There are generally two types of people in this world. People who have innate self-confidence and people who needs others to deliver confidence.

I happen to be the extreme end of the latter.

The downfall of my confidence

I think I used to be self-confident as a child, maybe because I never needed to study much in primary (elementary) school and still managed to ace my papers. I was the child that my parents would literally be boastful of. My achievements year after year was trumpeted like a media press release. Perhaps I was never confident actually, more like complacent because of my environment.

The turning point came when I was 11 and having my primary 5 year-end exams. As the routine goes, I never put any effort into revision, I had never needed to. I stumbled horribly for my maths paper, because usually I would finish any paper an hour ahead of my peers – thus I took my own sweet time and I only managed to finish 60% of the paper before time was up. For the very first time in my life, I experienced failure. (And for my poor parents, the beginning of the end for their trumpeting.)

This set the tone for the rest of my years until my mid-twenties. The vicious cycle of failure, disappointment, trying really hard not to fail again, even more disappointment. The bigger the disappointment I had grown into, the more pessimistic I became of life. And of course, the discovery of the fact that there are millions of people smarter than me, so much so that I was convinced that my primary school achievements were a fluke.

Letting go of past achievements

I remember looking my primary school report book wistfully for many years later, until when I was about 17 and I threw it away accidentally in the middle of a move. Perhaps that wasn’t an accident. I spent years mourning about it, thinking that I would never be able to look at it proudly again.

Till I realised that my ‘success’ as a kid was holding me back – what could the past for for me? Even if I were to ace my education till the tertiary level, that would not guarantee me success or happiness in my adulthood. I bore a grudge towards my parents because I felt that they were holding on to the past too much and thus I could never be the prodigy they envisioned me to be. Never did I realise, I was also holding myself back.

For the world can have so many plans and visions for me, ultimately it is my own destiny. (lol, pardon me for the cliche.)

Taking ownership

I think my life really transformed when I took ownership of my own life. It only happened after I had tried really hard to please my loved ones and realised all the attempts were futile. I could never be someone who would live a life someone had designed for me. It was a matter of time that I would break free – the choice was either breaking free or ending my life. Around this time I came across a book which the theme revolved around “You are what you believe” and it all became so clear to me.

All my life till then, I have been trying to get people to believe in me, but I never really believed in myself.

That was a start. I wouldn’t say I found my confidence overnight, but I think what started the process was that I desired to find my confidence back. Or my life back. To own my life and not have it owned by circumstances or the environment.

I think that was in 2005.

Still taking baby steps

Now, in 2010, I am still seeking confidence. It has been a slow but sure process. Baby steps. I still fear speaking to people, and I would not remotely consider speaking in public, and I still feel very nervous about my work, or go through countless sleepless nights when I question whether I am cut out to be a designer.

A huge difference is – the future looks bright to me. Quite bright actually from where I am standing. Whereas life used to be a pain looking forward, now I am slowly getting excited about what is in stall for me.  I had been truly blessed, for there have been a few good people who have shown the faith in me that I could not even find in myself. But I had to open my life up to even have the opportunity to meet these people in the first place. The desire to push myself out the comfort zone.


I am currently in a new set of circumstances whereby I would never imagine myself to be. In a place where I am given a huge vote of confidence and an incredible amount of validation by some exceptional people. I would not have met these people if I did not push myself out of hermit-dom. The experience I am having now can be all traced back to that single flip of that switch in my mind. (Aided by some strange dude from the UK named Andy who never gave up asking me out for coffee lol.)

For many people, making a change in their lives seem really difficult. Many a time, the results would not be visible until a long time after. We just need to have that desire and commitment to make changes, even how miniscule it seems to be. Who would have known that the casual coffee I had with two strange Caucasians would be the beginning of of a mini-revolution in my life?

Though I should include a standard disclaimer that says, there is a thin line between self-belief and insecurity-influenced arrogance.

Looking forward with confidence

I don’t know what is life going to bring me from now onwards, I just know that I am immensely grateful. It does not matter if the bright future I envisioned turned out to be not bright at all – it is really the process that matters. I think many of us are just fearful of losing what we have now – and if it helps I can remind all of us that it is not in our hands entirely whether what we have remains with us or not.

“Confidence, Sir Alex Ferguson once said, is the key to about 99% of what is achieved in any walk of life.”

