When I refer to the ‘universe’ as a concept in which to gain confidence, I really mean use all of your senses. There have been so, so many instances in my life when I thought I had been dealt bad luck, only to find out that something better was yet to come. I called it bad luck at the time because I didn’t use my senses to pick up on why I wasn’t ‘a winner’ in that situation. When in reality, I didn’t attain a certain goal/prize/job because it wasn’t meant for me in the first place. It helped that I was raised with the philosophy that everything happens for a reason. The universe, to me, is when I connect everything around me to an event in my life. It is something that is out of my hand, yet I know it’s directly related to my journey in life. The following example may help to clear up what I am trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to convey.
In the year 2000, I applied for a job to consult at the state level. I was in need of a change in education and thought it would be fun to work in the field for teachers. If I were hired, I would be guaranteed my position back in the district after two years in the field. I felt prepared on so many levels. Several state administrators interviewed me in a panel forum, but I felt confident and self-assured because I passed the verbal and written portion of the exam with flying colors. I was leaving for Costa Rica the next week, but the job wouldn’t start until the fall. They assured me that I would receive a letter within a week or two.
Every day that I was in Costa Rica, I emailed my husband for any news. Nothing. Then one afternoon, when I was in an internet café, my husband attached the rejection letter. It was a nice form letter, with no clue as to why I wasn’t hired. I was crestfallen. In that moment, a young barista brought me a cup of tea because he saw that I was upset. When I looked up into that boy’s kind brown eyes, I felt a shift occur. Like some kind of mystical experience due to a shaman’s secret elixir, it all became clear to me. I wasn’t meant to get that job. I was meant for something not yet known. I dried my tears, hugged the young man, finished my tea, and walked out feeling like a new woman.
When I returned home, there was a fourth grade bilingual position open in the district. I had been studying Spanish and really wanted to work with the Latino population in our area. There it was. Waiting just for me. I worked in that position for 13 years before I retired. Within those 13 years, my life was blessed beyond my expectations. I can’t imagine not teaching those children or knowing their families. I wouldn’t have written my children’s book or started my mentoring program. I wouldn’t have made all my magical trips to Mexico and I wouldn’t have known so many incredible people. I thank the Universe (also God to me) every day for the opportunities that do or do not come my way. I am confident that my journey is crafted solely for me.
I have always been a fierce human being. Even as a child, I was never afraid of anything. My mother said I came out of the womb ready to take on the world. My imagination would take me to many worlds when I thought about the people who atavistically made me; that is, my ancestors beyond the grandparents and great-grandparents I knew growing up. I knew that on my mother’s side, there was a plethora of strong pioneer women; on my father’s side, his Pechanga Indian grandmother married a French man, and from there they left a legacy of vineyards in the Riverside town of Temecula. One of my greatest regrets is that I didn’t interview my maternal grandmother about her life in detail before she passed over 10 years ago. I simply picked up bits and pieces of her incredible life through conversations as I grew. I am so thankful for the copious notes she left for me to find family on Ancestry sites. My father died young. Unfortunately, the closeness I yearned for would never come to pass as I imagined it would in my later years. Again, his mother, my paternal grandmother, left boxes of stories and letters from which I have pieced together her incredibly colorful life. From her, I inherited my penchant for writing.
The one thing I do know about my heritage: I came by my independence, ergo confidence, naturally. On both sides of my family tree, my ancestors were immigrants, pioneers, and native Americans who worked hard to make their way in America. In short, they were, and are, survivors.
My mother is the oldest of fifteen children. Her father, a Spaniard, had three children with her mother, then they divorced. He remarried and had twelve more children. Within the past two years, we have connected with a few of her half-siblings (many passed on early or live far away). My life has been enriched immensely to have my aunts and uncles back in my life. They will be sacred ties when my mother passes because most are my age or younger; and, their loving spirits are akin to the limitless love my mother gave to us.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs reached out to my brother and me within the past few years. We are heirs to Indian land that our paternal great-grandmother owned. There are sixteen direct descendants in line to share the proceeds should the Pechanga tribe wish to buy our parcels. I am thrilled to have a federal Indian number. I have already begun a young adult novel about the life of an adolescent Pechanga girl who changes the rules for Indian women in the 1880’s.
