The first strategy is to imagine whatever it is you want to believe in about yourself and build on that image. When I start working with transgender adults, they almost always struggle to believe in themselves. Imagining how they envision themselves in regard to their gender identity helps them cultivate the inner belief that it’s possible. Imagination is the most powerful tool we possess. Remind yourself that everything you see surrounding you, from the table to the chair you sit on, was once imagined.
Starting something new is scary. Learning to believe in yourself can be a critical precursor to starting a new initiative. Why is it so important to learn to believe in yourself? How can someone work on gaining these skills? In this interview series, we are talking to business leaders, authors, writers, coaches, medical professionals, teachers, to share empowering insights about “How To Learn To Believe In Yourself.” As a part of this series we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Natalia Zhikhareva.
Dr. Natalia Zhikhareva, known as Dr. Z, is a clinical psychologist, transgender specialist, writer, speaker, and unshakable optimist dedicated to helping you become the person you most want to be. Her passion for working with the transgender community fostered an interest in clinical research leading to the publication of “Pre-operative Trans Women’s Perceptions of Their Genitalia.” Dr. Z’s most recent work includes speaking at the GOOGLE Transgender Conference on “How to Deal with Increased Social Anxiety post COVID!” and discussing “What is a Gender Therapist?” in FORBES Health.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
You can tell from my accent I am not native to the US. I was born and raised in Uzbekistan, formerly part of the Soviet Union, and immigrated in 1993. My parents, like other immigrant parents, strongly felt I and my sisters would get more life opportunities in America, and they were right. As a result, I am the first generation in my family to obtain the highest academic degree, a doctorate. As you can imagine, my family is very proud of me and my sisters love emphasizing that I am a doctor as much as I love emphasizing that I am not a medical doctor but a doctor of philosophy. Nonetheless, they can’t stop boasting about it.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Is it vain to say my inspiration is myself? I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer in the knee when I was sixteen. I spent two years undergoing sixteen chemotherapy sessions and numerous surgeries. When I recovered at eighteen, my parents were just happy I was alive and pulled back on any expectations they had of me about my career. Looking back, I think they didn’t want to overwhelm me psychologically. Going through cancer gave me a new lease on life. Because of the prosthesis, some of my physical abilities became limited so I turned all that vitality I felt toward my mind and became competitive in my intellectual pursuits. When I completed my Masters’s Degree in Counseling Psychology my mom felt that was the end of my endeavors. My ego, however, had this motto “why be a nurse when you can be a doctor,” the sky is your limit and that’s when I enrolled in the doctorate program.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Funniest?! For a shrink? Ok, so this might not be so funny to others, but this is hilarious in the world of therapists. Here I am at the office, getting ready for my next patient. As usual, that little antiquated therapy button in my office lights up, informing me they are in the waiting room. As I open the door, whom do I see? Not one but two of my patients, both standing and ready to go! That’s when I realize I double booked as the pang of anxiety rises in my throat. I look at their anticipating faces as they eagerly look back at me. Like a tortured game, I have to pick. The lesson here, is always to be honest, especially with patients, because, trust me, their bullshit meter is excellent. And that’s what I did. Right then and there told them I screwed up, and by being honest I could show them I am human and can mess up too.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Right now I am obsessed with content creation, specifically the Q&A sessions I just started releasing on my DR Z PHD YouTube channel, where viewers post questions specific to their circumstances. Every Monday, I randomly select five to six to answer. Of course, since I am a transgender specialist for adults, the questions cannot be diagnostic but as long as they can be generalized, they are good to go. I love being put on the spot this way and the viewers get an opportunity to receive guidance, especially since so many do not have access to a gender specialist in their area.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to believe in yourself? Can you share a story or give some examples?
If you don’t believe in yourself, you will continue to keep yourself back by your limited beliefs and you will continue to define your life and your future decisions by things that have happened to you in the past. Looking back at my life, imagine if I believed my parents that beating cancer is a big enough accomplishment to lay to rest all my future pursuits! If I had allowed this to happen I would have continued to cling to the past, telling myself I am a cancer survivor, reminding myself that I don’t need to push harder in life because I already kicked cancer. This is exactly how so many of us are held back by limited beliefs and the stories we tell ourselves about the past. If I did that, I wouldn’t be a doctor, wouldn’t be a woman thriving in her career, and I certainly wouldn’t be doing this interview today. I am where I am today for one reason: I believe in myself.
What exactly does it mean to believe in yourself? Can I believe that I can be a great artist even though I’m not very talented? Can I believe I can be a gold medal Olympic even if I’m not athletic? Can you please explain what you mean?
Sure, you can believe anything about yourself. Remember, by believing in ourselves, we are using the most amazing capacity we have as humans, imagination and imagining all sorts of amazing things about yourself is a beautiful thing. However, if you plan to put your beliefs into action and go after the Olympic medal when you are not athletic, you must consider your base-level potential. The base-level potential is your realistic appraisal of whether you have the basic ingredients for the job. For example, I know I can’t become a gold medalist in running. Given my prosthesis, I can imagine and believe in myself, but it’s just not physically possible. The truth is many of us do have the basic ingredients to achieve our dreams. It is our limited beliefs that almost always hold us back.
Was there a time when you did not believe in yourself? How did this impact your choices?
