About the Author: Alyssa is a blogger and visual content creator. Born with spinal muscular atrophy, doctors told her family she would not live past 2. Alyssa is now the ultimate visual storyteller on her blog, which you can check out here.
“You are not a product of someone else’s thoughts,” are the words I say to myself often.
To be fair, I didn’t always have this mindset. In fact, it took decades for me to get to a place in life where I could confidently speak these words and know them to be true. That’s because I spent most of my time trying to be accepted by others instead finding acceptance in myself, first.
I don’t blame myself for falling short in the confidence department. Growing up with spinal muscular atrophy, or a disability in general, I’ve been the subject of many misconceptions and judgements in my lifetime. And, in a time where I was discovering who I was and wanted to be, it was challenging to sort through what was actually true and what was simply ignorant accusations from others who had no right to judge me.
Spoiler alert: most of the words that others said about me weren’t actually true.
I know that now, but growing up it wasn’t quite as transparent. I would let these words fester. I’d take them to heart. And, without even realizing, I’d place my own self-worth in the validation I received from others. (Are you cringing, too? Because I’m cringing typing it.)
It was a destructive way to live, but what was most unfortunate was that I didn’t even realize it. People would undermine my abilities, I’d seek the validity of it. Others would throw daggers in the form of hurtful words, I’d let it go and not stand up for myself. Strangers would feel entitled to make assumptions, I’d shrug it off.
In college, I had a professor tell me I would never understand economics because my disability would never allow me to hold a job. Looking back, I’m not sure how these two correlated. But, in that moment, I felt so defeated. I was already struggling with his economics course to begin with, and now I was being told my disability would essentially deem me a failure. (What I would do to show him where I am today!)
The worst part about what he said? I didn’t disagree with him, and I let him continue talking.
Tears welled in my eyes as I left his office that day. Yet, it was also a huge turning point for me. Because even though I had just been belittled by someone who was supposed to encourage and support his students, I wasn’t going to let him have the final word.
I went on to receive an A- in his course. But, the most rewarding part of this story was that I started realizing I am more than capable than what others try to make of me. And, I started using people’s judgements and misconceptions as fuel in my journey to self-confidence.
I understand this probably sounds a little unorthodox, but the more I was told I couldn‘t be or do something, the more I wanted to prove these people wrong. And, by proving them wrong I was proving to myself that I am worthy. This mentality became the very foundation in which I built my confidence upon.
Over time, I came to learn building confidence is a lot like building muscle. It is no easy feat. Instead, it requires discipline and determination to grow. It’s something that must be tended to every single day. And, if you don’t use it, you’ll eventually lose it. However, while confidence is something I must make a conscious effort to practice daily, I’ve noticed an overall shift in how I view myself and my disability.
People’s words may still sting, but I am no longer influenced by them. They may still judge my abilities, but I no longer need to prove them wrong to find validation in myself. And even when they still try to cast their stones at me, I no longer feel threatened.
Because, at the end of the day, there are 3 unwavering truths that confidence will always whisper as armor:
You are capable.
You are worthy.
And, you are so much more than the product of someone else’s thoughts.