I started out 2013, like I did every year, pretty unsure of myself. I’ve always had a pretty bad case of Impostor Syndrome, and felt that “believing in myself” and “being full of myself” were too close to call on a regular basis. It was better to be self-deprecating, keep my hopes low, and rarely be disappointed.
Late in January, though, near my birthday, I had the chance to take a woman I’d admired for a long time out to lunch. To me, she always seemed the perfect mix of self-loving and optimistic, happy for others and happy for herself. I asked her how she did it, how she was so happy and so positive through a life that is — like all of ours are — often filled with rejection and failure. “I love myself, and know that I’m good. I’m a good person, I try hard, I learn from my mistakes. No one can take that away from me.” She recommended that, if I wanted to stop my constant cycles of self-doubt and self-loathing, I work on loving and believing in myself as if it were a professional project. So I did.
My steps were small, but important. I didn’t talk negatively about myself, I didn’t undervalue my accomplishments or my personal relationships, and I forced myself to laugh off the rejections. I complimented myself, and took time (a glass of champagne, a long walk, a trip to the frozen yogurt shop) to celebrate my victories. In short, I became the sort of person (but particularly young woman) that we describe as overconfident. And this is what I learned.
1. Faking it until you make it is real.
At first, loving yourself feels really strange. You’re used to complimenting others, taking care of them when they’re down, and thinking of why you love them. Doing it with yourself feels gratuitous and silly, looking in the mirror and saying nice things is not something that we’re used to doing. But once you get the ball rolling, forcing yourself to smile and to say a nice thing instead of a mean one, it becomes second nature. You realize how much better it feels to value yourself and set personal standards for treatment. Eventually you pass by the mirror and think “Eyyyy,” because there is an awesome person looking back at you.
2. Laugh at your own jokes.
Here’s the thing about humor: one joke can’t please everyone, and there is a taste for every occasion. Sometimes you want to watch a video of goats yelling, sometimes you want to read Oscar Wilde, sometimes you love a Christopher Guest movie. And the key is that you enjoy humor, you laugh whenever you feel like it, and you never feel stupid about what is funny to you. Laughing is one of the best parts of life, and making yourself do it is too great a joy to give up on. If you make a perfectly-timed pun that everyone else rolls their eyes at but you love, laugh until you have tears in your eyes, and don’t ever worry about looking silly. The only silly thing is taking yourself too seriously to crack up.
3. You are still human.
When trying to love yourself and be positive, you might feel a pressure to be this perfectly resilient piece of emotional Teflon that never gets hurt or down on yourself. This is absurd, and will only make you feel like a failure if you try it. Sometimes people will hurt your feelings, or reject you, or you will simply have a bad day. And that doesn’t meant that your positive streak has to start over from zero. Saying “this is hurtful,” or “I need to take time to myself to regroup” is perfectly normal and healthy. Lashing out and reacting by hurting others — or yourself — is the part that you can work on, but that doesn’t mean blocking out pain entirely. Sometimes just admitting that you are sad is half the battle.
4. Give people a chance to make things right.
One thing I have learned this year was that reaching out and being honest with people if they’ve hurt your feelings is by far the best thing you can do with your pain. Be concise, be honest, and don’t be accusatory. Give them the chance to explain, or apologize, or even just listen and process it. I have found that 90 percent of the time, two things are happening. One, you are attributing to malice what is mostly just ignorance or forgetfulness. Two, people are generally pretty cool and want to make things right again. Usually people will explain their perspective and show compassion, and things will be able to improve and move along instead of festering within you like an open wound for the next several years to come.
5. Some people aren’t worth it, let them go.
I used to be so incredibly wrapped up in the approval of people who didn’t care about me. It seemed like the more someone would reject me or dismiss me, the more deeply and masochistically I wanted their approval. This year, though, I started actively brushing off the people who weren’t interested in showing me affection. A text message that used to torment me for days can now be met with a “lol,” and going off to do other things. There are people in this world who are not interested in being kind or making right — at least, not with you — and there is no reason to give them any more of your time. When you know that you are worthy and deserving of love, and remind yourself regularly, it becomes clear that chasing them down is only taking time away from the people who actually want to be around you.
6. Personal relationships are a real accomplishment.
It’s easy to take loved ones for granted, in every sense of the word. I used to think that keeping close the same best friend for 14 years, or having a great long-term relationship, were just the normal things that happened to people. And true, some people do have these things. But a lot of people don’t, and no one is owed these things. Every day it’s a choice to stay together, to go visit each other, to make a phone call, to reach out and strengthen that bond. It’s an accomplishment on both sides, something to be proud of and cherish, and something that you should work on frequently. Nothing is better for personal confidence than having a team of people on your side — on whose side you are on, too — who knows who you are and loves you because of it.
7. Life is too short not to be overconfident.
At the end of the day, we don’t know how much time we have left. We can either spend this time feeling unworthy and undeserving, or we can spend it feeling lucky. Lucky to have this job, that friend, this relationship, and lucky to be who we are. I wake up every day and feel glad to be in my body, I look in the mirror and think of all the things I like, and I look at my friends and want to pinch their cheeks from how happy I am to have them in my life. And yes, someone might look at me and think, “Ugh, she’s so full of herself. Gross.” But the great thing about that? I don’t have to care what they think about me. The approval of strangers is great, but you have to go to sleep in your own head and go out with the people you’ve chosen. I think it’s better, in the short time we have, to make sure you’re happy there.