My life these past few years has required a lot of faith. A lot of believing in myself. A lot of self-cheerleading.
I am a stay-at-home mother of two little boys, and every day, almost every moment in fact, I have to make a decision about how to handle a situation with their behaviour. These micro-decisions will compound to shape their characters and colour the way they see the world. And this often feels like a massive responsibility, even when it seems like a very small decision in the moment. My boys are fighting, do I get involved and try to teach them how to treat each other or do I stand back and let them learn for themselves? One child does something I just told them not to do, how bad is it? How much do I discipline? What is the consequence?
In a myriad of choices about how I could respond, functioning within the chaos and noisy insanity of small children, these small decisions come one after the other, every hour, every day. And together they make up an importance story of how I am defining the world for my children. There is no one to tell me what the right thing to do is. There is no one, usually, who even notices what decision I’ve made except myself and my child. So every day I have to hope and believe that I am doing the right thing, parenting in the right way, shaping my child into a kind, loving, respectful etc. etc. person.
And I am a writer of a (almost-but-not-yet-published) novel. The novel took me three years to write and has sat on a metaphorical back shelf for the past four years while I waded through the swampy waters of early parenthood. I think to a lot of people, I might come across as calm and collected about the whole thing, but I have the same scary, torturous voices in my head as almost every other creative person I have met…the voices that tell you you suck at your craft, that what you have created is tedious, redundant, boring, infantile. Basically No Good. So I have really had to believe in myself, without any evidence to support my belief, without any salary to tell me my work was valued, without anyone noticing what I was doing most days.
Believe in Yourself.
This is what the commercialised mantras tell us.
Shoot for the Stars.
Just Do It.
These popular catch-phrases make the process of Believing in Yourself into a pretty, sparkly thing. Pictures show marathon runners crossing the finish line (or at least jogging through beautiful mountain scenery). Basketball players making the great slam dunk. Climbers reaching the summit of a great mountain.
Just Do It? Give me a break! Nobody ever just does anything. Which is what Malcolm Gladwell continually argues in his book Outliers, where he writes that to achieve success and expertise in any skill requires about 10,000 hours of practice!
So 3 things I have learned about the whole process of ‘Believing in Yourself’ are this:
1. It isn’t prettty.
Believing in yourself is the ugly bit. Who needs to believe in themselves when everything feels easy? When you are in the flow, when you are getting outside recognition for your work, when everyone is cheering for you, you don’t need to believe in yourself. What you are doing feels obvious and right. It is when you fall, when you suffer major setbacks, when you make mistakes and regret them, when you cry and feel afraid and can sense the ground beneath you shaking…that’s when Believing in yourself happens. Because that’s the only thing that picks you back up. Believing in yourself doesn’t feel sparkly. It feels like you are getting pummelled in the face by a boxer but you still keep getting back up, putting one foot in front of the other, writing another sentence or running another few steps…
No One. Probably not even your cat. Everyone in your life, at one point or another is going to have at least a smidgen of doubt that the Big Dream of yours is really possible, that it’s really all going to work out in the end. Which means it all falls to you. You have to learn to be the rock. To keep the faith when others around you waver. You have to stay the course when others question you. You have to hold that naive faith when others wonder whether your project/dream/goal is really possible. You have to do all this, even when you doubt yourself. Because when I say No One will believe in you all of the time, I also mean You. You will not believe in yourself all of the time. Hopefully you will believe in yourself at least half the time…maybe a little more. But when those voices of doubt flood your thoughts, you have to find that strength within yourself to remember why you are doing what you are doing. You have to believe in yourself even when you don’t quite believe in yourself.
3. Sometimes believing in yourself isn’t a choice.
I am a mother, and so I have to decide every day how to react to my children. And although I mess up many times in a day, ultimately I am trying my best with each interaction to teach my children how to be kind and empathetic, how to stay safe, how to take responsibility… No one tells me I am doing it right. Most of the time no one notices at all. So I don’t have a choice but to take on the mantel of ‘self-cheerleader’ and believe that I am doing a good job as a mother. My kids are there in front of me every day and I love them, so I have to believe in myself.
I am a writer. I need to write. It is a part of who I am, and although it’s often hard to explain to others, it doesn’t feel like something I am choosing. It feels like something I must do. So, in that part of my life as well, believing in myself isn’t a choice. When I come up against others’ doubts, it feels almost an act of self-preservation to believe in myself.
So I just keep slogging through the swamp, taking little steps, keeping the faith.
What does ‘Believing in Yourself’ mean to you? Where have you found the strength to do it?