Everyone I know would say that I am incredibly approachable and some have even said that I had a special charisma and a trusting aura. The closest few admitted to being in persistent surprise, having said I was “multi-talented and inspiring”. However, in spite of my sociable persona, my easy success in making new friends, and my many hobbies and eclectic knowledge, I would never say that I am anything but an outgoing, simple introvert. I almost never want to be the highlight of the party in spite of all my efforts of naturally being so. Furthermore, I am not a specialist of any skill; I am a generalist of the worst kind in every skill.
I felt like I never deserved the attention or compliment. It boiled down to my self-esteem and confidence. Confidence is a delicate quality I struggle to sustain because it comes down to accepting one’s strengths and limits in the face of comparison and in the realization of one’s uniqueness.
Unfortunately, I have lived my life with nothing but comparisons.
If someone said that they were good at a certain talent, skill, or disposition, it always appeared so unnatural to me simply because: one, there would always be someone else better than them or that there would always be room for improvement, and; two, admitting you had a strength in the first place made me think you were proud and arrogant for thinking that you were somehow entitled to say you had that strength.
That’s why I would think that I was never that great of a person to my friends despite my joyful memories with them, that I never deserved to be in university despite my what some would consider excellent grades, that I was just wasting my time when I spent more hours in the dance studio than in my bed, despite comments of vast improvement from many qualified teachers.
I tried to shape this way of thinking more positively. I tried to think that instead of focusing on strengths that I was told to have, that I had better try to solve my issues and overcome my weaknesses so that I could be the best that I could. But in the end, I have come to realize that my shortcomings—a sense of constant nervousness and self-doubt—stem from an insecurity of not having a “model answer“. I had to know if I was doing something right and I wanted to make sure that my way of doing something was objectively correct. Like how 1 + 1 = 2, I had to know that there could be a reachable standard before I attempted to do anything.
If there was no way to realize and reach “good”, how could I ever improve it or be confident of it? This is why I only ever focused on the “bad”. Imagine my struggle was a hobbyist writer with a passionate love for dance.
Everything changed when I finally applied and successfully landed a job. I was being trained to be a class therapist in Aoi Pui School, an institution that employs the Applied Behavioural Analysis system to cater children with autism. I was only two weeks into my expected four-week training period when they asked me to leave. Every therapist had to be energetic and fun but at the same time follow a plan prescribed to each individual autistic student. What I could offer—being spontaneous, hyper, and dynamic—was, for them, unfit, unorthodox, and was just not right.
I will never forget that day. To be told that I was not good enough only halfway into the training because of my character and work ethic really crushed me. I was upset for weeks.
Now in hindsight, it was a good sign that I did not get the job. I would never have been good at the job if we were told to be systematic when indeed I was very dynamic. I know that I am simply not right for that kind of specialized career.
More importantly, they told me that regardless of my weaknesses to conform to what they sought out, I had my strengths that really highlighted how I was, in and out. This has honestly done very much to boost my confidence and my low self-esteem. I was told that I was worth something and desirable, albeit not a right fit for the job. But that’s okay, because hardly anyone can ever be so cookie-cutter and do any job they wanted. So… yes, I’m happy that I lost my job.
You might say that this is like what I said above: a type of confirmation that I am doing something right. Yes, that is true. But the rounds of interviews, hands-on tests, critiques, praises, and the parting words of the school principal in our final farewell did so much more for me than any positive comment or support from my friends or my dance teachers. It had given me the revelation that in this day and age, in this stressful society with a mania for immediate success, I was really, actually worth something.
They saw the potential in me. I did things right. I conveyed moments of excellence and tenacity under pressure. I showed gradual improvement and initiative and was rewarded for it. Yes, it did not work out, but their efforts to push me to be better made me better.
I now write with a fire to say my thoughts, burning with ideas but still mindful for a meaningful and structural narrative. I remember that dancing is supposed to be a fun and interactive way to express the soul, but I remain critical and receptive to theatricality (to look good) and improvement. Best of all, I stay true to myself and be who I am with my friends. They love me for being me anyway.
I’m not magically cured of my old ways, of course. I am, however, much better and more assured about my views on (my) strengths and confidence. Now, I know that confidence and humility are not two sides of a coin.
That’s such a relieving fact to learn.
Edited by: Gordon Lo