I sat in a room of ten talented people. All linguists, speaking more than two languages at the very least. All postgraduate students, varying in ages between 21 to 30. They were sitting, looking up at websites of other “professional translators” as examples of how we could make our websites and I could feel the dread in the room rising like a palpable thing.
The comparison was killing their confidence.
They saw in that big projected screen: this is everything I don’t have and I felt my heart sink for them. I saw so much insecurity and fear and self-doubt that I knew was growing because I felt it too.
The difference being was that I’d been through this before.
Everything I’ve done has been accompanied by my inner critic. That voice in your head that goes: but you’re not good enough, there is nothing unique about what you have to say, etc.
It’s apparently particularly prevalent in women (go figure), and 99% of the people in the room were women. At the end of the presentation the lecturer turns to us and goes:
“So what do you think?”
There was a beat of silence, and then one girl said meekly: “that I’ll never get a job.”
That opened the floodgates. Everyone pitched in on how overwhelmed they felt, how inexperienced, how they would never amount to anything. It felt like they were defeated before they’d even begun.
I was saying the same things in my head, but I’d put it into its own zone within my mind and was trying not to engage with it. If you’d spoken to me even just one year before, I’d have wallowed endlessly in that feeling – the feeling of shame, unworthiness, unpreparedness…I’d have told myself: “you are never going to be as good as those people”.
I started to approach things with curiosity rather than with pre-set expectations.
I lost my confidence when I lost sight of what it was I liked to do, and who I was. I stopped doing things for the curiosity of it and only did it for profit or productivity, believing that I had to have success to show for however I spent my time. Everything I did was tied to external validation. The slightest bit of criticism would send me spiralling into those negative thoughts.
I can’t tell you exactly how my mindset shifted because there was no lightbulb moment of change, it was a gradual process.
Changing those negative feelings involved forcing myself to be a little scared. Being a little scared and doing it anyway and learning that I wasn’t going to break.
Putting things out there and hearing feedback of any kind and learning to be at peace with it.
Doing the thing because I love the thing and not tying it to my self-worth.
This photo might be terrible. No-one could read my blog post. I might get criticised for the way I choose to translate something. Does that make me a lesser person? No.
Does that mean I should stop creating entirely? or that I’m a terrible translator? Also, no.
So here I am, trying. Trying to do the things that bring a smile to my face – which may be playing in the sunlight with a bunch of flowers, or writing about a love story amidst a war or journaling about how I’m feeling today.
When I started trying and enjoying the process and failing and succeeding and learning was when I started to feel like I could do this.
I believe there is joy and confidence to be found in doing things for the sake of doing them, in getting messy and loving the process. In trying and not letting your inner critic hold you back, expecting to be the best at everything you do.
Something that helped me immensely was reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Big Magic”, a book where she talks about creativity, where she says that you are not owed success, your only job is to show up.
Isn’t that incredibly freeing?
So I started trying. My trying meant:
- Starting this blog
- Sharing on Instagram and being playful with photography
- Sending out applications for jobs just to see what would happen (rather than from desperation)
- Seeing if working freelance worked for me
Crucially, in the process of doing this all, I have approached it all with curiosity rather than a desire to be “doing”. Because of this, I’ve connected more with what I like to do, which is hard to really feel when your confidence is down.
I think that is what is at the heart of self-confidence: knowing yourself.
This allows you to not tie the product to its outcome but to the process, to be working on something because it aligns with who you are, rather than what you think you should be doing. Learning that you are capable of making and creating, whatever that means for you.
I believe in you.
Go get your confidence back.