Growing up in a culture where physical beauty determines how successful you are in finding a job, a suitable husband, and a promising career, and most importantly, bringing honor to your family reputation, I was a disappointment to my family, especially to my mother.
She was the definition of a perfect beauty—5’6?, slim, big eyes, high-bridged nose, perfect skin, and gifted with charisma. I was the opposite.
As I got older, my mother’s negative words got louder and louder. They were a constant reminder that I wasn’t good enough; I was useless and ugly, and nobody would love me because of the way I looked. I was excluded from all of our family trips and left alone in the house for days with my grandmother. Because of how I was treated, I started to believe that I would be a loser for life.
At twenty-nine I thought I was healed, until one phone call changed everything and forced me to re-evaluate what I believed about myself.
I got a job offer to oversee one of the biggest commercial real estate investors in North America. The job consisted of creating twenty-two financial budget packages in three months, while convincing the client to sign a two-year deal with the company and restructuring the entire accounting department.
I was convinced that I could not do this job, despite all the encouragement I received from my husband and best friend. I knew it would be a great opportunity for me to advance in my career, but I wanted to turn it down because I believed wasn’t smart enough and thought there were better candidates out there.
We all grow up with both positive and negative memory banks, with one being larger than the other, thanks to our parents and the environment we were raised in. As we get older we add to our memories through our life experiences. Every time we encounter situations we’re not prepared for, we refer to our memories to support our decision making.
Mine was full of “You cannot do well in this position,” “You don’t have enough knowledge,” “Other candidates are smarter than you,” “You cannot wear these clothes since you don’t have the body for it,” “You need to wear more make-up,” and the list goes on. So it was hard for me to seriously consider seizing this opportunity.
After much consideration, I decided to sleep on it. The next day, I looked back at everything I’d done so far in my life and realized that if I kept holding myself back, I’d never get to where I wanted to be. Happiness would never become a reality for me. I knew I didn’t want to live a life of “what if.”
I decided to accept the job, and three months later, I submitted twenty-two financial budgets on time, got that two-year agreement signed, and completed the restructuring three months after.
Here’s what I learned along the way. If you’re holding yourself back, like I formerly did, this may help.
1. Change your attitude to reflect what you want to become.
Your attitude will either move you forward or backward. It’s greatly affected by what you believe, since what you believe determines the decisions you make. Your beliefs largely stem from your past—what people said and did to you and what you concluded those experiences meant about you.
Become aware of what people told you when you were a child and ask yourself if those statements were actually true. Study your accomplishments and your environment, go over what you have done so far and see if they align with the accused statements.
Here’s what I discovered when I did this exercise:
Untrue fact number one: I was ugly. And yet people outside my family have complimented me on my looks. At first it was hard for me to believe the compliments were genuine. However, as I observed and listened to the actions and words that followed, I realized that I am not ugly, as my mother led me to believe. We’re all beautiful in our own way, and the beauty on the inside is more valuable than what’s on the outside.
Untrue fact number two: I was stupid and not good enough, unlike my siblings. And yet I graduated with a business degree from a reputable school, went on to get an accounting designation, and now work as a Manager of Business Solutions for one of the biggest commercial real estate companies in North America.
Untrue fact number three: I was useless. And yet every two years, I would travel back to my home country and help the elderly, who were abandoned by their families, with the essentials they need to survive. I also donated money to rebuild old temples so monks and nuns can continue their studies and have a safe haven away from home—all with my own money.
These are just some of my personal experiences. Write yours down and use them to shed any negative beliefs that don’t fit into your present situation. You don’t necessarily need to get rid of every belief right away, but start with something, no matter how small it may seem, so you can start letting go of your past traumas.
2. You know more than you think.
Stop selling yourself short by saying, “I don’t know” and instead say, “I will figure it out,” and ask yourself “How can I do this better?”
You have the ability to ask for help and connect yourself to the right resources as part of your self-development journey so you can become more, know more, and prepare for the challenges ahead.
The moment I decided to accept the job, I knew that I didn’t know everything, but I also knew I had the ability to reach out and get all the tools I needed to complete the project.
3. Let people in.
I started to believe in myself when I decided to surround myself with the right friends and mentors, both from work and at home. I opened up to them about how I felt, what I wanted to improve, and how I wanted to move forward from there.
I believe that having the right people behind you is one of the most critical parts of forming self-belief. That may seem counter-intuitive, since self-belief comes from inside, but it’s easier to develop confidence when we have people in our lives who believe in us and motivate us to go after the things that will make us happy.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to those you feel comfortable with and let them in on what you’re going through. When you believe in yourself enough to reach out to others, trusting that you’re worthy of their support, you will become a magnet for opportunities that you never thought were possible for you. Take a chance, be honest, and life will surprise you.
4. See obstacles as opportunities.
Life will never stop throwing obstacles at you, no matter how much you try to avoid them. Instead of running from them, learn to see them as opportunities to make what you currently have better.
I used to throw in the towel the moment there was a problem or a glitch in my life and my job. These days, I ask myself, “What are these problems going to teach me? What is life trying to tell me? What are the lessons I’m about to discover?”
Obstacles are there to show you new lessons. The message behind them will only be revealed to those who work hard to overcome them.
What I have learned after successfully completing the project for my new job is that I can do practically anything if I give myself a chance and time to learn and grow. By giving myself a chance in this job, I learned how to approach people better and how to get things done faster, more effectively, and more efficiently.
5. Do not allow defeat to win over triumph.
Remember in the beginning when I said we all have a memory bank? There are two kinds of memory banks. One is “Defeat” and the other is “Triumph.” In the first you store all your memories of things you believe you haven’t done well; in the second, memories of times when you’ve succeeded.
Everything you’ve ever experienced lives in one of these memory banks, which you will withdraw from in the future to inform your decisions. Your choice will inform your habits and behavior, which ultimately dictate your success and happiness.
Be mindful and guard your mind carefully so you don’t allow yourself to withdraw from your “defeat bank account.” I didn’t, and that was what saved me at the end.
6. Embrace mistakes as teachers.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Mistakes are part of life. I have learned to love them. Though I don’t look to make mistakes often, they are my teachers in growth and self-improvement.
During my first job after graduation, I was friendly with a few people. We would have lunch together and share our thoughts on the company and our jobs.
Later on, they used the information I shared against me later. Thankfully, I didn’t lose my job, but it definitely hurt my chances for future promotions within the company.
Looking back, I’m glad I went through that early in my career, as it set a strong foundation for how I now interact with colleagues, which helps with my professional achievement7. Don’t give up just because things get hard.
If you really want something, you have to be prepared to seize opportunities, work hard for it, and never give up.