external approval


A recent coffee chat with a mentor reminded me of an experience I had about a few years ago at a dinner with my husband. Back then, I was feeling even more lost than I am today. After the tedious formal introductions and chit chat about the weather and smog – which in my opinion is not that bad and Beijing does have sunny blue skies –one of them asked what I did for a living. I smiled, and said, “Nothing.” “What keeps you busy then?” I grinned even wider, “I write, I play with my dog, I learn calligraphy, I practice taichi, I cook, I take care of myself!” The conversation carried on from there to how they appreciated my frankness about my depression and inability to work then, and the priorities I had set for myself to look after my own health and to play with Bears. One gentleman remarked how he thought I radiated a sense of confidence because it sounded like I was enjoying what I was doing.

It made me cringe. For not so long ago, a similar question would make me retreat into my shell and I would mumble an intelligible “Nothing,” ending with maneuvers to change the subject. I was intimated by people who did not even judge me. I was scared of what they would say if they knew I went from a banker to doing nothing much everyday. I was afraid they would despise me for it. I had no confidence in myself or in what I was doing. I discounted my efforts and achievements.

Yet, one day, while I was sipping tea with my dog licking at my fingers, it suddenly occurred to me that there was no basis to be worried about what others had to say — my confidence was too hinged upon others’ perspectives, opinions and comments. But why should that be? For too long I had focused on achievements and titles. Peoples’ praises contributed to my self worth. Therefore, when I stopped working and I had no title to show for, I felt empty and lost. My self-confidence dwindled into dust and ashes.


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Today, as I venture to create and refine the concepts of Bearapy, of playfulness in organizational development, and build a new career identity, it is crucial to maintain a sense of independent self-worth instead of relying on external approval. Our confidence in ourselves needs to exude from within and not be dependent on others’ judgment of our actions and accomplishments. I do not need to have a qualification from Cordon Bleu to be confident about my cooking, nor do I need a Pulitzer Prize to prove I can write. Neither the award or the title is important compared to me believing in myself and my dreams (but it won’t hurt to have one :p ).

Real self-confidence is an assertiveness within ourselves that who we are and what we are doing is worth the value we place on it, despite what others say.

So, I relished in my life experience, and with a beam I became center of the conversation at that dinner party a few years ago. The guests were curious about my depression, and my thoughts on the matter. I mentioned what a friend I met through cyberspace was doing in this realm after his depressive episode and our discussion extended to mental health in the Chinese community. The people at the dinner were all managers in their respective companies and told me that they do worry about their employees’ stress levels and the lack of occupational health care in China. Thus an interesting conversation was born from a genuine answer of “Nothing” – and felt much better than trying to make some something to sound important.

If we are doing what we love, if we know in our heart our decisions are correct, if we feel the spark in our minds, then charge on.

Do not rely on others for your confidence; it is all about SELF confidence.

4 Responses

  1. Sara says:

    Hi Nochie
    Great article as always ! When self-worth comes from the perception we get from our self reflection in others eyes we find ourselves off balance as soon as this reflection is not up to the expectations: it’s a constant disappointment
    What a relief you must have found to go past this trap
    Love to read about the confidence you have found in your current situation – if anything many people may envy you
    Speak soon

  2. jim says:

    Hi Noch
    Your post made me cry. I sincerely thank you.


about Noch Noch

Enoch Li, (pen name: Noch Noch) was born and raised in Hong Kong and Australia. She has also studied / worked / lived in the US, France, UK, Japan, The Netherlands, China, and has travelled to more than 40 countries. She loves travelling and her curiosity in foreign cultures and languages has led her to enjoy her life as an international executive in the banking & finance industry. However, she was forced to take time off work in 2010 due to her illnesses and after spending time in recovery, cooking, practising Chinese calligraphy, reading and writing – in short, learning to take care of herself and letting out the residual work stress, she has transitioned into a Social Entrepreneur and founded BEARAPY to help corporates make workplaces mentally healthy, and support executives to become more resilient.