a bed, a phone call, and a confidence crisis

Sunday, February 17, 2019


It started with LinkedIn.

In one of my aimless, desperate conquests that involve going into random job application sites and filling out forms—just to chicken out at the last Send button—the blank form had asked for my LinkedIn profile.

My profile was made a little over a year ago, when my brother was sitting at the computer, and suggested that I make one myself. "It's good for networking," he says, "It'll help you get jobs, like a handy online résumé." Intrigued by any possible thing that can make me look more professional, I finally made a LinkedIn page.


So halfway in filling out that application, I revisited my LinkedIn profile, which I hadn't touched in many months. I had never placed that much effort into it, knowing that my line of work often requires a credible portfolio rather than academic qualifications. But I was deeply unsatisfied when I glanced at it. Aside from a basic yearbook photo, my page felt hollow. The stuff I did write down just seemed mediocre, at best.

I am always hard on myself; this is fact. The moment I tell myself that my skills and achievements are pathetically subpar, I'll go to sleep believing it. People may tell me otherwise, but a road to unbelief is a difficult process. My inner critic is blunt, demanding, and harsh—Miranda Priestly harsh. And it's very easily triggered.

Like many other sites, LinkedIn starts recommending you to "people you might know". In other words, the girl who goes to the same campus as you but whom you've only seen, like, once in your whole life. Through this, I stumbled upon a handful of other people's résumés, and, as one does, casually scrolled through their profiles, like some potential employer.

Needless to say, my confidence plummeted into an abyss.

As if it wasn't spiralling downward before, now the comparison card has come into play. I automatically felt inferior to all my peers—people my age whom I did know, but whose lists seemed a lot more impressive. At least, to me.

I wish I wasn't a person who tied her self worth to the "excellence" of her résumé, but I am. I wish I was a person who didn't feel consumed by some ideal career pathway she constantly feels she should embark on, but I am. I wish to believe I'm worth more than just how much I can offer, or how much I "work", but I often don't.

It is unhealthy to think that your professional strengths, achievements, and career milestones are the things that define you as a human being. But truth be told, I do still often think this way.

Should I not have worked harder and achieved more than this by now? I ask myself, many times, scrolling up and down my profile. What have I been doing for the past few years? Have I been wasting my resources, time, and potential?

Deeper it went into the abyss.

---

When we play the comparison game, we always play it quite recklessly. We don't assess what we see, nor think of ourselves, with full rationality. Instead, we take what we see in face value, then project it upon our deepest, most insecure aspects. It's a funny game, comparison—we play it even when we know that nobody wins.

Opening each profile, many of them strangers', I compared achievements, test scores, technical skills, education levels, and so forth. I dissected their extensive lists of awards and industry experience, completely neglecting how I was making myself feel. Instead, on I went, feeding my confidence with venom, and my insecurities with affirmation.

Surely enough, I ended up feeling miserable and incompetent, like I had nothing to offer. How do you wish to build a good and lasting career, I contemplated, in the same job market as all these high-achieving, intelligent, and talented people, who had 4x the amount of experience? These people led organisations, won international competitions, obtained trophies and medals for their line of work. What was I gonna do? I thought, Hope to shine with "strong communication skills"?

My anxiety was so overwhelming that I closed my laptop, climbed into bed, and lied on my back, without saying a word. I pulled out playlists, videos, text messages, just to keep my own mind from circling in that thought process. All to no avail.

I finally decided to text my brother—I'd missed him after a week since our goodbye, but he was also the one who advised me to build that profile the previous year. I wondered if he would know what this feeling means. Was I the only one with a confidence so frail?

When I texted asking if he was busy, he replied that he was. "What's the matter?" he asked. I told him never mind, and that I would just text him again the following weekend.

My brother and I lead different, busy lives. Much distance separates Melbourne and Jakarta, but with him being an accountant, we also share nothing in common about our work. We send each other occasional "how are you"s and still pitch into our family group conversations, but not many conversations usually occur aside from this. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised, when my brother called me up, only seconds after I replied to his text.

