one year with her had shaped most of my time at McRoberts.
In my family, my dad is generally a more expressive, assertive person and my mom is quieter and is more yielding to my dad. We immigrated to Canada when I was four, and with difficult financial circumstances, my parents fought a lot. My dad was angry his english limited him from working and did not like relying on my mom; my mom, who has a masters degree, would also be unhappy her skills could not get her a well paying job here. I internalized my mom’s yielding to my dad, and internalized my dad’s harsh words for my mom when his temper got very bad. Now, they’re on much better terms and even go on walks together every single day, rain or shine; I know, my parents are relationship goals. But their arguments made an impact because when I get incredibly panicked, my negative self-talk comes out in Cantonese, a language that is so rooted in my childhood but we rarely use at home since my brother speaks only Mandarin.
My little brother was born when I was seven, and naturally, I helped out my parents in raising him. I have always prided myself in not being a jealous child, because I would not retaliate when my parents needed help – I was proud that I was super useful and helpful. But one family vacation in Russia, I burst out crying that I felt as though my parents did not care about me at all, and that I was only a babysitter to their son. I internalized that my worth was contingent to how helpful I was.
Up until a month ago, when I was arguing with my dad about whether I should do PMF or not, I’ve let my dad just assume that he can plan out my summers and my life. My friends keep telling me to stand up for myself, and I really appreciate your belief in me Charlotte & Grace, and slowly I’ve been able to change the dynamic from subordinate and superior to equals with my parents. But before, I internalized that I should not even have the audacity to take control of my life.
Culture & Gender Roles
Though I was born in 广州 (Guangzhou), my family comes from a smaller town, 湛江(Zhanjiang). It was only my parents’ generation that got educated and left to the big city and were exposed to much more modern views. My parents are very modern in comparison to my extended family, they believe in gender equality and prioritized my education over their financial well-being in China.
One aspect my parents heavily disagree with but is ingrained in Chinese culture is 重男輕女. It basically means preferring sons over daughters. I overheard my aunt explain to my grandma (mom’s side) that when I was born, my grandmother only put 80 cents and was super disappointed that her son’s first child was a girl. Whenever my family visits my grandparents, my grandparents always treat my little brother with extra enthusiasm, even when they have a language barrier and he cannot speak any Cantonese. I’ve internalized that being a girl makes me less worthy and this is an incredibly dangerous internalization, not just for me, but for the entire gender I represent.
3. I’ve always prided myself on being “humble”, but what does that mean?
This article has unwrapped the extremeness of humility and has made me realize that I was not just harming myself, but perpetuating a stereotype of south east asian girls of being submissive. Additionally, my brother emulates this low self-confidence and whether he’s aware of it or not, I’ve made an impact on him.
So I decided to do some googling on some words and the definitions shocked me into changing my mindset on how I view self-worth.
Humble: having or showing a modest or low estimate of one’s importance.
Arrogant: having or revealing an exaggerated sense of importance and abilities.
Confidence: self-assurance rising from appreciating oneself.
Up until last night, I would pride myself on being humble. Of never feeling superior to anyone. But a low estimate of one’s importance… this hit an immediate nerve and I wrote down “denial of responsibility almost?”.
I can’t just deny the importance that I’ve carved out for myself in these positions. Santa Ono doesn’t go around pretending he’s not UBC President, he takes this power and uses it to raise awareness in areas like mental health. Being humble is not useful at all, it’s another form of hiding away from the spotlight and staying in my comfort zone.
I despise arrogance and since I have figures in my life that spew arrogance and put others down, I have always ran towards humility because I did not want to emulate arrogance at all. But I never considered how awkward and how much emotional labour others need to do if I were to be humble. I force others to come up with compliments to bring my confidence back up, whether genuine or not. I don’t want to do that at all!!!!
I was frustrated that up until yesterday, I assumed the only alternative to arrogance was humility. How could this be? Why are there two extremes? I googled proud (deep satisfaction in oneself, high excessive opinion) and dignity (being worthy of respect) and other words until I hit the definition of confidence.
If I could wash a word clean from its connotations, it would be confidence. Confidence has a negative connotation in “being too confident” because it is a very, very powerful concept. When someone is self-assured because they appreciate who they are, no criticism will reduce their importance. No words can harm them.
Confidence is the perfect balance between humility and arrogance. A “duh” moment goes off, because duh, self-confidence and not self-humility or self-arrogance. But this for me is an incredibly powerful idea.
