Having held myself back for years with low expectations, I realised that my unwillingness to try new things was dragging me down. After barely making it through high school, I thought I would never make it through anything. Nevertheless, I decided to enroll in university to shake myself up and hopefully challenge my self-doubt.
During the years of studying, working unfulfilling jobs, and spending time on unemployment benefits, my self-confidence and doubt rose until I didn’t believe in myself at all. There were some glimpses of hope with the occasional promotion or sale of an artwork that carried me through. But overall, it was a drain and I found it harder and harder to socialize and because of my low confidence, I found myself withdrawing from those around me.
Throughout these experiences, I have learned some simple, yet powerful lessons about how your environment and the people around you can influence you so much. My hope is, if anything, that these lessons save you time on your own journey and help you break down that barrier of self-doubt and realise all there is to be grateful for.
1. Change Your Environment
I honestly never believed I would make it into university let alone manage to graduate. But I began my university journey with a boost of confidence that I gained from leaving my stagnate environment in my hometown of Sydney. I have learned that your surrounding environment influences you so much. Old thoughts followed me around like a ghost in Sydney. It wasn’t that anything was necessarily wrong with the city itself, but it became a box that I put myself in and the people around me were contributing to my feelings of self-doubt.
I travelled to Melbourne with a partner and though we are no longer together, it was a positive thing to be around someone who believed in me. It helped me to believe in myself, further reiterating the importance of your environment, not just physically but socially. After years of putting up self-sabotaging roadblocks, I was over it. I knew I needed to make changes.
Mental health issues greatly contributed to this experience of self-doubt. It did not help that these issues were mostly invisible and being around people who did not accept me for who I was exacerbated the symptoms further growing the doubt. Feeling like I always had to be ready for the occasional snide comment made me think I was somehow less than them, for not achieving what they thought I should be achieving. While not all the unsolicited advice they sent my way was useless, it would often catch me unawares and would feel more like a knock on my character than an actual helping hand.
If you feel this way around people in your life, I suggest not trying to explain yourself or suck up to them but instead walk away and take some time to work on yourself without their influence. A new and more caring environment might help you grow and better enable you to overcome your challenges. Just like planting a seed in bad soil will yield poor results, your human ecosystem will restrict your personal growth.
2. Re-evaluate Your Friendships
I have learned how important it is to re-evaluate who you are spending time with. In the past, I’ve spent so much time trying to be friends with people who didn’t care much about me. It was a hard lesson to learn but sometimes losing friends is for the best, no matter how scary it seems at the time.
A good way to evaluate your friendships is by asking yourself questions such as: “Do you feel like you are putting in more for them than you get back?” and “Do you feel like you need to please them just so they will continue being your friend?”
Finding people who are understanding can be tough! I honestly went through university and made a whole total of two friends I could talk to. Getting creative and finding people outside the box can help, even getting friend-zoned on a date can be useful, as I have found it has led to some great friendships.
Now as soon as I feel like I need to validate myself to someone, it’s a huge red flag and I walk away. Finding ways to connect with open-minded and friendly individuals is not always easy but when you do find a non-judgmental person it’s like gold, so take time to appreciate them.
3. Be Open To Challenges
Challenging yourself is my next crucial piece of advice – take it from someone who is often scared of what people think. I’ve let the possibility of failure dictate my quality of life for many years. It is important to keep searching for opportunities and embracing your failures.
Some ways you can challenge yourself include: asking for feedback from job interviews you were not successful in, approaching the job shop at university to ask for feedback on your resume, and undertaking work experience where possible. Putting yourself out there and exploring the possibilities allows you to build on what is working and move on from what isn’t. Social media is also a great place for this, as it provides access to a very large group of people.
It’s also important to understand that everything is a process. Even if you are struggling in some areas, learning to appreciate the process as necessary steps that are needed to get from A to B can carry you through. It’s also important to reflect on what is required to complete a task. As an archer drawing a bow knows there are necessary motions that are needed to execute the task suck as taking an arrow, letting the bow do the shooting, and levelling the arrow with the target. Reflect on what necessary steps are needed to proceed and let your tools guide you.
Breaking the barrier
Fighting against doubt is an ongoing challenge for me and just like exercise, without working on it constantly, I flounder, and it comes right back again. Walking into classes at uni I often felt like the biggest loser in the room, so without exercising my confidence I would often spiral and the self-doubt would affect my work, making me cranky and agitated. When it comes to building confidence; walking, talking, light exercise, and healthy eating are so important, that I cannot emphasize them enough.
I still struggle with self-confidence, but I have gotten to a place now where I will at least attempt to put myself out there. It took some time, but engaging in finding a healthier environment, trying even in the face of failure, working on my mental health, and challenging negative thoughts have crowbarred me out of my constant stalemate.
Your self-perception and confidence are so crucial when it comes to getting through life’s challenges. While keeping up the momentum can be tough, especially after graduating and beginning the job search slog, it is possible. Most employers expect a happy, smiley person who has a good attitude, but self-doubt can hamper your chances of getting to the next step. So don’t let the doubt win, be proud of who you are and start taking positive steps to work on your self-confidence.
I hope something in what I’ve shared resonates with you, makes you feel less alone, and encourages you put yourself out into the world. There are endless opportunities and possibilities to grow and improve. And please know that although it may feel like you don’t fit in or may be alone in your state of mind, you aren’t. Remember it’s not about perfection, it’s about the process.