Standing In Your Own Power Is Not Easy (And Other Lessons I Learned Last Month)

I was supposed to have a lot to celebrate last month. 

February was going to be the month of significant successes, successes I had been dreaming about for months on end. The fruits of my labor finally sprouted from the seeds of hard work I had planted last year! But seldom in life do things work out the way you had hoped. As my mom always says, “Man proposes, God disposes.” 

Indeed, “the universe” disposed of many things for me this past month! To make sense of these redirections and rejections, I decided to become my own devil’s advocate — spending weeks questioning my motives, intentions, and definitions around success. How often do we chase accomplishments and accolades without thoroughly evaluating our convictions? We’re all chasing highs without bracing ourselves to understand how to rebound from the lows. The answers to these questions were not always pretty; in fact, the most profound truths come from the darkest of places. 

I want to shed some light on the lessons I took away from my February failures.

Standing in your own power requires you to define what makes you powerful.

“True power comes from standing in your own truth and walking your own path” — Elizabeth Gilbert

It’s often the case that we don’t realize the reserves of our own strength until we are forced to. We repeat positive affirmations “I am strong. I am powerful. I am worthy” to ourselves in the mirror without asking, “Why am I strong? What makes me powerful and worthy?” I have also repeated these surface-level placations to myself for many years until they were put to the test.

Whether it’s removing yourself from a toxic relationship or making the agonizing decision to have a difficult conversation with a friend, situations in which we are forced to stand our ground turn us into cynics, but instead of doubting others, you start to question yourself. Standing your ground is not easy when you don’t have a foundation built underneath you.

Often these decisions to step away and stand in the power of your convictions are not meant to make your life easier. Instead, it becomes exceedingly easy to gaslight yourself into questioning your every decision, thought, and motive. Finding your way back to your truth becomes a maze, a fumble in the dark leading down many dark paths. Eventually, you make one right turn that leads to another, that leads to another. Your north star leads you back to your center. A center filled with deeper truths that difficult situations shone a light on and helped unearth from years of societal pressures and external expectations. Refinding myself, lost within a maze of my own doing, has been an incredibly vulnerable yet empowering experience. All my preconceived notions were stripped of their power while creating space for a renewed sense of self.

Questioning my own convictions allowed me to hear the little voice inside my head.

Fight or flight syndrome tends to kick in in times of stress. You’re either forced to face the music or run from it. I’ve found myself on the speaker-side of a giant boombox filled with a cacophony of unpleasant notes in these past few weeks.

In times like these, it’s best to zoom out and evaluate how you got to that particular point. This brings me to my last yet most essential point of all: Understanding where your self-worth comes from will be the most challenging work you ever do but will come with the highest reward.

I applied to five business schools and was rejected from four in February. These rejections, each more painful than the last, were disruptive in every sense of the word — disruptive to the plans I had so carefully laid out for my future, for the life I had envisioned, and for the understanding of my measures of self-worth that had become so intrinsically intertwined in all my decisions. Each rejection gnawed away at me; the words “we cannot offer you a place in our program at this time” seared in my mind as a constant reminder of how I was not good enough.

We teach children from a young age to know their worth, but do we teach them to define where it comes from?

Teaching children the importance of “knowing their worth” tends to be an explicit conversation, but the conversation around defining where that worth comes from is often a wordless one.

Shaped by cultural and societal factors, measures of self-worth are implicitly ingrained in children from a young age and become a driving force behind their decision-making for many years to come. Growing up as an Indian immigrant in the US, I carried a strong cultural responsibility to fit into the molds of success defined by my community. The “model minority” trope applies closely to those of us from the South Asian diaspora as we have seen generations after generations come westward seeking higher education, jobs, and better outcomes than those before them.

It was not uncommon to hear stories of Indian parents teaching their child to recite “Harvard, Princeton, Yale…Harvard, Princeton, Yale…HPY, HPY….” every night before they fell asleep, hoping to channel the power of the already culturally-appropriate Indian mantra and apply it to achieve their goals. Whether “their” means the parent’s or the child’s, that’s up to you to decide.

Unlearning that your achievements, institutional or otherwise, do not determine your self-worth is very difficult. It requires unpacking years of generational pressures that are passed down due to factors that are out of your control, like who you are and the communities you belong to. The good news is that while understanding these deeply rooted motivations may be the hard part, getting to relearn from where you derive joy allows you to rewire your brain and live your most authentic life.

So if you’re a parent reading this and your child is reciting the “HPY” mantra, be sure not to neglect the significance of the additional silent “A” and “P” letters — it’s most important to be. “HAPPY. Happy in the knowledge that your self-worth is based on who you are at your core and how you improve the lives of the people you love.

If you listen closely enough, through a resounding “NO” from the universe, you can hear a quieter “yes”; you just really have to listen for it.