Confidence is not something that everyone is born with. I wasn’t – and it took me a long time to develop it.

Growing up poor limited my vision of what I thought was possible and made me feel like some people were just born smarter, or more beautiful, or inherently destined for success – and I wasn’t. 

However, throughout my life, I’ve experienced challenges that I now understand were opportunities that have helped develop my confidence and break through my self-limiting beliefs. While the hardships I’ve faced in my personal and professional lives were brutal, I’ve gained strength, tenacity and an unrelenting faith in myself.

I was sexually harassed at my first job out of college. While my boss was supportive, he was ultimately unable to change the situation because his boss was the perpetrator. This difficult, virtually unchangeable plight propelled me to quit my job.   

Soon after, I met the owner of a radio station who took a chance on me. I was young, but he saw that I was determined to prove myself as a valuable, hardworking employee. And I did. By separating myself from the negativity at my prior job, I was able to thrive at my radio station role; and eventually, I was offered an equity partnership.

The people you surround yourself with either lift you up and support you in achieving your goals, or hold you back. I have learned that it is better to literally and figuratively fire those who hold you back in your life. Removing the people on your team that aren’t lifting you up is similar to removing an anchor from your leg. Refusing to waste time on negativity will be a game changer in your life.  

Finding a mentor who believed in me more than I believed in myself was part of this catalyst. For years, I would lean on my mentor for advice and direction, and typically the advice would be to just go for it. I changed my perspective from “what if I fail?” to “what if I succeed?” Mentors can help push you to try things that you have been afraid of. Journaling about these small wins can help set you up for bigger wins in your future. 

Learning to interpret a “no” as a step closer to a “yes” has certainly been a part of my advancement strategy and has helped me to strengthen my own confidence. When I was younger, one of my biggest fears was being told “no.” Over time, however, I realized that if I lived like this, I would never be able to reach my full potential, and the only “no” that could stop me was the one I gave myself. If I told myself that I couldn’t do something, then I would certainly fail; but if I gave myself a shot, I would be able to advance, pivot and find a solution.

While I let myself be bullied and intimidated in the workplace for a time, I eventually realized that people will only treat you the way that you allow them to. This was a pivotal moment. I decided that the world would see me the same way that I saw myself. I started to use words to describe myself the way that I wanted others to see me and replaced self-deprecating humor with empowering word choices that highlighted my superpowers. Most importantly, I chose the words I used when I spoke to myself. Instead of beating myself up if I didn’t make a great choice or if I failed, I gave myself encouragement, understanding and compassion.

Making this change was crucial, and I began to believe in my own accomplishments. The more I supported myself, the more I didn’t tolerate others who didn’t support me or respect me in the same way. I soon realized people began to treat me differently. I stopped apologizing for things that in the past I would throw a quick “sorry” out there for. Instead, for example, if I kept someone waiting, I thanked them for their patience. I decided to change the way that I handled and respected myself and the world responded. 

Finally, I stopped comparing myself to everyone I believed had an advantage over me or made more money than I did. I understood that I couldn’t compare my chapter one to their chapter 20, and that everyone has their own problems – which they certainly don’t promote with their selfies on Instagram. Accepting that I was doing my best in my own situation and keeping the focus on me ended this comparison game. I decided to focus on what I loved about me, what I could celebrate about my wins, and what I had to be grateful for in that moment. Keeping a nightly gratitude journal helped keep me focused on all the good, rather than on what I had not yet achieved. 

At the end of the day, confidence is what made the difference for me. We will all run into villains in our lives, but it is up to us to decide how we respond to them. The key to remember is that you are not the villain in your story holding you back. You are the hero who can save the day. 

About the author: Heather Monahan is a workplace expert with over 20 years’ experience in sales and media. Heather is a social media influencer, keynote speaker, Glass Ceiling award recipient and Pop Sugar contributor. As seen in USA Today, Bustle, Dow Jones, Refinery 29 and more Heather is committed to advancing others via her website

Edited for brevity and clarity by Sammi Caramela.