“You’ve changed,” my friend blurted out, all of a sudden.
“You’re still quiet. But now your back is straightened up, you’re smiling more often and you have an aura of confidence around you. You look so different from the crouched down, sad-looking, shy girl I met only a few months ago. What happened?”
Good question. What had happened in the past few months since I had seen my friend Annette? Nothing. Everything. Life.
I had moved several times. I had taken all the crappy jobs I could find to make ends meet and quit most of them because they weren’t making me happy. I had been back on the dating scene after 12 years in a steady relationship. I had left the safety of my family and a life I knew to start all over again in a foreign country. I had experienced the best London has to offer. I had experienced the worst London has to offer. I was living my life, just like every other 30-something year old girl.
And yet, in those few short months, I could tell – she could tell – something had changed. For as long as I could remember, I had been at war with myself. I had told myself it was wrong to be shy. It was rude to be quiet. It was bad to be an introvert. But, somewhere along the way, I had begun to accept all that. I realised my flaws weren’t flaws. They were strengths. It was ok to be shy, quiet, introvert, awkward me.
Again, I can’t pinpoint exactly the moment when this happened – because there wasn’t a moment. It was a slow process of living my life, learning lessons and growing up. But I can share my story and what I’ve learned along the way with you:
Embrace Your Personality
From the moment I was born, I felt like I was wrong. Italy isn’t a place for the quiet. Everyone there is loud, chatty and makes friends easily. I never was like that. I’ve always preferred to curl up at home with a good book rather than playing hide and seek with my friends, loved feminine dresses and heels instead than the edgier denim jeans and sneakers everyone else was sporting and enjoyed long and deep one-on-one conversations rather than doing small talk with everyone I met. I stood out.
The bullying as a child was relentless. I desperately wanted to fit in so I tried to do small talk with strangers but I sounded and looked so terribly awkward, I could tell that poor sod couldn’t wait to find an excuse to get out of it. I tried going out to pubs and clubs but I’ve always found them terribly boring – what’s so fun about drinking so much you don’t even remember where you are and dancing to music so loud you can’t even hear what your friends are talking about? I also wore jeans and sneakers even though I’ve never felt as comfortable in them as I do in a casual dress and a nice pair of sandals.
My efforts to fit in didn’t make other people like me more. And even if they did, they surely weren’t worth the pain and exhaustion. Trying to be someone you’re not, having to constantly pretend to be different and keeping up appearance is terribly tiring. It didn’t make me happier and didn’t help me get closer to my dreams. If anything, the opposite was true. Trying to fit in made me become so anxious – anxious to be liked, anxious I’d be bullied – I feel into a deep depression.
When I finally managed to get out of it, I swore to myself, no more. No more pretending. No more fitting in. No more pleasing bullies. From now on, I’m wearing what I like, doing what I like and talking when I like. From now on, I’m doing me.
Adapt To Situations
Having said that, you won’t be the same person all the time. Human beings are complex creatures and we tend to play up or down certain aspects of our personalities – even when we don’t mean to fit in.
For example, Adam always comments how much louder than usual I am when I’m talking to my mum. When I speak to strangers or people I don’t know well, I tend to speak in a softer voice. But with someone I know very well – like my mum – then I turn the volume up. This doesn’t mean that I’m two different people. On the other hand, I’m the kind of person who’s quieter around strangers and louder around friends and family (by the way, don’t think that quiet means disinterested – I’m busy watching your every move and listening to your every word to suss out if you’re the kind of person I really want to let into my inner circle. It’s a privilege reserved only for a lucky few).
I also tend to act more professional with clients I’m meeting for the first time or don’t know that well. By professional, I mean I don’t greet them with “Hey, lady, how’s it going today?” I use their name and tend to be more formal, although if we hit it on and get to know each other better overtime, I can certainly loosen up and become more colloquial even with my clients.
I don’t think this is about changing yourself or, worse, lying. We all have contradicting traits and different facets of our personality. It’s all about learning in which situations to showcase them so you always make the best impression – all while being 100% genuinely, authentically you.
Embrace Your Flaws
If there’s one thing I could tell to my younger self is stop wasting so much time worrying over and hating the way you like. No, your eyes aren’t too small, your waist isn’t too large and your laughter isn’t too annoying. And even if they were, who the heck cares?
No one is noticing them. Trust me on this one. Everyone else is too obsessed on their flaws (thank you, toxic media culture!) to pay any attention to what you look like. And the people who do pay attention and take the time out of their miserable life to tell you that you’re overweight or that your nose is too big aren’t really worth your attention. Do you really want to spend your life with people for whom you’ll never be good enough? Because I can assure you that even if your fairy godmother waived her magic wand to turn you into the most beautiful woman in the world, those people would still find something to criticise about you.
The people who truly care about you can’t see those flaws you’re obsessing with. If nothing, your nasal laugh or your curvy figure may just be the thing they love the most about you. So, embrace your “flaws”. They make you who you are.
Find Your Crowd
I grew up in a small Italian village. There was absolutely no one there like me. No one who was as quiet. Who liked the same things I liked. Who dressed the way I wanted to dress. It was so easy then for me to think I was the wrong one. It was only when I grew up and discovered the internet that I realised there were plenty of other people out there who were as quiet and awkward. Who liked both reading books and dressing up. Who absolutely hated clubbing and all the popular things the “cool kids” did.
One of the reasons why I chose to move to London of all places is because no one cares about who you are here. You can literally walk down the streets naked with a huge pink wing on your head and glittery rainbow boots on your feet and no one will give you a second look. It’s the kind of place where you’ll meet all sorts of people. The kind of place where its easy to meet like-minded people like you and find your crowd.
Hanging out with people who share your same dreams and passions, weird personality quirks and tastes changes everything. Finally, you realise what was obvious all along – there was never anything wrong with you.
Face Your Fears
There’s no way around it: facing your fears is key to building confidence – and it’s a lot easier to do when you surround yourself with people who get you and always have your back. I remember the first time I wore a smart casual dress to see an old friend. I dressed it down with black ballet flats and a black cardigan but I was afraid she would say I had become posh all of a sudden. Well, she asked me if I had some fancy event to go to after our coffee date but when I said no, that was it. She didn’t think I had become too snobby all of a sudden. Those fears were all in my heads.
Maybe you’re already dressing the way you most like but are too scared to tell your date that you don’t like his fave band for fear he won’t like you or still go along with your friends to the club every Friday night because you don’t want to be seen as boring. Well, its time to stop faking it. Wear whatever you want, tell people want you really like and don’t like and don’t hold back your personality. Nothing bad will happen. The world will still turn. Your fake friends and Negative Nancies will disappear from your life. You’ll become more confident and happier for it.Embrace your flaws. They make you who you are.Click To Tweet
Over to you, now. How did you learn to become more confident being you? Share your stories in the comments below.