So now I realize, I don’t value humility, I value confidence. Confidence comes from actively learning who you are, knowing your strengths and limitations, and accepting yourself for who you are whilst also knowing that you can change yourself to improve, not changing because you aren’t good enough.
Part 2: Now what?
So I’m more vulnerable than ever now? I’ve laid all of my internalized insecurities on the mind map, and onto this post. Now you, me, the entire world, knows me better than I did yesterday.
So, I did another mind map to visualize what confidence looks like to me.
This is quite incomplete, and I only did spend five minutes on this rather than ten because I was getting tired and it was midnight.
1. To improve how I project confidence, it only comes with more practice and more challenges.
No silver bullet here, just continuous practice. But I do have to be aware of these things when I am talking.
- Calm: Steady voice, steady body. My voice does not need to be loud, it does not need to be fast. It just needs to be steady. I don’t need to do power poses, I just need to make eye contact and stay still instead of fidget.
- Conversation: Any speaking is a conversation. It’s not only they talk, or only I talk. It is a conversation. Do not always focus on being a certain way, remember that I am delivering information through my voice and they are doing the same back. Criticism is not personal, sharing and collaboration is encouraged. Yielding is my strength, but assertion is also important.
2. Mental talk is even harder to change, but… “I think, therefore I am”.
When I said “fake confidence” in this post, I realize that I just completely invalidated the rocky journey I’ve had coming up to this point. My current confidence is not fake, it does come from understanding my strengths and limitations.
Like what I did just now, being more aware of the assumptions my negative mental talk makes and understanding its origins is the first step to changing it. Surrounding myself with people who grow because they want to add onto who they already are and enjoy the challenge; quotes that give me a little pick-me-up, these are all steps I take to adjust my mental talk.
- Mistakes = learning, not “being dumb” (it’s also an ableist term, the word dumb)
- Being a human, my unique experience is inherently interesting
- I am always learning, intelligence should not be judged on questions
- “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” – Voltaire
- I am human, I do not need to be perfect. There is no perfection.
3. Re-Framing my worthiness.
I have not yet fully expanded on this point in my brain storm and am not sure how I can explain this point I wrote down.
At first, I wrote down “how I add value”. This shows how deeply I believe worth is contingent on value added. I wrote down and highlighted that “worthiness regardless if you add value or not” but I don’t really believe that (yet?). I deeply value service and adding value to other’s lives.
So Google says worthiness: “the quality of being good enough, suitability” and “the quality of deserving attention or respect”.
I’m thinking perhaps I can’t necessary perceive all of the value that I add to other people’s lives. I’ve been flattered that incoming students feel hopeful knowing that I was able to go to Sauder after being wait-listed so long. Some of my quieter friends have told me that me pushing myself outside my comfort zone and into growth has given them that tiny nudge to try something they never did before. I’m honoured that these blog posts can not only help me unpack my own ideas, but can at least add some entertainment value to other’s lives or plant positive seed of growth and self-discovery in someone’s mind.
None of us can possibly know what other people are saying about us or measure the legacy and impact we’re leaving, as much as I believe in adding value, I can’t base my worthiness on what value I think I’m adding to this world.
To illustrate this point of how even small actions can cause huge impacts, here’s a video that Jeff, a friend way back from Chinese School sent me!
To bring it way back to the year I was in Cadets, “Impact not Intent”. I have to be aware of the impact you are making, but I can’t even measure it. So why am I solely basing my worthiness I can’t even measure or perceive? Am I inherently worthless if I grow old and can’t work anymore?
To the economy, yes. But to myself?
I, and only I, am the one to determine how worthy I am. I have the power to decide if I am worthy, to thwart all external and even internal signs that tell me I’m not. Back to the self confidence, back to understanding my strengths and weaknesses.
Angela, I give myself permission to be confident because I deem that I am worthy.
The power of self narrative is really highlighted in a book I never finished but should really get back into. The story of Viktor Frankl, and how he survived Nazi internment camps.
But because of our unique human endowments, we can write new programs for ourselves totally apart from our instincts and training.
—Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
That’s a quote and thought I want to leave with you.
I have given myself permission to be confident, now I can start writing myself a program that is apart from my internalized instincts and internalized conditioning and training.
Thank you for accompanying me on this roller-coaster of self-discovery!