This week's Student Diary discusses finding yourself and fear of the unknown - Managing Editor / Tara Lonsdorf

It’s easy to let others guide your life. Many of us adopt habits to blend in and try to be what keeps others’ opinions of us at bay. For many, the need to keep within our comfort zone, often prompted by a lack of self-confidence, is a guiding force in decision making.

Due to a deprived sense of self and lack of confidence in our abilities, we often short-change our potential. If so many of us are bound to what’s comfortable, then why is a life with low self-esteem so uncomfortable? The best thing that you can wear is confidence. This is why:

Self-confidence is your opinion, perception and belief in yourself. Whether we know it or not, both its presence or absence motivates a majority of our lifestyle. Like the very emotions we wear on our face, your self-esteem is not held captive to the walls of your mind, but often manifests itself in the way that you present and carry yourself around other people.

If you have no belief in your capabilities, how can others? While the effects of low self-esteem can be unique to everyone, there are still some key commonalities in how it presents itself, and what you can do to overcome it.

Catch negative self-talk when it occurs and decipher what’s triggering the thought. Panic at the thought of letting others down, disappointing people or the possibility of failing often prompts fear-driven decision-making.

Whose expectations are you trying to live up to? Are you making decisions that progress you or that alleviate you from the stress of potential failure? Lacking self-confidence often leads to feelings of inadequacy and actions of avoidance. In your professional life, you may find yourself saying no to opportunities or offers for fear of lacking qualifications or underperforming.

Why are you so quick to assume the worst about yourself in the very same situations where you would encourage others? In your personal life, you may find yourself avoiding invitations or social gatherings in fear of being judged, disliked or set apart.

What aspects of who you are have you not come to terms with? What is it about yourself that generates a vulnerability toward the opinion of others? In understanding how to gain confidence, you must first assess where and why you are lacking it. Start answering introspective, uncomfortable questions. 

A sense of confidence generates more than just a positive feeling — it dictates your thought processes and way of life. Understand that perfection does not exist; it simply is not attainable. The inability to meet every expectation, fit in with every social circle or be liked by every person you cross paths with does not make you flawed; it makes you human.

Stop beating yourself up for not meeting the expectations that you don’t even have for yourself, but believe that others do. There is nothing wrong with you simply because you were not what someone was looking for. You possess your own skillset, humor and personality meant to fit in places where others won’t. Not everything is right for you, and you’re not right for everything. That’s okay.

Stop setting the bar so low for yourself, creating constant thoughts of insufficiency. In building your self-confidence, you must start taking credit for personal successes. Whether on paper or in your head, make note of your strengths and accomplishments, making genuine efforts to counter discouraging thoughts with affirmations of your personal goals and abilities to achieve them.

Try pushing yourself to say yes to opportunities that you typically avoid out of fear or discomfort and, in the same way, prioritize your feelings and needs by saying no when you need to say no. Make an effort to live with more spontaneity and bravery, asking yourself, “what is the worst that could happen?” Is not getting the job worse than not having the courage to apply for it at all? Is feeling a bit out of place worse than missing the opportunity to meet a potential best friend? Is the fear of judgment or failure really worse than the results of never trying? 

In order to gain some sense of control over your life and your decisions, you must know and accept yourself. For every weakness you find, find one strength. For every insecurity, find one positive attribute. For what is changeable, make an effort to improve it; for what is not, make an effort to embrace it.

When you finally become okay with who you are, and understand what you have to offer, you stop relying on the acceptance of others and stop fearing their judgment. You form genuine relationships without the guise of who you think you should be. You stop avoiding and start doing. You find value in the opportunities that once made you too fearful to partake because the worst that could happen is you fail. And then you get up tomorrow, the sun still rises, the world still moves and you try again. 

You are the only you that this world will ever have, so don’t deprive it of the privilege of knowing you. Voice your opinion, go to the event, apply for the job or take the opportunity. Do something out of your comfort zone, because, with confidence in yourself, you can.  

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