I have never been a confident person. All my life I’ve shied away from people and lurked in the shadows of conversation. No matter where I was or who I was with, I always felt that even though people didn’t mind my presence, they could get along just fine without me.
In school, I only got noticed when I was performing really well academically. It was the only thing people knew about me. So, I built my identity around that. I built my confidence around it too, often forgetting that I had a lot more going for me. But, if that didn’t matter to other people, I didn’t think (at that time) that it should matter to me.
Then, in grade 11, I did something adventurous. I stepped out of my comfort zone and entered the school talent show. I’d never been alone on a stage before then. At least not that I can remember, and I was absolutely terrified at the idea.
I remember being on stage and in the middle of the song, I make eye contact with one of my classmates in the front row. Her expression was completely blank. All I could think about after that was how they all probably thought I was awful and weird and that they’d all be laughing and jeering at me at school the next day.
Well, they didn’t. Mostly, people didn’t care. I did care though. I projected all my insecurities onto them (and I hate to admit, still do).
Anyway, flash forward one year and I’m on that very same stage again – this time with a friend. I was really nervous during the weeks leading up to the performance because my singing partner was this really cool, popular guy and I was all but invisible. I was so intimidated, though I never admitted it.
Would I measure up to him?
The fateful night passed in a blur – leaving us winning 3rd place. Winning anything at all was already a huge confidence boost for me but what really stuck with me was this: after we finished an acoustic rendition of pumped up kicks, I wanted to join the audience to watch another friend perform. As I stood by a little side door, looking for a place to sit, my then-crush ran up to me and said, “Wow, you really held your own up there.”
Those words meant so much to me. Not only because it came from someone I cared about but because it made me feel as if someone had finally seen behind all the wrapping paper I’d hidden in. His words were an acknowledgement that I was a person – more than the sum of the ideas and expectations others had projected onto me. I had done something I loved, not for the approval of others but for my own enjoyment, and it had paid off.
In the years that followed, changing environments, people and circumstances had me crawling back into my shell. People will always choose the box with the pretty gift wrapping over the brown cardboard box, even if the gifts are the same. People-pleasing became a hobby. But today, my crush’s words jumped out at me again, except, I’d like to modify them a bit. When people look at me, I want them to think, “Wow, she’s really holding her own out there [in the world].”
No more wrapping paper. Just me. Unashamed. I am more than the sum of the ideas and expectations of others.
I’m trying very hard to remember that. I am trying very hard to rediscover my voice and hold my own. If people will judge you no matter what, you might as well have fun with whatever it is you’re doing and let the sceptics string along for the ride.