We often talk about stepping into our true power, about building our confidence muscle and boosting our self-esteem. But although self-confidence and self-esteem seem similar—referring to how we feel about ourselves—they are two very different concepts.
Self-esteem refers to how we generally feel about ourselves: how much we like or love ourselves, and the overall image we have about who we are—positive or negative. It is shaped by our experiences and the environments we grow up in, by our family members, our school and our community. Self-confidence relates to how we feel about our abilities and how capable we see ourselves of doing certain things or handling different situations.
Related: 3 Questions to Know If You’re Truly Confident
Most of us have been raised to focus on our weaknesses and perceived limitations, rather than our strengths. In some cases, we were taught to find ways to improve so that we could become “the best versions of ourselves.”
Take my home country, Romania, where, like in many other places, the schooling system was a fierce competition for the best grades and being first in class. I remember I was spending an average of 10 hours a day or more studying and doing homework; I hardly had time to play and relax. Teachers and parents always made comparisons between students and other kids, and individual talents were not truly encouraged.
I ended up struggling with serious self-esteem issues for many years. As a young woman, I didn’t see myself as beautiful enough, smart enough, good enough. I was constantly and desperately trying to be perfect.
And I was a master of giving—my care and my attention, my time and my energy. Putting my wants and needs first was uncomfortable and felt selfish. I was always striving to be the best friend I could be, the best daughter or the best employee. I wanted to please everyone so they would like me. I needed others to validate my worth.
We can only change the things we are aware of, the things we accept to be true.
We can only change the things we are aware of, the things we accept to be true. So it was only after I faced the truth and recognized my injured self-esteem that was I able to do some work and change it.
I made a list of things I liked about myself and promised myself to add one new thing every single day.
I looked back on my life and acknowledged all of my achievements, knowing they reflected hard work and effort. I made a list of personal skills and qualities I was proud of, giving myself credit for every small accomplishment in my daily life, instead of taking it for granted. It didn’t have to be big like saving someone from drowning. Being able to cook the best moussaka in the world was enough, and my list quickly grew.
I also wanted to discover and know myself, so I took various self-assessments, such as StrengthsFinder and MBTI. I found out that I am empathetic, intuitive, determined, ambitious, focused, hardworking and committed. I have a gift for working with people and being able to identify the strengths in others.
By doing all this, my self-confidence in my capability to do good things and leave a legacy in the world strengthened. I began to see myself in an entirely new light. And my self-esteem and the way I perceived myself improved, too.
Today I treat myself kindly. I have learned to love who I am with all my flaws and imperfections. I am aware of my strengths and talents, and, in the same way, I can see and appreciate the gifts in others.
Related: Answer 3 Questions to Identify Your Strengths
Building a healthy self-esteem and gaining confidence in my ability to make meaningful choices has been an inside job and a very rewarding journey, and I’ve gained powerful insights along the way. Here is what I know to be true about life and myself.
1. Loving my whole self—mind, body and soul—is not selfish; it’s necessary for a healthy life.
To be able to love others, we need to keep our cup full.
2. Perfection is pure fiction.
I am grateful for all of my mistakes because they were real blessings in disguise that made me wiser. As John C. Maxwell says, “Sometimes we win, sometimes we learn. We never lose.” I stopped stressing myself out while trying to be perfect and I am always aiming for good enough.
3. I am not a victim.
My past has nothing to do with my future and my old limitations do not define who I am today. Blaming others for taking my time, money or love is unfair because I always choose how much I give and to whom. No one can hurt me or upset me without my consent. I am in charge of my actions and my future is the result of my current choices. The day I stopped blaming my past or other people, I set myself free.
4. Worrying about what others think is a waste of time.
I cannot please everyone, no matter how much I try. Whatever people think about me is their opinion, filtered through their lenses; it’s all about them and it has zero to do with me. I stopped trying to please others in the hopes that they would like me. I like myself as I am and I don’t need or expect other people to make me happy. My happiness is my responsibility and everything else is a bonus.
5. Saying no to things we don’t want to do is a learned practice of self-care.
If it sounds like I should do, I don’t do it. I go for the things that feel like a want. My wants come from myself, instead of being imposed on me by others. I always choose how I am spending my precious time and with whom. My time means life and it’s never coming back.
6. Life doesn’t have to be a fight or an exhausting competition.
I stopped competing and comparing myself to others. Instead, I mind my own journey and I am happy for other people’s achievements. I choose to live in a state of love instead of fear and I believe in abundance. We live in a supportive universe, where there is enough of everything and for everyone.
7. Being authentic is a matter of choice.
I choose to stay true to who I am and what I believe to be right. It is my birthright to be happy and I have decided to live my own life with no apologies or regrets. I am whatever I choose to be, and my life is to be lived, not existed.
I have come to understand that in life, we don’t get what we want. We get what we think we deserve. That’s why believing in ourselves, seeing ourselves as enough and worthy of the best things life has to offer is necessary.