Every other Sunday I send out a newsletter where I share my personal insights to anyone wanting a little encouragement on their own creative journey - and sometimes I share these on my blog. If you’d like to sign up and receive the next one (as well as previous letters), you can sign up here.
When I was 14 years old I remember telling my friends that I was moving to a new school on the other side of the world, and that at this new school I wouldn't make any new friends and I would be alone. I was moving to my sixth school, and I’d decided it was easier and safer to not make friends. Because after all, what's the point - everybody ends up leaving you anyway.
I’d always been pretty independent up until that point, but this decision cemented my identity as an outsider. I created a myth for myself: I am not a ‘people person’.
This is embarrassing to admit, but I have thus spent a good chunk of my life actively avoiding interacting with people if I could help it. This isn’t to say that I don’t have friends or that I don’t interact with people on a regular basis with perfect politeness and sincerity. But I didn’t need the hassle of random chats with strangers, or integrating myself in a community - I was fine by myself, thank you very much.
This outlook hasn’t served me too badly over the years. I’ve never been downright anti-social, but neither have I been terribly approachable. I have strong relationships and excellent friends, but I've also never felt the need to go about building a personal network. I've never felt like I needed the support of a community.
That is, until I realised that I wanted more in my life; and that I wanted to build a business and finally reach out to people. When I realised I wanted to build a business, I realised I needed people after all.
This realisation has brought up feelings of discomfort and shame. I am going to be honest and share that I am still working through some of these feelings. I hope at the very least I am learning something about humility.
This belief, that I am not a ‘people person’, has been no longer serving me, and I've slowly begun to remake my story. It's far from complete, but here I thought I’d share a few insights I've learned on my own journey, and how we can approach changing beliefs we’ve held about ourselves, sometimes for the best part of our lives.
The first step is to recognise that your belief no longer serves you. It has served its purpose, and it’s time to move on.
Letting go of our beliefs isn’t easy. After all, they’ve been serving you for a long time. Often they’ve been keeping you safe and comfortable in the place you’re familiar with. Now is a good time to be kind to yourself.
I find it helps to acknowledge our story and how it helped us. This has been part of our identity for maybe years. Take the time to reflect, then respectfully let it go.
I’m also a believer in writing things down to process our thoughts, so here’s what I wrote to my belief: ‘Thank you for serving me all these years. Thank you for protecting me. But I am changing now. I no longer need you. I can do this on my own. I can do this for myself.’
Once we are on the way to letting go of this outdated belief, we need to replace it with one that is going to support us in this new chapter of our life. Consider what is going to feel helpful and supportive, and also manageable. Listen deeply to what feels true to you.
In my case, the core of my new belief is simply: There is value in each human interaction, both for the person and for myself.
That’s it. Hardly groundbreaking, perhaps. But it feels like a significant step for me. I now choose to consciously recognise that there is value in each and every interaction I have with another person, no matter how small or subtle it might be. Each human interaction carries with it possibility and opportunity - of a good laugh, a new friend, or a smile.
Now it’s time to start acting in accordance with our new belief. The more we behave according to this belief, the more we reinforce our new identity. This is a gradual process with small steps. Check in with yourself regularly and acknowledge the evidence of your new belief. Each time you draw, you are an artist. Each time you write a page, you are a writer. Each time I say hello to someone in the street, I am someone who acknowledges others. Each time I interact with someone online, I am taking an interest in that person.
As we form new habits, we change ourselves day by day. As we gather evidence, we create for ourselves a new identity.
A few weeks ago I was taking my lunchtime walk, very much in my own thoughts, when I heard a person call out ‘hello’. I stopped, and clocked a man in a wheelchair, sitting at the bottom of some steps outside an apartment block, taking in the sunshine. I said a hurried ‘hello’ back and continued walking. But then I stopped. I had a choice to make - walk on by and cut myself off yet again from the rest of humanity - or engage with this person.
I doubled back and walked down the stairs, apologised for my abruptness, and started a conversation that eventually went on for 15 minutes or so. This man had injured his hip and had spent the past 6 weeks confined to a wheelchair. Needless to say he was getting rather sick of it. We passed the time talking about getting out into nature. I expressed my commiseration and wished him a full recovery. At the end of our conversation, he said ‘Thank you. It’s been most pleasant talking to you’.
I walked away, and was overcome with emotion; not because of anything said in the conversation, or his gratitude. But simply because I knew I was changing - and growing as a person.
I knew I could reach out into this world and give my time to a stranger, and know it wouldn’t be so bad after all. I maybe wasn’t the person I’d been before.
I’m aware that people can read this and think ‘Surely this is no big deal’. But sometimes what we find easy, what we’ve known for decades, is a very important deal to someone else. Sometimes it marks the start of a new chapter in their life. Sometimes they are remaking their myths, and claiming their new identity.
What about you - are there any shifts you’d like to make in terms of your own self-beliefs? What myths and identities are you holding onto that no longer serve you? What could you choose to believe instead about yourself? And what small changes could you make to reinforce your new identity?