Your personality is generally formed by the time you enter elementary school- at least that’s what I’ve been told. Based on that theory, that would mean every characteristic you’re supposed to embody, everything you’re supposed to be is already a seed in your soul that is ready to sprout. Naturally, I got to thinking, can you really change who you were meant to be?
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I grew up as a sensitive, timid, quiet girl. I hate the spotlight. As a prepubescent girl, I was constantly unsure of myself- questioning my abilities and my worth. I didn’t really have a voice or the faith in myself to defend deeply held beliefs. I thought I was set in my ways; I would always be a mousy introvert who preferred to follow, rather than lead, the pack. I would never be the person who raises their hand in class, or the person who provokes debates. However, I distinctly remember three things that occurred in my life that changed how I viewed myself in the world. This leads me to believe we can change who we are- and for the better.
Developing a Love of Reading. As a kid, I was never a big reader. Reading was not a priority in my household. My parents never read to me or instilled the importance of literature in my life growing up. We watched a lot of soaps on tv, and that’s basically how we learned different languages and general social cues. I had a great English teacher in high school who encouraged me to read. Until then, I don’t think I had ever finished a book front to back. I forget if she encouraged me to read one of her favourite books or if it was required reading for the class, but the book completely changed me. The book itself was great, but it was more so how it made me feel that enthralled me. It awakened something dormant in me; it led me through a labyrinth into a whole new world that I never knew existed. I found, in books, something I don’t always find in human interaction: the magic of feeling understood, based on reading about other experiences that I could finally relate to. That’s when I started appreciating the gift of reading. I wanted to feel exactly the way that first book made me feel. From that point on, I began devouring books incessantly, and I developed a fervent addiction to finding the next great read. My TBR list was increasing by the minute every day. If I ever met someone who didn’t read or hated to read, I always tried to convert them. I wanted everyone to feel that euphoria of reading an alluring book and be forever changed. Reading voraciously has helped me in a multitude of ways including better express myself in my life, amplify my voice, allow me to consider alternate viewpoints, and inspire me to offer empathy whenever possible.
Becoming a Leader. I am an eternal middle child. Most things never fell upon me growing up. I have plenty of respect for my older sister who bared the weight of so much when we were children (and even now). Although I was bossy as can be at home as a young kid, it was never my natural inclination to take control and lead (in any formal way). I was always a content follower, not a natural leader by any stretch. So naturally in one of my college classes that involved a lot of group work, I was never eager to volunteer myself as the leader for group exercises. However, a particular assignment came up and somehow the role of leader tragically fell into my lap. At the end of the exercise, the professor went around and asked each group to evaluate their group leaders. I was horrified and thought surely everyone would say I did poorly. To my surprise, the comments were glowing and positive. One fellow student stood out to me because she praised my leadership skills. I looked at myself differently that day and felt a boost to my self-esteem; particularly because someone noticed me and took the time to tell me what they thought I was good at. Since then, every job role I’ve taken on has had a direct or indirect leadership component. I now have a learned ability to lead and direct effectively with confidence.
Doubt From Others. This is a big one. As instinctively appeasing human beings, we tend to remember the negative exchanges rather than leaning into the positive ones. For me, those negative constructs have propelled me to succeed even more than I had originally intended. In my mid-twenties, I was still living at home and had a plan to save up for my first place. I was excited. I confided in my sister, I told her I had managed to save up $10,000 that first year and my goal for the coming year was to save an additional $15,000. She knew how much I had scrounged to save that amount. She looked at me with empathy and asked, “you barely saved up $10,000 this year, what makes you think you can save up $15,000 next year?” That’s when I saw the doubt in her; she didn’t think I could do it. Truthfully, in that moment, I thought I had struck gold. She ignited in me a furious passion to save up this money like my life depended on it (which it also literally did). I used that doubt as fuel to my fire. Occasionally, if I ever felt like I wouldn’t make it or that there was absolutely no way I could do it, I used that doubt to stoke my fire further. I needed to show her and everyone I could do it. I think the second year I exceeded my savings goal and saved an additional $20,000 (due to a promotion at work and curbing my spending even more). Within those four years, I was able to pay off my student loans, buy my first home, and save another $25,000 (within the first year of buying). That was the first time I was actually going to get my own room, let alone my own place! It was the first time in my life I felt like I had to take fate into my own hands. I had all the power to make my own dreams come true and I had nothing to stop me. It was four years of saving, paying off debt, and making changes to my budgeting strategies in order to make it happen, to be able to buy afford my own place. And I did it completely on my own. That determination and autonomy created a lifelong confidence in me that if I just put my mind to something, with very little help from anyone else and very little encouragement from others, I could do it; I could do it well. And there’s so much sweet satisfaction in that realization.
All the above ranged from small to significant achievements, but they all contributed to my overall self-esteem in one way or another. Self-confidence is a wonderful natural drug for the human spirit. Oftentimes, it just takes one person to see you and acknowledge your strength for you to cultivate the momentum to finish that race. And sometimes it takes a few people doubting you to propel you to the finish line. How ever you get to the end, it’s that you made it that matters most. The value I saw in myself surged in those seminal years, and I started to understand exactly what I was capable of. I truly learned that if I wanted something badly, there was really nothing that could deter me. Whether these three specific events changed who I was supposed to be or helped me fit into my own skin a bit better, I am grateful for their lessons.
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