"You don't usually call!" I say happily.

"I've been missing family," he admits.

Hence, there he was. Sitting at dinner with his work colleagues in the busy city of Jakarta, calling his little sister, 3000 miles away, simply because she needed someone to talk to.

Over the past year, my brother and I have mostly bonded just by sharing one thing in common; having to live away from our family, in order to pursue our goals and dreams. I don't normally confide in him unless he asks how I'm doing (or interrogates me about whether or not I'm seeing someone.) But I'm thankful to say that lately, he's been a steady rock of support. That late night phone call was just one of my many supporting reasons.

I don't think he realises how much he does it. When I was waiting for my return flight to Melbourne, after enduring my most painful goodbyes, I was sitting at the airport when his texts came in. "God bless you, little sis," wrote one of them. "Let me know when you land."

On the night where I was lying in bed and picking up his call, after what was a treacherous hour of feeling defeated and insecure, I explained to him the dilemmas and worries I had. It honestly felt like I was whining out of my own self doubt, more than like I was facing an actual problem. I had voluntarily played the comparison game, and did it so intensely that it was no surprise I was feeling so inadequate.

"Everyone has rows and rows of titles and experience, and all this great stuff," I told him, "I feel like I haven't achieved anything."

My brother addressed it matter-of-factly, the way he approaches most situations, convincing me I had no reason to feel inferior. "People present the best of themselves on that site," he said, "we make our sentences long, and use all that career jargon. That's just how it is, sis."

Indeed, fear has a way of making us stray far from what is rational. In hindsight, I should've picked myself up a bit, remembering that LinkedIn serves a platform for professional networking, not soul-searching, like what I basically did to myself.

Clearly, it would show the best (if not better) version of people. One may conclude that LinkedIn is like Instagram, on a whole other level. Instead of getting an idea of what they had for lunch, you get an idea of a person's pay grade. Instead of walking through halls of public show-and-tell, it's like sitting and attending in-depth, exclusive job interviews with ambitious professionals.

It's a largely helpful site, don't get me wrong. But as I said, for a person like me—always both driven and unsure, simultaneously—anything can trigger the mean inner critic.

Listening to my brother talk, in what became a 12-minute conversation, I ended up feeling silly. I felt better, but also silly, for letting myself believe that my life was hopeless just because my journey differs from that of other people's.

"You still have time, so take it easy," he said, "it's good that you're thinking about this now, but you got a long way ahead of you, sis. You'll see soon enough."

For a moment, my fingers fidgeting with the seams of my pillow, I felt like a little girl who'd forgotten how to believe in herself. But I found safety in my brother's words. And I sighed, realising this is a lesson that'll take me a lifetime to learn.

"Also, Jo," he added, before he stated the obvious to his overly worried little sister,

"You're, like... not even 20."

---

The "real world" is a funny place we speak of.

In school, we talk about it like a monster ready to devour us the minute we graduate. In college, we treat it like a pool of lava we have to start dipping our toes into. So much talk, with so little view of what to anticipate. But in life, we find that it actually just comes in the form of a funny realisation—that careers aren't picture perfect, that people aren't always who they say they are, and that the "real world" can actually be quite wonderful, and horrible, often both at the same time.

But I've found that the world doesn't call for perfect people. The space of opportunity that is available often times isn't reserved for the qualified. It's reserved for the brave.

Not believing in oneself makes one rather apprehensive; there have been several potentially life-changing decisions I've backed away from, simply because my lack of confidence wouldn't allow me to proceed. So if there is one lie that has constrained me for most of my life, it is the lie that if I'm not successfully thriving in some groundbreaking career path, then that must mean I'm "nothing special"—that my work is trivial and my strengths are insignificant.

But oh boy, I finally realise, what a cruel thing to do to yourself.


