** WARNING: The following are my personal experiences, and in no way am I suggesting that anyone follow in my footsteps **
I was a painfully shy kid with low self-esteem, and social situations made me incredibly uncomfortable. I was also picked on a lot. I got bullied for two reasons: My last name is weird and difficult to pronounce (Fig-A-rel-EE), and I was (and still am) androgynous in appearance.
This harassment happened throughout elementary school, most of 7th grade and parts of 9th grade. It’s something I haven’t had to deal with since then because I learned how to stand my ground and I have become much more confident.
Here are 10 unorthodox ways that I built my self-confidence:
1) I hid from the bullies and used my time to figure shit out. I analyzed every scenario, post-bullying and asked myself if what I was being made fun of for was actually true and then I would come up with a more sophisticated way to avoid the bullies or correct whatever I was getting made fun of for. This was good for me because it forced me to use my brain to solve a problem. I analyzed the spectrum of emotions that I regularly experienced; fear, loneliness, and anger, and I would play out hypothetical scenarios in my mind in order to improve my future interactions with said bullies.
2) I owned the things I was getting made fun of for. My last name was something I couldn’t change, and I knew that it was unique. I eventually embraced my originality. I wasn’t a “Smith” or a “Jones,” I was a motherfucking “FIGARELLE.” Being different can be scary and lonely when you’re young, but you eventually figure out that being like everyone else sucks and that if you want to make it big in this world you need to stand out from the crowd.
Also, much like Eminem did in the movie 8 Mile, when I got called “gay,” or repeatedly told that I “looked like a boy,” I would make fun of it along with the bullies. Remember when Em mocked his whiteness on stage during the rap battles? I did that with my gayness. People are left with no ammunition when you agree with them and laugh, too. Plus, they think you’re crazy and this always works in your favor.
3) I took a more assertive stance and became a proficient trash talker. Getting bullied? Give it back to them! I used to get teased terribly by a group of girls in 7th grade. So, I shit talked them right back. One time I started telling a girl off, and before I knew what had come out of my mouth, she smacked me in the back of the head while I was sitting at the lunch table with all of my friends. After that altercation, I didn’t have any more trouble with that particular girl. I think she was surprised by my nerve to stand up to her.
4) I improved myself physically. Those 7th grade bitches tormented me everyday during basketball tryouts. No amount of tattling on them to the coach did a bit of good. Then I made the varsity basketball team and left their asses back on JV. Guess who became my new little group of ass-kissing friends after that? I also started working out in a gym and building up my physical strength. As I became stronger, my nearly nonexistent self-esteem began to see the light of day. I made mean looking faces in the mirror and started rehearsing lines like, “Don’t fuck with me,” and “What’s that bitch?!” Following by a violent, spinning karate move some guy at the gym showed me.
5) I hung out with delinquents. When I was in 8th grade, I smoked pot for the first time out of a TreeTop apple juice can with a bunch of older kids who worked at the movie theater I hung out at. I instantly felt cooler even though I didn’t actually get high. Just being “accepted” by these rebellious kids helped boost my self-confidence. I’m not saying go out and become a druggie in order to get people to like you, but I am saying DON’T BE SCARED OF LIFE. Whatever that means to you. For me, it meant smoking pot out of juice cans at the mall when I was 13. See, rebellious people tend not to be afraid of things. They say “fuck it” more than those who are afraid to go against the status quo. I learned early on that I would never fit in with people who were scared of trying new things.
6) I became a delinquent. Getting arrested, handcuffed and gently shoved into the back of a cop car will help you learn how to talk to cops. Normal people are afraid of the police and will do whatever it takes to avoid any altercation with them. I am not normal. Also, the back of a police car is really uncomfortable.
Authority figures have always fascinated me, and I took great pleasure as a teenager in testing the boundaries and breaking rules to see how many things I could get away with and what the consequences would be. I’ve had countless altercations with cops, mall security guards, principals and other authority figures in my life. Being confronted by someone who can potentially throw you in jail (I’ve never been to jail, by the way), will force you to face your fears and help you become more assertive.
7) I talked to everyone. Every weekend, I used to ask homeless people to buy me beer when I was too young to buy it myself. It takes a lot of guts to walk up to a random guy sleeping on the street, and ask him to buy booze for you and your friends. But I wanted to get drunk, so I learned how to ask for what I wanted. Sometimes it’s as easy as that. This also helped me face rejection. Sometimes the homeless people would take our money and our beer. And sometimes they would refuse to buy for us. We never gave up because that would mean no Friday night buzz. I wasn’t prepared to accept defeat, so I continued asking different homeless people to help us. If you’re easily discouraged by rejection, you won’t get far in life. Learning how to talk to adults- drunk and sober, helped me to fine-tune my communication skills and boost my self-confidence.
8) I ran away from home. I always seemed to be grounded when I was a kid. Like, all the time. I couldn’t use the phone, ride my skateboard, or see my friends for weeks on end. One day I got fed up and I decided to run away. It was something I had wanted to do for a long time just to see what it was like. An experiment. It sounded fun, so I snuck the phone into my bedroom and called my best friend to see if she’d like to run away with me that day. She agreed to join me. I wrote a note to my mom and climbed out of my bedroom window. I needed to explore the world and I knew my mom would never let me “go camping” for three days during a school week. I had no intentions of ever hurting my family or anyone else during this time. I simply wanted to be free and do whatever I wanted.
Running away from home taught me a few important things; self-reliance, not to be afraid of the streets, and that it’s cold in the woods at night without a sleeping bag or tent.
9) I practiced doing whatever I wanted. I took my high school girlfriend to our senior prom. I wore a tux, and she wore a dress because that was my vision. That’s what we wanted to do. I’m sure people whispered behind our backs, but who cares? When you know what you want and you’re bold enough to go after it, everyone stands back and lets you be. If you live your life always afraid of what everyone else will think of you, then remember that you are the one who has put yourself in that prison.
10) I competed in Bodybuilding shows. The first time I saw a bodybuilder in a magazine I didn’t believe it was a real human. The guy had legs that were bigger than my entire body. I was so intrigued by this abnormally large person that I thought it would be interesting to see how far I could take my body with weightlifting. Because I was a slacker for most of high school and didn’t play many sports, I decided to train for the Miss East bodybuilding competition my senior year. I won the show and went on to compete for the next 9 years.
Prancing around in a tiny bikini and putting yourself out there for the world to judge your body on a stage is pretty scary. All of the preceding events in my life that challenged me to face my fears also prepared me to be on that stage.
Some of these may sound like asinine examples of how to build your confidence, but they are things that I experienced in my life that helped me become more self-assured and comfortable with myself. They were fun, and I have a lot of great memories because of my willingness to go out on a limb and do things that most people thought were dangerous and downright stupid.
Sometimes those are the things you have to do in life. The crazy shit that challenges you is also what changes you.