Chapters of Self-Love: Part 2 – How to Build Confidence  

Greetings from Iku – I say this every time (and will continue to) but thank you to everyone who reads these! Always love to hear what resonated with you so do not hesitate to reach out with feedback. 2022 has been more of a whirlwind than anticipated. The residency application process (and with it, medical school!) is finally over so I am back to blogging with the second part of this series!

Read Part 1 here.

Recognizing Insecurity [High School]

Prom 2015 (I will spare you all too many mid 2010s photos)

We left off in middle school where I felt unstable in my friendships. It was the classic experience of feeling lonely despite being surrounded by people, particularly at school. In many ways, I’m grateful for those years and that the best was yet to come. How I felt in middle school pushed me to apply for the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Glenforest Secondary School in Mississauga. Thirteen-year-old me was looking for a fresh start. Glenforest was about a twenty-minute drive from my house and it was a school where I knew close to nobody.

Inadvertently, I put myself into an experience that taught me one of life’s greatest lessons at an early age – good things happen when you leave your comfort zone. That has become a common theme for me in my young adulthood – starting with a blank slate and finding my people. 

I am one of those people that loved high school. To this day, I give a lot of credit to the friends I surrounded myself with for who I am now. You could often find a group of us at Central Library. We were not always completely focussed but for the most part, worked hard towards our goals. They inspired me to take on leadership positions and as cheesy as it sounds – believe in myself and my abilities. It was an environment where we celebrated each others’ achievements, had big aspirations and held each other accountable to them.

With all this said, while I felt well-supported by my circle of friends, I did start to grapple with a lot of insecurity late in high school into early undergrad. Mainly about my physical appearance. At such a young age, I could not understand why.

Now, I recognize it was multifactorial – the rise of social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube paired with the universal struggles of adolescents from any generation. You assign worth to how much validation you get from your peers – and compare it to others. The likes, the comments, the chatter around you about this person or that girl and how desirable they are, can get to you.

I remember days where I would come home and not even look myself in the mirror. In some ways, I think I was trying to protect myself from picking how I looked apart. If I’m honest, I still have days where I bounce back to this habit. It’s a part of confidence I’m still figuring out.

We all have days where we don’t feel our best. Bad body image days come and go. Confidence is another spectrum that we navigate – from feeling great about yourself to feeling extremely down. Occasionally, avoiding the mirror for a day puts me out of a negative thought loop.

I strive for my reality to be always looking at myself and having only lovely words to say. I may not always be there but it’s certainly more positive days than otherwise. Progress isn’t linear – an image I love shows it as an upward trajectory with troughs and peaks:

Sometimes I’ll go through the ups and downs within a single day. You wake up feeling confident then insecure in the afternoon, and eventually having to hype yourself up for a night out with friends. 

I was still far from confident by the end of high school but honestly, who wasn’t? Confidence is also multi-faceted. Where I lacked confidence in my ever-evolving teenage physical appearance, I gained confidence in my abilities and my community. I hear it gets better with age and time. This was true for me in the coming years. Perhaps it has to do with a growing amount of indifference to the material or physical that comes with more life experience. 

Finding Confidence [Undergrad to Medical School]

In undergrad, I continued to feel unsettled at the start. The university environment can be challenging to navigate and this unfortunately can be even more true as a Black woman. “They Said This Would Be Fun”, a memoir by Eternity Martis does an excellent job of putting words to this experience. She shares moments like being told she was pretty “for a Black girl” and being fetishized in the dating scene. These often universal experiences do a number on your confidence.

To be frank, I think I accepted that I was probably “not an attractive person” and it stopped bothering me. I had my highlight reel life on Instagram and I am sure many were none the wiser to how I felt about my appearance.

It feels sad to write those words but interestingly it did not affect my day-to-day contentment. Confidence is weird – and like I said, multi-faceted. Despite these feelings, my confidence in my abilities was at an all-time high. I really enjoyed my time at McMaster. I made lifelong friends and really found my footing within student leadership.

Eventually, a combination of life experiences helped me to find confidence in how I looked as well. I did a lot of travelling after undergrad which helped me meet beautiful human beings from diverse backgrounds and take a notable break from the spaces that fuelled my insecurity. I found my personal style; loving what I was putting on my body, made me appreciate my body more. As did finding workouts that made me feel good!

Soonafter, I made the choice to see myself differently. As beautiful. This shouldn’t be an uncomfortable thing to see yourself as. And that solution – the decision to view oneself a certain way – is like a lot of philosophies in life – simple but not easy.

As unimportant as it had become to me to be perceived as beautiful on the outside, I insidiously started to really feel it for the first time in my post-pubescent life. I stopped comparing myself to others – my friends, girls on the Internet, etc. and just woke up every day grateful to be me.

The stability that comes when your self-esteem is not based on comparison is crucial. On the other hand, I also fill my social media feeds with Black women that I admire. This is not to compare myself – while I do learn a makeup tip here and there from some of my favourites – but as an intentional reminder to be proud of where I come from and what I look like.

Flash forward to medical school and to today, I am the most confident I have ever been. I have amazing friends from high school, undergrad, and now medical school. I found “my people” very early in medical school and just got to enjoy myself. They are all incredibly supportive and having people to remind you who you are (and how great that person is) can make a huge impact on your overall confidence.

Practical Tips to Build Confidence

On that note, I want to leave you on some more tips to build confidence. I talked about a few contributors from my personal experience – having a solid support system being a big one but here are three more:

1. Radical gratitude. Place your focus on what matters to living a fulfilling life. During my years of least confidence, I still found myself quite content with life. My insecurity was present but it did not consume me the way it may have when I was younger. I did not realize it at the time but I believe this is because I focussed on my friendships, my interests, and enjoying my life. Confidence came more naturally when I was operating from a place of gratitude. I also think this helps you attract and keep people in your life that will remind you how special you are.

2. Confidence can be practiced (like other skills!). While confidence will always be impacted by your environment and how people treat you, it is also at the end of the day an internal feeling. I believe in a certain about of self-determination when it comes to confidence. I practice confidence every time I get ready in the morning and think kind thoughts when looking in the mirror. I practice confidence by wearing things that make me feel good and unapologetically letting myself not worry about how I am perceived.

3. Match your actions to your desired identity. This final tip ties in to the previous one. If you want to be a confident person, you might not find that feeling when you are not acting in alignment with this. The actions that make me feel confident include investing time in my hobbies (reading, writing!), being social/meeting new people, getting dressed up, and movement that I love (running, pilates, spin!). Actions that do not make me feel confident include passing all my time indoors or – unsurprisingly – on social media .

Building confidence is going to look different for everyone. I would love to hear about others’ experiences and things that worked for you!

Cheers! Sign up here to be notified when I post next. Always on a Tuesday.

Thank you for reading! Wishing you all the best on this seemingly never-ending journey.

– Iku

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