---

When a confidence crisis strikes, it strikes. Some days you're at the top of the world, with a future as vivid as the yellow brick road. But some other days, you're a Tin Man on a tightrope, and the slightest gust of wind is enough to push you over the edge.

"You have plenty of courage, I'm sure," Oz answered in the book, "All you need is confidence in yourself."

At this point, I agree, even though "confidence in yourself" seems far easier said than done. I know I won't ever be immune towards these moments of insecurity. But really, though, is anyone?

How many people are there, I wonder, that still feel just as insecure in their own paths sometimes? People whom I've long admired from a distance? Do the best and brightest, always feel like the best and brightest?

There will always be the sneaky little voice telling me to believe that I'm not good enough. And as I said, teaching yourself unbelief is a very difficult process. But there is more to life than just looking great on paper. And I'm hereby done feeling so scared of mediocrity.

So what if I am average and subpar? I'll be happily, gloriously, passionately average for all I care.

I already know what it's like to live a life walking with my head down, insecure and constantly afraid. Maybe now it's time I try a new thing: going through life with a little more stupid assurance. Carrying self doubt is not the way to enter the yellow brick road. It's also not a way to enter the promised land we've been called to.

As my brother said that night, I've got a long way ahead of me. So if at some points I fail, I plan to fail grandly like it was on purpose. 

In the words of my brother, I guess I'll see soon enough. And in the words of Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, "You've always had the power, my dear,

you just had to learn it for yourself."

---

To yellow brick roads, and embracing our inner Dorothys,



















9 comments

  1. Realizing where you are lacking is just the beginning, for only those who know their weaknesses, can truly become stronger. G

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  2. I actually caught myself tearing up towards the end of the post. I've been working on med school applications for quite a while now and with every rejection and missed opportunity, I find myself slipping more and more into self-doubt and unbelief. The badassery of the last few lines was exactly what I needed.

    Your brother sounds so wise and so sweet, thank God for brothers like him. The one thing that has helped me not to compare as much is to become better at noticing when I'm slipping into it so that I can snap out of it. As you rightly mentioned, even the best and the brightest don't always feel that way.

    Thank you for this post Joanne, here's to yellow brick roads. xx
    Coco Bella Blog

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    Replies
    1. Demilade, I'm always so touched by your comments. Sending you a big virtual hug, and cheering you on for those applications! I'm so glad if these helped motivate you, and I believe that the right paths will open up to you just in time. I hope you continue to believe in yourself with as much fervour. <3 Much love.

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  3. Nice article. Very honest and poignant.

    Not sure if it will mean much to you but there's a world of difference between good communication skills(ie communicating effectively with colleagues and clients) and quality writing(ie talent and skill in writing for publication).
    Exhibiting the latter may seem a little redundant compared to someone who is talented in their field and capable of 'great communication skills' but you're not mediocre for the fact that your strength is somewhat ubiquitous in terms of others having basic ability.
    Writing is important; video killed the radio star but books are still in print and publications abound.

    Hope that encourages you when you're thinking the list of skills makes you mediocre rather than the extent of your skill in what you're passionate about.
    Or maybe you underestimate how great those communication skills are?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Zac, thanks for taking the time to read and leave comments on my posts, it means so much to me. This definitely did encourage me, thank you for your words. :)

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    2. You're welcome. God bless. :)

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  4. I have never been as insecure in my life as when I've been applying to jobs! Right now, looking at jobs and reflecting on what I've achieved, I'm kind of amazed at how I took the college application process in such stride. Job applications feel like another level, and I totally understand your confidence crisis. But confidence, even if feigned, can do more good than self-doubt, and I've found that sometimes simply acting confident can help you truly find your confidence. But it's a process and I'm still working on it. Wishing you all the best! -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey's

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    Replies
    1. Hahah I totally feel you on that job application-college application comparison. Your words are so true here, Audrey, thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts! All the best for you as well. x

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