The question felt like it came from out of thin air. “So, what does it feel like to have such self confidence?” It took everything I had to refrain from looking behind me and mumbling “I’m sorry, are you talking to me?”. It came from a woman in her late 20s who was part of an evening group that I had recently joined. The age group was varied and sparked lots of interesting dialogue, this one being no exception. She was looking at me curiously with a matter of fact gaze that suggested she was genuinely interested in my answer.
Fortunately, I was sitting on the ground or you would have heard a thud as I dropped from my seat to the floor. After realizing she was still waiting for a response, I said quickly in dismay “ well, I guess I have built it up along the way, bit by bit”. This felt like such a vacuous response to a question that deserved so much more. I should have been providing more insightful wisdom on the topic. I was so evolved, after all! The group took my meager response and ran with it, leaving me sitting there still bewildered by the question.
As I left that night, I began to wonder, how did it actually happen? How did my self confidence grow and was it a subtle switch or a profound turning point that happened somewhere between my early years and now? What experiences led me to start looking at myself differently?
I started to think of the time in my life when I actually started to find my voice. Addiction and relationship challenges were no stranger to me for most of my 30s and out of those experiences came quite a few moments of clarity and opportunities to gain strength. Although I would not have known it at the time, my struggles actually yielded some extremely useful tools for me over the years. I began to hold the conviction that I no longer wanted to feel stifled or helpless. I wanted to live my life on my own terms and did not want to take my time here for granted. That conviction soon became my guide.
After further thought, it brought me back to a conversation I had with my best friend several years back. She had just turned 40 and I was jibing her because she was always one year closer to "old age" than me. It is funny how quickly the tables turn. I can remember being so envious of her for so many years. She was able to drive first, go out to the bars first …life was so unfair! This is a hard blow when you are attached at the hip, early adolescent and wanting to go everywhere and experience everything with your bestie.
Here we were both staring down our 40th birthdays (myself with a mere 12 months to go) with much less enthusiasm than in previous years. I asked her with as much curiosity and wonder as my friend in her 20s, “what does it feel like?”
I remember her response distinctly. She said that she could almost pinpoint it to the day. When she reached 40, she woke up with a new outlook on life. She decided she was going to do it her way. Boundaries and self-conviction appeared seemingly out of nowhere and she could actually articulate not only “no” but “hell no!” whenever she decided she needed to set a boundary. No guilt, no apologies, just a simple decline and the spirit to move on. She had an evident understanding of what she knew to be her truth and she no longer felt the need to shy away from standing up for what she believed in.
This friend of mine by the way, is one of the most important people on the planet as far as I am concerned. She is like a sister to me. She has had a life of great joy sprinkled with an equal amount of ups and downs. However, as she can attest, she spent many years trying to break out of an image she felt others had of her as less than a strong woman. She struggled for years to break free of perceptions that were imposed on her at different stages in her life. These perceptions couldn’t be farther from the truth in my eyes, but they were felt on a visceral level and it affected how she operated in the world for many years.
With that said, she felt that she had turned a corner. Not gradually, but the minute she hit her 40th year on earth. My smugness left and jealousy and envy returned in a flash. Suddenly I wanted to have that and be there too!
Since that conversation several years ago, she has blossomed into an even stronger, more insightful and genuinely confident woman than she would have ever imagined herself to be.
Shortly thereafter, I don’t think it was a conscious decision as much as a realization that in order to live the next phase of my life, that I needed to start living it by my own standards. This was a somewhat subtle internal shift for me, but a profound one nonetheless. Instead of dreading my upcoming birthday, I found myself running toward 40 like it was the last helicopter out during the fall of Saigon. Talk about a perspective shift. I had built the foundation in my 30s and now it was time to apply it with passion.
Since then, I have made a conscious effort to live my life with no apologies. I take accountability for my choices and try to apply the wisdom I stumble upon to my everyday life as often as possible.
For us it was 40, but the number doesn't matter. It is important to recognize that at any age, self confidence and sense of self can either grab us by the hand or we can reach out to it and take hold when we make the decision to do so.
Noelle Van Coaching
More from living