“Peace to fashion police, I wear my heart / On my sleeve, let the runway start / You know the miserable do love company / What do you want from me and my scars? / Everybody lack confidence, everybody lack confidence / How many times my potential was anonymous? / How many times the city making me promises / So I promise this – I LOVE MYSELF”
– Kendrick Lamar: “i”
No one is born self-confident. In this fast paced complex and transformative world, self-assurance and self-assertion are the fundamental tools which one ought to acquire and hone in order to navigate through life at one’s full potential. These all start, however, with self-confidence, something which develops over time as children learn skills and start to achieve their goals. At the Mbewu Movement 2015 20LeanIn mentor session delivered by Dr. Vuyo Mahlati, we learnt it was through her quest to be heard and to take her rightful place at the table in patriarchal rural Transkei, that she developed her self-confidence and self-assurance as she was forced to prove herself equal to her elder brothers in her parents’ eyes. Life’s lottery of being the last born girl to her parents and the sibling to four older brothers, meant she not only had to transcend youth and gender, but race, classism and other various prejudicial factors in apartheid South Africa on her journey to LeanIn.
Fortunately, self-confidence can be learnt at any age, like building with Lego blocks, each victory is witnessed with each step. Your skin is a travelling bag of your existence, therefore your earliest experiences as a child can either build your confidence to power your dreams or weigh you down like a heavy load. It is through taking the time to know yourself that you discover your identity which informs your path and destiny. Your identity and who you are deep down form the molecular basis which should remain constant regardless of the change in the circumstances around you. In the words of Dr Mahlati, “Never let shame rob you of your identity“. As highlighted in Kendrick Lamar’s song “i” “Peace to fashion police, I wear my heart / On my sleeve, let the runway start“, wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve signifies a marker which you identify and radiate yourself to the world.
It’s important not to lose one’s identity, but more importantly to leave an indelible mark which tells your story and adds to the stories of those around you. As Kanye West said in his debut album College Dropout: “I could let these dream killers kill my self-esteem or use my arrogance as the steam to power my dreams“. This self-conscious declaration serves as the fuel required for one to push through in the pursuit of one’s dreams.
Subjugation and repression are part of the hurdles one has to face in order to test one’s self confidence and/or assertiveness; however it is important to know the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness. Dr Mahlati made this distinction clear in that you first have to start by understanding the territory you are in as well as understanding those around you. Fresh from London School of Economics, with a Masters in hand, Dr Mahlati entered the corporate world under a new dispensation ushered in by South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994. Contrary to popular belief that the journey to success in the corporate world is one dimensional, Dr Mahlati’s journey, was not only unique, but one of transcendence as she moved into a world dominated by “old white men” to take her seat at the helm. One would instinctually seek to erase all that is reminiscent of the “old way” in which things were done. However, Dr Mahlati recognised this as an opportunity to extract the good that resides in the old and to forge it with the gusto that resides in the new. In doing this she gained the respect of those who came before her and those who were to come afterwards, playing her part in mending a broken South Africa.
This journey has not been without thorns, as there was much resistance from the old guard. However, this led to Dr. Mahlati digging deep within herself to tap into her inherent self-appreciation that served as a compass in a fragmented environment. She affectionately stated that “although people terrorised me, I became“. The key ingredient in her journey was not to lose sight of the bigger picture, but importantly not to lose sight of self.
In his song, Kendrick impassionedly pleads: What do you want from me and my scars? A defensive question we generally ask when unsure of what informs us. However, a song of transfiguration is heard when that question is followed up with introspection – “How many times my potential was anonymous? / How many times the city making me promises“. Echoing the reverberations of Dr Mahlati’s words, it is important to appreciate self and to be clear and realistic. This realisation is embodied in Kendrick’s words when he states that: “So I promise this – I LOVE MYSELF“. Although no one is born self-confident, a declaration of self-love plants and nurtures the seed of self-confidence and self-assurance.
This post was kindly contributed by our guest blogger, Lebo Phaladi.
Lebo is an Associate in the anti-trust/competition law department at ENSAfrica. But importantly, he is a young South African with a tenacious love for law, society and Africa. Our readers can find Lebo on LinkedIn.