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.
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.