The last time I was confident, I was eight years old, wearing a yellow leotard, and belting out “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” onstage at our local theatre.

I was about as un-self-conscious as a person could possibly be. And I was happy.

For much of my childhood, I was LOUD. I demanded attention. And even though I’m an introvert, and even then valued being alone, I loved being in the spotlight. I loved being the center of attention. I loved singing as loud as my lungs would allow. I knew I was funny, strong, powerful, good. I knew it in my bones.

When did this change?

Like most women, I’d say that my confidence began to plummet around the end of middle school and the beginning of high school. I no longer wanted to be the center of attention—in fact, the girl who’d once been the star of every school play in elementary school wanted nothing more than to blend in.

Obviously this story is not a unique one. Many people (most, I’d say) change as they grow. Their personalities evolve. And women especially go through this type of change once they hit puberty. I know I’m not alone in this.

But I’ve never quite gotten over what felt like a monumental shift in my being—from fearless to timid, from loud to quiet, from radiant to dull. In some small part of me, I feel as though I’m betraying my younger self, quashing her unshakable belief in herself.

I’d once been a lion; now I’m a sheep.

I can’t count the number of times people have told me I’m quiet; I can’t count the number of times people have praised me for “coming out of my shell.” I want to shake these people; I want to tell them, I haven’t changed; I haven’t come out of any shell. I’ve always been bright, loud, silly—but I don’t often show this side of me to the wider world. Instead, I wrap it up behind an inoffensive exterior, bland and agreeable, that mostly nods along to what other people say and rarely contributes to the conversation.

That is to say, I hide the girl in the yellow leotard.

I think if my younger self saw me today, she’d give me a long stare and ask a tactless (but piercing) question about why I’m so afraid.

I wouldn’t know how to answer her.

I think growing older affords its own sense of confidence; the more I live, the more experience I have and the more capable I feel. Even now, I’m slowly regaining my confidence just by living each day. It’s not a certain thing, though; I still (stupidly) care deeply about what others think. I let my fears rule my actions. I let other people intimidate me. I devalue my own worth.

But I hope, one day, I’ll be just as confident as the lion onstage, beaming into the crowd without any fear.

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