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How I Let Myself Down By Never Being Who I Was Born To Be

How I Let Myself Down By Never Being Who I Was Born To Be

Throughout most of our lives, we stumble along, never really knowing which direction will lead us to the path created just for us. Perhaps, we never believe there is such a thing and merely come across it by accident. In my case, it was something I still have trouble accepting, even six years later.

I tell myself that I am just a simple woman in her late 40s who has been married for almost 27 years with three grown sons. The career path I chose back in college is nowhere near where I am now, and yet no college course could have ever guided me here. For years, I muddled through life without knowing it. I feel remorseful for cheating my husband and sons out of who I really could have been for them. The truth is that I didn’t know how to be more than who I was. I gave them everything I could and only now understand how I not only let myself down, but them as well.

Downplaying my talents

For years, I downplayed my abilities and denied my gifts and talents. Some of you might be able to relate. In the past, they brought me attention, even though it was usually the good kind. I was recognized for being an academic scholar and a superb athlete in high school. I was popular and many people knew my name. But that was just what everyone saw on the surface. I still had hidden underneath years of not feeling like I fit in or knew where I belonged. Even as a member of team, I never really felt comfortable there. I just played my game and let my skills speak for me — maybe so I wouldn’t have to otherwise.

And that worked for a great number of years.

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But it wasn’t just myself I had cheated. Or my family. I had cheated the world too. I had lied, been deceitful, and hurtful — all without ever intending to do so.

I had cheated everyone of everything I was ever born to be.

Letting fear take hold

Fear is a nasty slave and once we become its prisoner, it is very difficult to break those chains. For some, it can be downright impossible. For others, there is no one there to show them the way or to encourage them to be somewhere different. We convince ourselves that we are not worthy and that our mere presence is barely worth the ounce of breath we spend with that acknowledgement. Most would never see their lives as diminished, sheltered, and minuscule. This is why what we believe matters.

I didn’t believe in myself.

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I never wanted to stand out from the crowd, and even now it still makes me uncomfortable, but I am better at it. “Being ordinary” and blending in with the crowd, barely flying under the radar seemed to work — but that changed six years ago.

Making the change

Without knowing why, a friend and I had arrived at the same crossroads, asking ourselves the “big” questions of our “purpose,” and I became ready for the life I was born to live after just a few words. I allowed my heart to be free and soared higher than I ever had before.

It was scary, new, and yet something I couldn’t dismiss. My purpose had called to me and I was finally ready to hear it and do something with it. Not even really knowing what that meant and stumbling more than I ever had before left me with more questions than answers. At times, I felt like I didn’t know which direction to take, but I never felt lost.

I had spent my previous 40+ years full of logic and reason, following a plan I had no part in designing. I now felt in control of my life, as if I had just found my voice and realized that I could make choices for the first time.

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I took me a long way to get there and then once I did, I couldn’t even figure out how to get back to who I once was. Not that I wanted to, but I wouldn’t have had a clue. I was changed — changed for good.

Change isn’t always easy

Some of the roads I took were very hard. So hard, they made me want to run away as fast as I could without looking back. But something kept pushing me forward. I surrounded myself with people who encouraged me to keep going. I read as many books as I could that would enlighten me and bring my sense of awareness to a level I had never experienced before. Admission and honesty became my two of my biggest advocates. Forgiving myself was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do, and yet I knew in doing so it would give me peace and allow my true spirit to be released from the captivity I created for it.

I began to journal in notebooks in addition to my blog that I shared online. My journals are much more personal and one of my biggest fears is whose eyes will see them one day when I am no longer here. They are the most raw and vulnerable ways of expressing myself that I have shared. Getting these thoughts and emotions out of my head and somewhere else brought a sense of relief that I had not found anywhere else.

Probably the biggest thing I did was to believe in who I have always been. After spending too many years ignoring who I was and what I was capable of, I came out of the shadows — damaged, broken, hurt, and yet still I knew there was more to me than those attributes that I assigned myself a long time ago. I stopped trying to be who someone told me to be, following a road I never wanted to be on, and stopped caring about what others thought about my choices. I have but one life and I consciously chose to start living it on my terms and no one else was going to tell me differently.

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Throughout these moments of absolute fear and doubt, I found courage and strength in places I never knew it existed. It filled me with a sense of joy and excitement about life that I had never experienced. Every day was a blessing, not a curse or something to begrudge. As I shared more of my stumbles and struggles, more people began to feel relieved that they weren’t alone and would often sigh heavily as the words, “Me, too!” escaped from their lips. You could just see it in their eyes and feel it when we allowed ourselves to be who we really are.

Where to go from here

If you’re struggling with making similar life-altering decisions, these tips might help you out.

  • Ask questions. Don’t be afraid of the answers and be willing to accept them for what they are, not what you want them to be. Although you may be guided by others, including books about where to find the answers, ultimately the answers are only as good as the questions.
  • Fight through fear. It is easy to walk away and pretend it doesn’t matter, but you and I both know that at some point in your future, that decision to walk away will come back to haunt you. You can only get to the other side of fear by going through it. You cannot avoid it or pretend it isn’t there. Confront it, get it over with, and move on.
  • Be honest. Honesty will become something you hate and yet you are unable to grow without it. It will piss you off and remind you what you need to hear versus what you want to hear. But when all is said and done, you know where you stand.
  • Tell your story. Being vulnerable is one of the most daring things anyone can ever do. There is the fear of ridicule, regret of sharing too much, and even feeling alone, all wrapped into something that most can’t even imagine doing. Ask yourself why TED talks are so well attended and you will understand the value of storytelling and the connection we all make when someone shares a bit of themselves with us.
  • Keep going. Most people never get started, and yet the ones who have taken on the task of finding themselves can get frustrated and discouraged if the road seems too difficult. We forget that by consistently moving forward, even with baby steps, we inspire the world and people in ways we never even imagined. Every ripple begins with one simple movement.

The journeys we believe we are meant to take may surprise us and actually take us in directions we were never meant to follow. By withdrawing from life and every possible notion it has created, built, and envisioned for us, we trick everyone into believing that we have nothing more to offer and we become impostors. We become hypocritical and fake in a world that is hungry for more authenticity and honesty.

Our world is what we make it and living our true lives is how we add to it every day. In doing so, we make it better and make a difference in the lives of others. No more hiding, no more pretending, no more cheating. This is who I was born to be — I just never knew it.

So when you least expect it, when you are swamped with everything else going on in your life, you just may find yourself heading down a path you never imagined, and yet you know it is the one you must follow. Without a single regret, you will look back and smile, accepting that this very moment is why you are here, why you matter, why it called to you. Pay attention.

Featured photo credit: Jordan Donaldson via unsplash.com

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Michelle A. Homme

Author, Speaker, Quote Writer, Empowerment Coach

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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