How to maintain your confidence when life goes sideways

About three years ago, I met some friends from college for lunch. All four of us knew each other when we were young adults ready to make our mark on the world. We each went on to get post-graduate degrees in our fields.

In the time since college, we also each started families and made lives for ourselves. While we had kept in touch in various ways and levels since college, this lunch was one of the first times we had all four been together in quite a few years.

As we chatted and ate pasta, we talked about what was going on in our lives. At the time, my youngest was a preschooler who was only away from me for a couple of hours three times a week. I was also dealing with an ongoing health flare. As the conversation turned to professional endeavors, I didn’t have much to add.

The other three ladies all worked full-time outside the home. They were all making their marks in their fields. I, on the other hand, spent maybe 40 hours a YEAR working as a freelance journalist. Having babies and having health problems had made my career take a definite break.

While my friends weren’t dismissive of me in any way, shape or form and while we had plenty of other conversation that I was very engaged in, I still left the meeting feeling like a failure. I remember pulling out of the parking lot, calling my husband and talking to him about it.

He was incredibly encouraging and gave me a much needed reality check. He reminded me that often I was over-sensitive to being left out and chances are I had perceived part of our lunch conversation as me being left out. He wasn’t wrong.

And we also talked about how I was doing what was best for our family and for me. Basically, he reminded me that I’m way more than my career or lack thereof. He continued and talked me down from thinking since I was having a health flare that it would always be that way. (He is such a good and patient man!)

I’d like to say that I never had those same feelings again or even that I hadn’t had them before, but I’d be lying! I have felt insecure in my identity more times than I could ever begin to count. If I was really honest with myself, I’ve probably felt insecure with who I am more than I have felt secure with who I am!

I’m pretty great at being awkward and unsure of myself. As I’ve gotten back to work more since my son started kindergarten last year, I’ve struggled to find my mojo and confidence again. I’ve had to sit and intentionally think about how I would describe my job to other people. I’m still working on it!

Along the way, though, I’ve learned a few things when I start to get down on myself and berate myself for all the things I should be doing or should have accomplished and haven’t. And, I can promise you that I am still working on this very strongly.

1. Know where you identity truly comes from.

For a few years, I have been reminding my children when they get frustrated with themselves that God doesn’t make junk. And since He made them, they aren’t junk. While my lips have been saying that for years, my head just got the message in the last couple of years. One day it hit me that what I was saying to my children is true for them AND for me.

God doesn’t make junk. So whatever failure I perceive myself as having or whatever issue I have, I’m still not junk. I am still worthy. I have worth just for being one of God’s creations.

It sounds so simple, yet it is also so profound. You have worth simply because of Who made you. People pay huge amounts of money for artwork because it was made by a master artist. And none of those artists hold a candle to the true Master Artist. His creations are priceless, and we are His most prized creations.

The Bible tells us that before we were even in our mother’s womb God knew us and had a plan for us (Jeremiah 1:5). His plan for us has nothing to do with our worldly success. It doesn’t have anything to do with how much money we make, how many degrees we have or what profession we are in. His plan has everything to do with us and who we are.

I have also learned that when I keep my focus on Him and doing what He has called me to do then I don’t care so much about the identity I have in the world. I can get sidetracked and distracted, but when I take time to talk to God about it and focus on Him, I gain perspective. Because the little stuff really doesn’t matter so much when I remember Whose I am.

2. Grieve for what wasn’t.

The plan I had for my life when I was 18 looked different than the reality of my life now that I’m 40. Some things are as expected: I married my high school sweetheart, have two kiddos and have a job as a writer. None of those things happened how I thought they would and a whole slew of other things didn’t happen at all.

When I graduated with my master’s degree in journalism, I was ready to get a job with a magazine and work full-time for a few years until we were ready to start our family. I felt that God had led me to go into journalism, so this was the plan. I never anticipated He’d have a different plan for me.

