Who am I? – Overcoming Low Self Esteem and Self Pity

My story is a long one, but I hope you can read to the end and be inspired as you read. :-)

Nine out of ten people that I tell I am from Manafwa District (located in the remote parts of Eastern Uganda) do not get it. They look at me with a quizzical expression, probably wondering where on earth Manafwa is. I let them rack their brains for a while in an attempt to remember where they have heard or seen the word Manafwa before I give them a more elaborate answer.

“Manafwa is the new district just before Bududa.”

“Oooooh, Bududa!” they exclaim. “That’s the place with landslides, right?”

“That’s right!” I always respond.

I have been told by my parents and siblings that I spent the first three or so years of my life in Kampala, but the earliest memories of my life all begin at Manafwa. It is where I have grown up, and where I call home. Growing up, I can hardly say I had dreams or even ever thought of what my life would become in future. To me, life was all about doing what was supposed to be done i.e. go to school, get good grades, be obedient, respectful and everything else; all of which I did. However, when it came to personal goals and ambitions in life, I was headed in no particular direction.

Right from a tender age, I was always assaulted with the million dollar question: What do you want to be in the future? Most times, I would smile shyly, look down or sideways, open my big eyes and put on the most innocent face I could until whoever asked forgot their question and concentrated on how sweet and small I looked. Of course there were a few who wouldn’t be easily swayed. So, when it came to such people, I always had three responses to choose from: Teacher, Doctor or Engineer – in that order.

It goes without saying that the prejudiced setting grew up in always looked down on the teaching profession. So why in the world would I want to be a teacher? Well, the answer is pretty simple: Because my father was a teacher, a Deputy Head Teacher in fact. I was always fascinated by the amount of power he seemed to wield over hundreds of students and several other older people simply by virtue of the title he held. My siblings and I were constantly referred to as “Abaana b’Omusomesa” (loosely translated to mean “the teacher’s children”), and that to me was a ‘title’ to revel in.

Then, why doctor? You may ask. Well, because the only other “successful” person in my father’s family was an uncle who is a medical doctor. I didn’t know so much about doctoring and medicine but being a doctor sure sounded like a cool thing to me.

How about engineering? At that age, I didn’t know anyone who was an engineer, and had no idea what engineers did or how one became an engineer. However, I always bested my peers in mathematics and everyone would be like, “You will make a good engineer one day!” I soon noticed that they seemed to hold engineering in such a high regard. So, I added it to the list of those things I wanted to be/become.

When I joined secondary school at Mt. St. Mary’s Namagunga – one of the country’s best – I still hadn’t made up my mind about my dream career. None of the three choices on my list elicited any passion in me. Interestingly, all my classmates (girls my own age) seemed to have everything figured out. I met girls who talked passionately about being aeronautical engineers or architects or lawyers and how that had been their dream since they started primary one. I would stare at them in absolute awe because in my primary one, all I thought about was P.E (physical education), break time and lunch time. In addition to my uncertainties about the future, I had to deal with a myriad of insecurities about myself. Here I was, a tiny short girl coming from a remote village miles away from modern civilization in a school full of girls that had it all! Because I had attended a rural school (that had numerous challenges arising from the poor facilitation that has come to typify most government-aided schools under the pitiable Universal Primary Education program) for the greater part of my primary school, this felt like some kind of blot on my profile.

In my new surroundings, it was strange for one to report late to school on account of “no money”. In my second term of Form One, I reported to school two weeks late, and I had to lie to everyone that I was sick because no one would have believed that I stayed home because my parents couldn’t raise the school fees. Then there was the issue of ‘eats’: whereas my classmates’ trunks were loaded with cartons of milk and splash, boxes of water and cereal, tins of biscuits and the like; all I had were a few home cooked ‘eats’ that couldn’t even occupy half of my trunk. I cannot begin to tell of the clothes I painfully wore term after term, all the while wishing I had been born into a richer family so I could also afford new clothes as and when I wished.

By Form Three, my self esteem had taken a major hit. I wallowed in self pity day after day and cried night after night about the things I didn’t have. I had a hard time making friends because I was ashamed of myself. I could have chosen to look at the positives, but instead focused on what others had that I was in lack of. I sank deeper and deeper into this dismal abyss of low self esteem and self pity.

However, a chance encounter with Ben Carson’s best-seller Think Big in my Form Four vacation changed my life. I learnt how to look at myself in a more positive way, to ditch the self pity and instead focus on becoming a better person. The first real step towards improving my self esteem occurred when I received my UCE (Uganda Certificate of Education) results. I couldn’t believe my eyes: I got 9 aggregates in 8 best done subjects. I hadn’t expected it at all. I had always topped the class through primary school but that all changed when I joined secondary school where my classmates were way brighter. I had convinced myself that maybe I wasn’t as bright as I had always thought. So, for the first time in a very long time, I felt good about myself. Words cannot satisfactorily explain the feeling I got, but it was immense.

In high school, I kept a note book in which I wrote all my goals (by now I was certain I wanted to be an engineer) and made resolutions that would help me out of low self esteem and self pity. I stopped concentrating on what I didn’t have, and spent more time thanking God for all He had given me. It wasn’t easy but I persisted.

Overtime, I have come to appreciate the uniqueness of each individual; and the sooner we appreciate this, the more enjoyable it is to negotiate the walk of life. Our value does not contain in the money we have to our names, the clothes we wear, the cars we own or any other material thing. We are all invaluable because each individual is unique, and made for a unique purpose. There is no denying that sometimes I have to fight the urge to compare myself to other people, but every one of those times I remind myself that life is not a competition. Am reminded of how far God has brought me and His promises upon my life. No matter how hard it seems, I will always be true to God and to myself, and live the life He has given me confident and sure of who I am. I am the child of the King of Kings. I am immensely blessed and favored. I am a winner and a conqueror, and so are you. All you need to do is summon up the courage to step out of these fears and let us be the great women that God created us to be.

This inspiring story was shared through a collaboration between Say It Forward and Allied Youth Initiative–Uganda

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Khainza Suzan Joan

Khainza Suzan Joan is a 22 year old graduate of Mechanical Engineering from Makerere University, Kampala. She is a born-again Christian who loves reading novels and writing. Someday, she hopes to be a published author!