I’ve been thinking about confidence a lot lately, and what it means to be the one to empower yourself. There’s so much power in not seeking validation elsewhere. But where does confidence come from?
Growing up, my friends used to tell me I needed to be more assertive. But I am assertive, I’d argue. No Erica, you’re too nice.
too nice became a phrase that seemed to follow me around everywhere.
I don’t know why I was always “too nice,” shy, a people pleaser. For as long as I can remember, I assumed no one wanted to hear my voice. I never said anything until I was asked. I waited to be invited places. I took a passive role in so many of my relationships. So it makes sense that I always preferred to be alone – with a lack of confidence, and thus an inability to express my own boundaries, staying within the comfort of my own company was so much more enjoyable.
Nevertheless, I got by. Most people I knew would have described me as nice or, if they knew me a little bit better, possibly sarcastic or smart. No, it wasn’t inaccurate, but I always felt like there was so much of me that wasn’t seen.
Yet in the past few months, I’ve felt a shift with how I look at confidence.
A lot of it had to do with spending so much time in Brazil. Possibly, also, with hitting a milestone birthday (thirty is good, folks). Speaking cross-culturally, boundaries that I never had to explicitly express before suddenly became crucial. Oftentimes it became an element of maintaining my personal identity, not just my personal space. In a place where it seems practically unheard of to do things alone – by choice – expressing my need for solitude became critical, and not always well-received.
As someone who always defaulted to a “better please everyone” philosophy, the more I found myself getting pushback on my mental and physical boundaries, the more confident I had to be in my stance. Am I being rude? Am I being unfair to anyone else? Do I need to adapt? Asking for things that often go without saying in my home culture made me examine my wants and needs on a level that I never had the opportunity to do before.
And you know what I realized? A lot of people don’t like boundaries.
This, for me, is what’s caused my greatest shift and a lesson I’ve been trying to learn since my early twenties.
Doing your best to please others doesn’t mean they will automatically do the same for you. That is why it’s so important to take care of yourself first, so that your relationships begin on a foundation of mutual self-fulfillment. No one else can meet your needs because your needs aren’t theirs.
Growing up, I had often seen – particularly women – around me lambasted for standing up for themselves or others. Setting boundaries and being confident in your needs seemed like something that always provoked conflict, rather than peace. As such, I typically felt guilty whenever I had to tell someone no.
Recently, I found myself pondering this guilt. If someone shamed me for expressing my distaste for something, I turned inward: did I do something wrong? Yet, more often than not, the answer was no. My saying “I don’t like that” didn’t harm anyone, but my silence harmed me. In the face of feeling judged, I also felt justified. Better yet, I felt confident in myself and my needs. While my habitual reaction was to apologize, instead I remembered that, when someone else tells you your needs are inconvenient for them, you say, “that’s too bad” and go take care of yourself.
In other words: you can’t please everybody all the time, but you can choose to make yourself happy.
Better yet, my preferred TL;DR: do no harm but take no shit.
Confidence, like happiness and so many other things, requires practice. I feel like I have a little seedling of a new relationship towards confidence and boundaries sprouting, and I like it. I look forward to nurturing it and growing, finally, into my voice, without waiting for anyone else to tell me it’s okay.