Toward the completion of my clinical coursework, there was a time I found myself at a crossroads: go into private practice as a generalist or take a leap of faith and focus solely on transgender and nonbinary adults. My gut instincts were telling me to pursue my passion, gender therapy. My mind, or more accurately the ego, that part of ourselves that does not like risk and change, was telling me that I would fail. As usual, the ego does much unnecessary chatter. It is the most annoying coworker within my headspace that has been with my brain company the longest. My heart gave in and I lost. Almost a year passed until I decided to trust and believe in myself again. This cost me time, and as we know, time is the most precious resource we cannot get back. When at the crossroads, always bet on yourself. At least, that’s what I learned to do from that mistake. I wish I could tell you I also fired the ego, but unfortunately, their contract is indefinite.
At what point did you realize that in order to get to the next level, it would be necessary to build up your belief in yourself? Can you share the story with us?
One day I read Gay Hendricks’s “The Big Leap,” in which he talks about the upper limit we all experience toward numerous aspects of who we are, how much we can earn, how much weight we can lose, how successful we can become, etc., and how the upper limit problem holds us back. Whenever I feel content, that part in our lives when things feel comfortable, I know it’s a sign to level up and push my limits. That’s when I tap into my belief system.
What are your top 5 strategies that will help someone learn to believe in themselves? Please share a story or example for each.
1 . The first strategy is to imagine whatever it is you want to believe in about yourself and build on that image. When I start working with transgender adults, they almost always struggle to believe in themselves. Imagining how they envision themselves in regard to their gender identity helps them cultivate the inner belief that it’s possible. Imagination is the most powerful tool we possess. Remind yourself that everything you see surrounding you, from the table to the chair you sit on, was once imagined.
2 . The second strategy is to realize how resistant your ego is. That’s because the ego doesn’t like changes, and believing in yourself leads to changes in your life. Imagine your headspace as a corporate company. Ego is one of the employees within your headspace, and every time it senses a possible change, it will nag, kick, and complain. Ego also hates taking risks because it feels threatened and will engage in temper tantrums trying to convince you to change your mind with sentences that all start with “don’t.” Don’t you dare change your career, you’ll end up broke. The ego is critical, cynical, pessimistic, and one big party pooper. Whenever I do not believe in myself, I check in with my company and ensure the ego has not been promoted to an employee of the month and I highly recommend others do the same.
3 . Third strategy is all about taking small steps toward that which you want to believe in. Think about the smallest, tiniest step you can take today. It can be as small as imagining your heart getting filled with believing anything is possible. Continue to take small steps daily and you’ll experience a compounding effect of beliefs. That’s when your beliefs stack up and you begin believing in yourself. The compounding effect is powerful, and your self-confidence grows as you accumulate more steps. I also check in with my inner beliefs account and ensure it is net positive vs. net negative.
4 . I want to share the fourth strategy of realizing and accepting that fear will exist, even with believing in yourself. The goal is not to eradicate fear but to walk toward your aspirations despite it. It is learning how to take your fear into your hand and make it your friend. Learning how to live with fear is a big part of believing in yourself as you realize that fear is not the boss of you. As you take more steps toward believing in yourself, I also want to remind you that it becomes easier to walk alongside fear.
5 . The final strategy I want to share is to surround yourself with people who strongly believe in themselves. Even if they are people you will never meet face to face, such as today’s leaders, entrepreneurs, and other role models. The power of proximity to that which you desire has a tremendous effect on your mindset. I listen to incredible minds sharing their lessons in a masterclass or tune into a podcast daily. Surround yourself with people whose ability to believe in themselves you aspire to, and watch your confidence grow.
Conversely, how can one stop the negative stream of self-criticism that often accompanies us as we try to grow?
Remember, your inner critic is also part of your headspace company, just like the ego is. I like to think of the inner critic as a whining teenager who only wants to meet their needs, part of which is maintaining the status quo. Like a teenager, when the inner critic’s need is unmet, they will turn against you by saying all the terrible, horrible things about yourself. One has to be a CEO of the headspace company and a parent to the inner critic. Just like a parent, when a teenager turns nasty, saying, “I hate you, I wish you were never my mom and dad,” one must act like a mature adult and shrug it off, knowing it is part of a temporary tantrum. The more you spot your inner critic, the more you can step in and stop it from whining.
Are there any misconceptions about self-confidence and believing in oneself that you would like to dispel?
There are many misconceptions but the one that I often hear is that people are born with a natural ability to believe in themselves. Unless you are a narcissist, that’s just not true. Believing in yourself is an ongoing practice that requires taking on challenges you fear and overcoming them. By practicing, you become more confident to take on new risks because you have repeatedly proven to yourself that you can handle them. As you can see, believing in yourself has much to do with handling things.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with imposter syndrome?
Welcome to the club! And I say that genuinely with kindness. Imposter syndrome is almost impossible to avoid because your fear will bring it up. It is natural to experience imposter syndrome, and what’s important is to recognize that it is part of the process. Did you know Maya Angelou struggled with imposter syndrome whenever she wrote a book? Imagine, Maya Angelou!
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Make it mandatory for people to work on their projections and inner triggers. Seriously! Did you know that all social media hate, bullying, and harmful speech are projections of our inner crap? This leads to people reacting vs. responding and hurting so many hearts. If we are all taught to work on our inner selves, to at least take the time to sit with that which triggers us the most before launching into a verbal attack, the world will be a much better place.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I’d love to sit down with Hillary Rodham Clinton and pick her brain.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
My website drzphd.com features blog posts and videos full of rich content helpful for transgender and nonbinary adults, and my YouTube channel DR Z PHD.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.