A few months before the end of graduate school, a bladder condition I thought had gone away for good turned out to only be in remission. It hit me hard. I couldn’t have held down a full-time job even if I had gotten one. I had to let go of the dreams I had and grieve for them before I could truly embrace the new path I was on and be able to move forward.

Sometimes life goes completely different than what we though it would — whether by our choices, someone else’s choice or just randomness. It’s OK to acknowledge the hurt of lost dreams. It’s OK to grieve for what isn’t to be.

3. Accept that life isn’t like you planned.

Just like with any kind of grief, in order to move forward, you have to accept the loss. It’s not easy and it can take different amounts of time, but at some point you have to acknowledge that life didn’t turn out how you planned. You aren’t doing what you thought you’d be doing. And then be OK enough with it to move on.

One of the things we talk about in the chronic illness world is a “new normal.” When life doesn’t go like you plan, you get a new normal. What you thought was reality has shifted and you have to shift with it until it becomes your normal. Sometimes new normals are crummy. Other times, new normals end up being blessings. Either way, when life shifts, you have to also or you’ll be miserable.

Along with accepting life isn’t like you planned, you have to also let go of unrealistic expectations and adjust those as well. Chronic illness has also taught me a lot about this as well. I have expectations for what I can and should be able to do. My body doesn’t always agree, and I have learned to accept that. Because if I don’t accept it, then I get angry, frustrated and sad. And that doesn’t help anybody.

4. Acknowledge your accomplishments.

When we feel insecure about who we are (preaching to myself here!), we start focusing on where we fall short and where we are failing or not doing what we thought we would be doing or what we think we should be doing. None of those things are good for our mental health!

Of course, you should assess if you can make changes for the better, but also don’t get so focused on what you perceive as wrong that you miss the good stuff. That day I left my friends from lunch, I ran an errand and then went back home to be with my kiddos. They couldn’t have cared less what my professional career was doing. They weren’t bothered that my health made us doing things like going on family bike rides impossible. They just cared that I was there, that I was loving them and that I was meeting their needs.

Those are big accomplishments. I’ve learned that in times when I can’t do even basic things that I need to appreciate when I can. I’ve also learned that my true accomplishments have nothing to do with what I do professionally and everything to do with honoring God in whatever it is I’m doing (Colossians 3:23).

The people around you may not understand the changes going on in your life. They may not see all of your accomplishments that really matter. Yet, you need to acknowledge them. You aren’t a failure. You are doing what God made you to do, even if it looks different than what you thought you would or different than what the world defines as success.

I challenge you to sit down and think of five things you’ve accomplished each week. I’d bet you can come up with more than that. Include everything from finishing the laundry to feeding the kids to finishing a new project for work to making an overdue doctor’s appointment.

5. Give yourself grace.

Think about what you would say to a friend of yours going through the same scenario. Would you beat her up and point out her faults? Would you remind her that while everyone else was working to get ahead in their careers she was at home changing diapers? Would you point out that she is doing work that she didn’t even get a degree in and that doesn’t make sense?

No. You’d encourage her. You’d reassure her that she was doing what God was leading her to do. You’d remind her that her identity doesn’t come from her work or bank account or health or whatever she is struggling with. You’d point out the things she’s accomplished that really matter. You’d give her grace and compassion.

Do the same for yourself. You’re not going to get it right every moment of every day. You’re still going to have times you get frustrated and want to give up because everything is sideways. Don’t beat yourself up for those feelings. Feel them. Deal with them. Then move on from them.

Not a one of us is perfect. None of us get it right all the time or always have it together no matter how it may look to the outside world. Inside, every person is struggling with some kind of insecurity and some kind of shift in how they thought life would be. We all need grace for each other and for ourselves.

About the Author: Stacey A. Shannon

Stacey A. Shannon is a freelance journalist and blogger who has been published internationally. She's also a Christian, a wife and a mom of two school-aged children. She started Families with Grace in 2019 to encourage Christian moms as they create homes filled with grace, love and faith.

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