An unexpected byproduct of all of the personal change and conflict I've experienced this past year has been increased confidence in myself. As I learn who I really am and find ways to apply that knowledge to specific situations that I'm in, I discover that I have skills that were underutilized or outright ignored before, and they are actually valuable to me and to others. So much of how we see ourselves has to do with our own lens and filter, and when our confidence is low, we just can't see all that we really have to offer in this world.
So much of my life before this year was built on bluster and bravado. I faked my way through everything, but deep down I always knew I was a fraud, and feared anyone calling me out. I used to be afraid to drive anywhere with other people in case they criticized me, and I flat-out refused to try anything new because I could be mocked or laughed at.
It was very limiting to worry all the time about what other people might possibly do to hurt me. I tried to think ahead and plan out all eventualities, and make my decisions accordingly. That's exhausting, and actually just plain stupid, because how can I really know what anyone might think or say or do at any given moment?
Taking back control of my own life was intensely liberating. It brought my confidence up immediately because I felt powerful in a way that I hadn't ever experienced before. Writers ask me all the time how to stop worrying about what other people think of their writing. The only answer I know is, "Baby steps." You don't one day wake up and say, "I don't care at all if this offends someone and I'm going to say it regardless of the outcome." But it can happen slowly. I'm living proof of that.
Offending people is always hard. It's not a good feeling. But it's much, much worse to hold back as a writer or pretend to agree with someone when you don't. I've given myself permission to be wrong, and to change my opinions as I feel I need to, but when I feel passionate about something, I communicate it now, even if I know my ideas won't be popular with some people.
I've felt the sting and been hurt by people who disagree with me, but they are allowed to disagree, in the same way that I am allowed to express my own opinion without fear of reprisal. Where the reprisal has been too hard to bear, I've moved away from those relationships, and find I can breathe much easier now. There are no easy answers, but confidence in who I am has been my main road map, and it has not steered me off course yet.