It is no accident that I was born to run through life with wild abandon, drinking up the waters of wisdom passed down to me from a lineage rife with people who lived their dreams off of the sweat of their own brows. I have always felt that I was more than what my parents and grandparents contributed to my genetic make-up. I heard the whispers of ancestors in my night dreams as a child and they are speaking to me louder than ever as I age. I know they won’t stop until I write the stories.
In my last blog, I touched upon what constitutes ‘self-esteem’; that is, we learn to trust in ourselves when we have to work for our goals. Confidence is the by-product of a strong self-esteem. I was watching an indie actor being interviewed this afternoon on a cable show. His definition of being a confident actor is to trust that the process of finding your character will come in due time if you have done the requisite homework for that character. I can safely say that my confidence comes from being independent all my life and not expecting anyone to be responsible for my happiness. I have always trusted that my responsible ways will find me in good stead…eventually. People in high places have never intimidated me because I have never given them the power to define me or my life.
For me, confidence looks like my reaction when given a task or goal to accomplish by a certain date or time. I welcome the challenge to get things done in a timely manner and I trust the outcome will be from my best efforts. My eyes are alert and my body itches to get started. Where did I get this mindset to react favorably to challenges? Well, as I have mentioned several times, it comes from childhood experiences and patterns. When my father left our family, my strong mother ingrained in us by example her philosophy of how to stay on course; and, she believed in us, no matter what muse we chose to follow. I found that being busy and finishing tasks kept me from doubt about my place in the world. All kinds of fears entered my head and heart if I wasn’t actively working on a goal- mainly, I would be a nothing in life if I don’t set goals and achieve them. Many people find solace in drink, drugs, promiscuity, gambling or sex when they want to be diverted from personal fears. My drug of choice has always been seeing the results of my labor; which, in turn, has given me a strong sense of self.
I must admit it’s much harder to be motivated as a retiree, but true to my modus operandi, I always find ways to stay busy that make me happy. Also, when I look back on my glorious life, I see that everything I accomplished has given me a free pass to enjoy the open-ended nature of my life right now. In a nutshell, confidence looks, tastes, feels, smells and sounds like freedom.
When I look back over my long teaching career, there is one theme that marks my tenure- how I cultivated self-esteem in my students. As I learned from my own life, nothing worthwhile is given, it is earned. Same holds true for how we feel about ourselves. I wasn’t one of those teachers who rewarded every single student for simply showing up. I made it very clear that only the work given the most care would end up on the walls. I never expected perfection from my students, but I did expect hard work.
I made sure my students understood that I wasn’t about rewarding only the A and B students; I made it clear that any student could be a star student based solely upon effort, performance and improvement. For example, during art, my students would often say, “What do you think of my picture?” My immediate response was, “What do you think of your work? Did you put your heart into it? Does it represent you? It’s not important what I think as much as it’s important what you think. Art is the expression of who we are.” At the end of these creative sessions, I would explain: “Children, when we work with pride, care and effort, we learn how to be proud of ourselves.” Self-esteem is not gained from the pat phrase, “Good job!” Those words mean nothing. How do you evaluate the word ‘good’? No, self-esteem is realizing our potentials and feeling confident when we get true, specific praise for work we know is our best.
All children come to us with their own set of standards passed down to them from parents and relatives. When I see a child who exhibits behaviors that tell me he doesn’t believe in himself, then I give that child all the tools he needs to achieve in my class. My job is to show children how to learn, then encourage their separate journeys to individual goal acquisition. For each goal achieved, then I can say, “See, I knew you could do it.” I looked forward to the end of the year when my students wrote about their successes. Invariably, I would get essays that ended with the words: “Mrs. Kato taught me to work hard and believe in myself. Now I know I can do whatever I want if I work for it.” Self-esteem is not given; self-esteem is earned.