When I started writing this post a few weekends ago, I thought it was going to be about overconfidence. I jotted down thoughts about underestimating the challenges that come with moving to a foreign country, starting a new job, and living alone – in fact, I haven’t lived alone in years, now that I think about it. Despite implications of arrogance or lack of self-awareness, I still felt like overconfidence just sounded better than what I was really feeling, which was insecurity. The former carries an air of self-assurance, after all; the latter sounds a little bit sadder, maybe weaker.
It’s easier to humblebrag when you’re writing about overconfidence: “I’ve done this a million times before, moving to a new country; I know the drill, even if this time is a little different.” I could frame it as ambitiously attempting to adjust to so many things at once, of wanting to do everything well and doing well NOW. I wanted to build a meaningful community, to excel at work, to improve my Chinese; to finish editing my book, to get involved in education, to meet the alumni communities here; to fully explore Taiwan, to deeply reflect internally – I still want all this and so much more, and I want them all done well. But as I reflected on my struggles over the past couple of months, it became clear to me that the barrier in front of me wasn’t overconfidence; but its opposite: my projected overconfidence served only to buffer my internalized insecurity, and I was stuck.
“Of course you feel insecure here,” my therapist reminded me gently. “You have no 安全感. You’re far away from your family and friends, from anyone who really deeply knows you. You just moved here, and you’re a foreigner – feeling out of place is completely expected.” I often forgot this; in my eagerness to embrace my new home, through the whirlwind of falling in love with Taiwan, I almost expected myself to feel immediately at ease, as if I too was from here and had come back “home.”
I liked this idea, an illusion of successful integration, a seamless transition: even though I was new here, I wanted it to be a perfect, easy fit. On a basic level, I understood the culture and the language. On weekends, I adapted to a new city, new friends, new systems; on weekdays, I navigated a new role, new colleagues, new ways of working. But reality set in quickly: I wasn’t adjusting nearly as quickly as I wanted to be, nor nearly as well as I thought I would.
As the weeks flew by, I felt it more acutely: the growing insecurity gnawed away at me. The gap between where I wanted to be and where I actually was grew so quickly that it was swallowing me up right up, sucking me into a quicksand of negativity that I couldn’t pull myself out of. I was used to feeling likable, and interesting, capable and successful, but for some reason, I couldn’t see it in Taiwan. I wasn’t prepared for how easily I might feel like an outsider in Taipei, and I started doubting my ability to build strong relationships. I wasn’t expecting the mental exhaustion of keeping up with Chinese conversations nor the Taiwanese slang that peppered them, and I started doubting my ability to effectively communicate. I wasn’t ready for the level of humility required to genuinely learn in a new workplace environment, and I started doubting my ability to succeed, period.
They say to fake it till you make it, but what you don’t make it, I began to wonder. What if you’re just faking it until you break it – what are you left with then? Would this have been been worth it?
I spent sleepless nights wondering how the heck I got here. “You have such high expectations,” my teammate gently reminded me, “because the opportunity cost of your being here is so high.” Without exaggeration, I have cried every single week since I’ve moved to Taipei – always for different reasons, but always coming back to the same root: I felt so damn insecure here. I wanted the security of feeling that I was loved and understood and accepted, and I didn’t understand what I was doing so wrong that I couldn’t find this.
Last week, I decided to go alone to Jiufen, impulsively booking an Airbnb for later that same night. “I want to find the self that I was when I moved here,” I announced to my therapist, who seemed mildly alarmed when I informed her that I was rushing to catch the last bus to Jiufen after our session. Then, she smiled. “You know, I’m really moved to hear you say that. You live life so earnestly.” 你很認真的在生活. And in Jiufen, I felt it again: a glimpse of who I knew myself to be, the person I’d lost sight of over the last few months. As I soaked in the mountain and sea and lots of tea, I reflected on being kinder to myself, on the expectations I had for adjusting to a new place and new job. On how quickly I blamed myself for being insecure when I was just seeking the basic human desires to belong, to be liked, to feel useful, to feel like I mattered.
I was trying too hard, I realized, to fight the insecurity. The more I talked to my friends and recharged, the more I regained my confidence, and yet I recognized the strange reality: my confidence and insecurity were not, in fact, at odds with each other. Neither was a reflection on my identity, and both could coexist in the same world; feeling insecure adjusting to a new life in Taiwan didn’t mean I had to lose confidence in who I’ve become as a person. I spent time in Jiufen resetting, feeling more and more like myself again, remembering that there was so much more than whatever was making me feel smaller and smaller in these past few months here.
So here’s to giving myself – ourselves! – space and grace, on continuously learning without feeling like I’m failing. I’m excited to finish up the year strong here in Taiwan, with both confidence and an acceptance of the insecurities that come with moving to a new country, adjusting to a new job, and building a new community. Thank you for following along on the journey!