“The only person who can pull me down is myself, and I’m not going to let myself pull me down anymore.” ~C. JoyBell C.
There I was lying on my sister’s couch, which had doubled as my bed. I had hit my rock bottom. I felt depressed, anxious, and disappointed about my situation.
I couldn’t understand where it all went so wrong. How did I end up here?
I was thirty, single, and pretty much homeless. My life wasn’t supposed to end up here. By this age, I was supposed to be married with kids and have a successful career and a beautiful home. Well, that was the expectation anyway.
This is where I found myself at a crossroad. Either I continued to wallow in my self-pity and blame the world for my situation, or I made a commitment to myself and started the journey to change.
I started delving into my life—picking apart my upbringing, my platonic relationships, my failed romantic relationships, my lack of drive, and my social anxieties—and found that I was paralyzed by fear. The fear of failing, fear of being judged, and fear of not being accepted, which all culminated into a severe lack of self-belief and self-love.
Why was I so afraid to believe in myself, and why was so afraid to fail?
When I thought about these questions and reflected on the beginnings of my life, I realized that it had all started with belief and failures.
I didn’t just give up on my first attempt to walk; instead, I continued to fall until I took those first few steps. And I didn’t just give up when I couldn’t string a sentence together; gibberish continued to flow out until I made sense.
But why, as an adult, did I no longer have the ability to accept failure and believe in my ability to eventually succeed?
“I should do this,” “I might do that,” or “I’ll see how I feel”… I was never able give definite terms. It was always could, should, and maybes. I always left the door open, giving myself a way out for when the inevitable non-follow through would happen.
It wasn’t because I was just too lazy. No, it was giving myself an excuse so that if I did fail, it was because I hadn’t really tried, which made it less painful and less embarrassing.
Somewhere along the lines I molded the belief that failing was tied to shame. Something I wasn’t ready to bring upon myself. So I floated through life, barely graduating school and only doing so to please my parents, then finding a “temporary” job that lasted eight unfulfilling years, all the while staying in a relationship that had run its course years before it ended.
The common thread that ran through my life: I was comfortable, and so that’s where I stayed.
I had programmed myself to believe I wasn’t capable of succeeding, achieving a fulfilling life, or finding a happy relationship. So instead I stayed on the sideline. Because on the sideline I was safe and nowhere near any situation that could lead me to fail.
The more I reflected, the more my default behaviors became apparent, and so came my commitments to change my story.
If you’ve also paralyzed yourself in fear and struggled to believe in yourself, perhaps my lessons will be helpful to you.
How I Stopped Living a Sad, Frustrating, Disappointing Life
1. I made myself 100 percent accountable.
I was great at blaming my situation on everyone else, pointing the finger at my family, my girlfriends, my bosses, and well, just about everything under the sun. But I never turned the finger on myself.
I came to the realization that I was 100 percent responsible for my situation, no one else. I had made my decisions without any gun pointed to my head, and even doing nothing was a choice.
I accepted that I couldn’t control every situation that happened to me, especially those moments where life seemed to knock me down for no reason. But, I could control how I responded to those moments. I could either decide to stay down or decide to put in the effort to overcome the challenges.
2. I stopped seeking validation.
Instagram quotes telling me not to give a sh*t about people’s opinions were everywhere. I remember reading them, feeling empowered in that moment, and then carrying on with my day, worrying about what everyone thought of me.
A classic pleaser, I put on different masks just so I could be accepted and fit in. I was incapable of giving my opinions, saying no, or even disappointing someone.
The turning point came when I acknowledged that I was seeking validation and self-belief through others’ opinions, and that a big part of my life had been living out my family’s expectation of what my life should have been.
I began to put myself first, not to be a jerk, but to give myself permission to be a priority instead of trying to please others. It wasn’t easy, but it got a lot easier the more I did it. I realized the world didn’t collapse when I put myself first, and doing this not only gave me more confidence but also a sense of self-respect that I’d never had.
2. I got comfortable with being uncomfortable.
I was an expert at avoiding situations where I could be judged and people who made me anxious. In order for me to overcome the avoidance, I had to do the opposite and learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
So, I started to look for things to make me uncomfortable. I volunteered to take on more responsibilities, gave presentations at work, voiced my ideas in meetings, disagreed with others, and asked for help.
The more I allowed myself to feel the discomfort and do it anyway, the easier it became and the more confidence I gained.
It helped that I had listed down every significant moment, no matter how big or small, on the notepad app in my phone. Then each night I read through all my ‘wins’ that day and felt the empowerment flow through my body.
4. I gave myself permission to be vulnerable.
A lot of my issues stemmed from my fear of being vulnerable and not being able to see that it was courageous to try, even if I didn’t succeed.
But it subdued my fears when I accepted that vulnerability doesn’t mean embarrassment, shame, and weakness; it means strength, courage, and confidence.
Most importantly, vulnerability has allowed me create deeper relationships, since I’ve been able to share my thoughts and troubles with those close to me while stripping away the power my anxieties once had over me.
5. I’m learning, and that’s okay.
Before, I believed that I wasn’t good enough and would never be. I thought my abilities were fixed and that I didn’t have the qualities required to be successful.
The list of ideas that never made it off the scrapbooks was endless, and every time I would get close to going through with an idea, the voice would play through my mind saying, “You’re not good enough to do it.” “Others will do it better than you.” “You’re going to fail.”
It wasn’t until I became aware of the way I was talking to myself that I was able to change it. I made the commitment that I was going to be a lifelong learner. That my mind wasn’t fixed but instead was malleable.
I have the ability to learn new skills, to develop myself and continue grow. I will fail, which comes with the territory of trying to achieve something new. But knowing that I will learn from each experience motivates me to go further, whereas it used to paralyze me before I would even begin.
Since making these commitments to myself, I have left the unfulfilling job to forge a new career, purchased my first home on my own, and followed through with a goal to run three half marathons in a year. These achievements would never have been possible if I didn’t give myself permission to be seen, to be heard, and to believe in myself.
Change starts with what we believe about ourselves. If we believe we have the potential to learn and grow, and we’re willing to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations—even if we feel vulnerable and there’s a chance we might fail—almost anything is possible.