I wouldn’t say it is 99%, but it is a major influence on how we perceive ourselves, and in turn, that determines how we perceive life. Having that bit of confidence has definitely made a huge difference for me – that confidence allows me to dictate many of my choices and not let it by dictated by my circumstances.

As long as I have that bit of confidence, the competition doesn’t matter, the economic conditions doesn’t matter, because if I believe that you have something to offer and you work really hard, there will always be something on that plate for you. And if it really turns out that the plate is empty, if I have the confidence in my own survival, then what is there to be afraid of?

There is only one self to be afraid of, because it is the one self that self-determines whether he/she can survive or be fearful of any circumstances or conditions given to him/her.

Energy, or the lack of

One of the promises I kept making to myself and breaking was to make a sustained effort to exercise more.

I’ve always been feeling tired. Even when I was a child. I disliked to do anything that required an ounce of physical effort because I am just too tired to do so. I hated Physical Education classes more than Math.

Inspired by Sport

It just occured to me while waiting for the train today while feeling totally drained, no matter how much discomfort I am in, trying to make some effort to gain some energy, it wouldn’t be that bad compared to an athelete recovering from a long term injury, for example. I think I had this epiphany while watching football. There are plenty of football players who had suffered from serious career-threatening injuries and had to rehabilitate for a year or more. Typically after surgeries, they have to recover almost literally inch by inch, from letting the wounds heal, to doing a lot of gym work to grow their muscles back, to gaining match fitness. I can actually imagine how much physical and mental pain they have to go through.

Recovery from injuries are not the only example. I have to admire footballers like David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo, not because they have great looks and to-die-for bodies, but they are known to train harder than anyone from their teams. How many people know of this fact? Do they know why Beckham’s freekicks are so eerily accurate? He actually practiced them everyday, by trying to send the ball through a spare tyre hanging at the corner of the goalposts.

The best example in football today has to be Darren Fletcher. I have to admit, along with many other Manchester United fans, that we moaned each time we used to see his name on the team sheet. He cannot dribble, he can’t make 60-yard passes like Beckham, he basically didn’t know how to attack. All he had was stamina, but he couldn’t even be a proper defensive midfielder because he was simply too thin and scrawny. We had no idea what did Ferguson see in him.

He has come a long way. He went through some metamorphosis and he is probably the first name on the team sheet if he is fit. I read an interview of him a while back, and he attributed his success to gym work. The Manchester United trainer asked him to be inspired by Ronaldo – Ronaldo was the fittest player in the team (before he went to Madrid and got cursed by a witch lol) and that was because he put in extra hours to train at the gym everyday. Fletcher admitted that he did not enjoy the gym work, but he knew he had to do it if he wanted to prove himself.

That is my epiphany.

That bit of dedication

I hated to exercise because I didn’t like how it feels. But I’ve neglected to see the bigger picture. That in order to accomplish goals, there must be stamina. Stamina to carry on when the going gets tough (which is like always).  And stamina doesn’t simply appear. It has to be acquired. By sheer hard work and dedication.

I have entirely missed the point for the past 28 years. I thought that as long as I invested my time and effort into my work, I would see some form of success. However, I did not have enough stamina to push myself through when it got tough, I came through it eventually, but it took a lot out of me. Instead of drawing from my strength, I drew from whatever else I had – and that drained the life out of me.

This is not only about having enough energy to carry on the work, it is about having the stamina to have the clarity when making crucial judgments. To nurture creativity. Nobody can create when they are tired.

I cringe when I think about doing all that manual work, but honestly, if I don’t invest time and effort in myself, nobody will. Thus, this morning, despite not sleeping well the previous night, I flipped a switch in my head and coerced myself to go for a swim. I was on the verge of not going because I badly wanted to sleep, but I reminded myself of athletes again. I am sure many of them on plenty of days do not feel like training but they do it anyhow.

I always tell friends that what defines a good relationship is not how good two people are together, it is actually how they ride out the tough times together. Now, I have come to realise (yes, albeit slowly again), that what separates people who achieve their dreams/goals from those who don’t, is that bit of dedication. The willingness to work on things even if you don’t feel like it.

Having ideas is just probably 10% of the war won. The difficult part comes in the execution. And that is where most people fail.

If I want more energy, then I just have to work hard for it. It won’t just appear out of nowhere.

I only did 5 laps and some sun tanning, which thereafter I felt like my body no longer belonged to me because it has been eons since I did any exercise. But I have faith that I will get only stronger with time. If the universe permits. Baby steps are better than none.