For a while, I held this belief that insecurity and self-doubt were circumstantial.
I used to believe that the reason why we feel insecure is largely because no one seems to affirm our abilities. We aren’t spoken well of enough, we aren’t validated enough. We have low self-esteem because everyone around us seems to fail to see our true worth. We have much self-doubt because our environment doesn’t allow us to operate according to our strengths. We keep settling for jobs and people and tasks that don’t quite bring out the best in us.
When I was still at my full-time work, I had much insecurity and self-doubt. I had this perpetual sense that I didn’t belong – I didn’t belong in my department, I didn’t belong in the institution, I didn’t belong in the field. It wasn’t just that I wanted to go do something else someplace else – no, that thought came much, much later. The nagging feeling that I didn’t belong stemmed from the thought that I wasn’t good enough – I didn’t have a brilliant mind like the rest of the people I worked with, I didn’t come up with the greatest ideas, I didn’t’ have the best written outputs, I wasn’t even quick enough to join in on the witty conversations over lunch in the pantry.
My mind constantly hummed of reasons why I was not enough. I was constantly on the lookout for my next mistake. And I never ran out of ways on how I knew I was going to fail.
I practically had zero self-esteem.
I tried to remedy this by having these daily pep talks with myself. “You can do this. You have what it takes,” I would tell myself, or other variations thereof. There were days though, that the voice deep inside my head was all I heard, that it overpowered whatever ounce of resolve I had.
I also tried to seek encouragement from others. Thinking that the way that I viewed myself largely had to do with how other viewed me, I started hanging out with people with whom I felt a little bit more appreciated. I spent more time with people who made me feel safe – safe from all forms of judgement and expectations.
Still, a thousand if only’s plagued me, night and day. I thought, if only I wasn’t here. If only I had a different set of workmates. If only I didn’t have to take part in any of the exasperating mind games. If only the office wasn’t so full of unspoken expectations. If only the job wasn’t so mentally and emotionally demanding.
Eventually I became thoroughly convinced that the problem was not me, but the kind of environment I was in. It wasn’t doing me good at all, I thought to myself.
It was costing me my sanity.
So I left.
Much to my chagrin and surprise, all of the insecurity and self-doubt never left me.
Even when I started to pursue my dream job, even when I started to pursue the very things I knew I was good at, even if I was no longer surrounded by people who I felt did not see me for who I truly was, I still had much, much doubt about myself.
That’s when I realized that self-esteem, or lack of it, is not just attributable to a circumstance or event. Take out that event, and the self-esteem issues are still likely going to ensue. Change the circumstances, and the self-doubt will still manifest in one way or another, at some point or the other.
Because the way that you think about yourself isn’t dependent on the people around you, the environment you’re in, or your circumstances.
How you see yourself depends on how you choose to see yourself. It depends on the meanings that you choose to attribute to all of your life experiences, to the way you were brought up, even to the things people have said to you and about you at one point or another.
So the culprit in all of your insecurities and self-doubt is that tiny, constant, unrelenting voice inside your head telling you what ought and ought not to be, compelling you to always compare yourself with others and rank yourself according to this gauge that is supposedly unspoken but universal.
That tiny voice inside your head is real, as much as you are.
But it hardly ever tells you the truth.
We all have conversations with ourselves. It’s a phenomenon that psychologists refer to as inner talk.
Innate and inevitable as it may be, there will be instances when you will have to sift through these internal monologues. In fact, there will be instances when you will have to learn how to shut them off entirely. To a certain point, you will realize the need to learn how to unlearn everything that your “inner speech” has told you about you and the world you live in.
Remember that you are only as good as you allow yourself to be. And only you should get to decide who you become – not the people around you, not your circumstances, not your environment, and certainly not that voice inside your head.