Look at everything that happens in your life as a lesson to be learned, not as a personal failure. Even if you try something and it doesn’t work out, there is a golden nugget to be found! As I outlined in my own story, for some of us the path is very meandering, and we try on different “work clothes” that don’t fit. Knowing what is not meant for you clears the way for you to discover what does work. Using this lens to process these experiences will also help you deal with disappointment in a more balanced way, rather than making you think you are “hopeless” or “no good”.
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 Ileana A Rontea.
Ileana A Rontea is a speaker, trainer, writer, Women’s Empowerment Coach, human resources professional, entrepreneur, world traveler, and Co-Founder of Empowered Women Now Enterprises OÜ (https://empoweredwomennow.com/). Ileana and her business partner create and deliver unique and transformational online training and coaching courses for women at the workplace.
Ileana has worked as an onboard Human Resources Manager on cruise liners, where she provided soft-skills training, as well as coaching and counselling to staff and management. Her “superpower” lies in her keen ability to see the sometimes-hidden potential in others and guide them on their transformational journey.
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?
I am an only child and a TCK (third culture kid); by the time I was 12 years old, I had lived in 4 different countries, with 4 different languages, although I only spoke 3 of them. This is a blessing but can also be a curse. It all depends on whether you are able to adapt or not. While most of the time, I managed to cope well with all the changes in my young life, I went through a phase of extreme shyness when I didn’t want to speak to anyone and was afraid to connect with others because I felt so different. This was a very lonely and isolating time, which made me realize that it was up to me to make the first move when trying to integrate in a new country. Luckily, my extraverted nature eventually reasserted itself and I came out of my shell. Therefore, in a way, I have been “taking the leap” into new adventures since the age of 9 when we left my country of birth, and my globe-trotting ways began. I have now lived in 13 countries and travelled to many more.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I will answer this in relation to my current career, as I have changed directions a number of times. I remember reading at one point that many people will change careers an average of 7 times during their lifetime. I found that shocking at the time, but I can attest that this has also been my own story.
My current role of Facilitator/Trainer, women’s empowerment coach, and Co-Founder of Empowered Women Now Enterprises OÜ came about through what I call an “intuitive leap”. Covid lockdowns caught me just having arrived in a new country (Malta). I started a Human Resources Partner position in January of 2020 and 2 months later we were in lockdown; I was alone and barely knew anybody! As the world was reeling from all the restrictions, many began to examine their lives and wonder if there was something else they needed to do with their lives.
I was one of those people. My deep musings and soul-searching eventually led me to resign from my job and in November of 2020, I launched my own life coaching business. I called it Phoenix on the Rise, as a tribute to all the women who reinvent themselves throughout their lives. I had been coaching others my entire life, both professionally and personally and even though it was somewhat of a leap, I felt ready for it.
Two months later, I casually asked a male acquaintance who was a Human Resources Manager if there was any training aimed specifically at the women in his organization. He said yes, but only at the manager and director level. He then told me that he was looking for a training program for his female staff to help them believe in themselves and acknowledge their own gifts and talents, instead of minimizing them.
A huge lightbulb went off in my head! To backtrack for a bit, I have a good friend in Toronto (Iva Baltova) who is an instructional designer — she creates training courses — and I knew she was excellent in her field. And so, the idea came to me that we should design a program for women in the workplace who are NOT on the management or leadership track but who hold untapped potential. I knew that many women suffer from low self-confidence and have a lot of self-limiting beliefs and I felt that if there was a training program specifically for them, we could help them overcome these obstacles.
And this is how our business partnership was born. Iva does most of the research and creation of the materials and deals with the more technical aspects of our business, and I work on client development/management and deliver our online Pre-Leadership Training and Coaching Program: “Soar Beyond Your Limits: Self-Empowerment Essentials for Women at the Workplace”.
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?
I’m not sure if this is really a “funny” story, but the first time I spoke to an audience of about 50 ladies, I was extremely nervous. It was a last-minute invitation, and I didn’t have that much time to prepare. During the presentation, I paced up and down the stage because I literally couldn’t stand still, my voice kept getting caught (because I didn’t know how to breathe properly) and I probably had the “deer caught in headlights look”. However, I had the presence of mind to have myself recorded (this was in the days before smart phones), so I could see what I needed to work on — and it was a lot!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
At the moment, we have the Training and Coaching Program I mentioned above, which is our main focus. We are finding that progressive organizations understand the need to support their female staff. Many forward-thinking leadership teams are looking to promote more women into senior roles. We believe that until women are internally ready for more responsibility and believe that they have what it takes, they will not engage in these roles. This is where we come in.
Our 12-week online Program therefore covers three courses: Building Confidence, Power Boundaries, and the Communications Code. Each course builds on the previous one and belief in oneself is at the core of our teachings and essential for success in life, no matter what your situation might be.
We have found that each person interacts differently with the material we present and is at a different place in their life and self-development. However, we have seen some amazing shifts in self-understanding, mindset, and behavior. We encourage our participants to continue engaging with the information and practices learned in our Program, as the twelve weeks we spend together is only the beginning of the journey. We are contributing to empowering women so that they nurture self-confidence and begin to perceive themselves in a new and more positive light.
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?
Believing in yourself will allow you to see more possibilities in the world for yourself. We are often risk-averse because we lack experience and competence in a particular area of our lives. However, until we are willing to have some courage and step out of the comfort zone, we will remain stuck in the same fear-based mentality. The only way to change our lives is to do something different than before, and that takes a bit of daring.
In addition, believing in yourself will also allow you to handle setbacks differently because you will (hopefully) see them as lessons you can learn from. For example, I tried three different educational programs when I was exploring a career path. None of them worked for me. Something wasn’t quite right for me with any of these roads I tried. Instead of looking at it as continued failure however, I viewed it as research. I was finding out what I didn’t want and was eliminating those options.
I eventually went back to school in my mid-forties and completed certification in Human Resources Management, graduating with distinction. I had finally found something I could sink my teeth into and that I loved! I still use what I learned during that time even though I no longer work directly in the field.
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?
In my mind, believing in yourself includes some key aspects. One of these is self-awareness and inner knowledge. This includes what your strengths and weaknesses are. So, if I’m not artistically or musically inclined, can I be a world-renown master in that field? Probably not, although some succeed on that path even though their talent is not extraordinary. I believe it really depends on how much you want something, how hard you are willing to work at it, finding the right coach or mentor to help you, and whether it feeds your soul. If you are willing to dedicate your life to excelling at something, you better be in love with it!
Mindset is also very important as I mentioned before. Being able to reframe situations so that you don’t self-victimize but instead you look at events in your life as lessons to be learned from, is a crucial skill to have. My own life experience has shown this to be true. At age 38, I started my first business. At the time, I was helping holistic practitioners and life coaches market themselves to attract their ideal audience. One of the main methods I wanted to promote my own business was through public speaking, seminars, and workshops. As I mentioned before, I was quite nervous and afraid of being judged, so it was a stretch for me.
Nevertheless, I felt this was a very important skill for me to have. I began to work with a voice and presentation coach who helped me overcome my self-consciousness, taught me how to breathe and believed in me! Because I wanted this so badly, I worked on it a lot and eventually overcame my fears. I began speaking at networking events, conferences, chambers of commerce, symposiums, and I was even featured on television as a business coach.
My enthusiasm at one particular speaking engagement landed me an offer to become a trainer. I began to work with a new company that was training people to start their own business. I had never conducted training before, but I realized it was public speaking with a twist. This led to my adding training to my business offerings. Acquiring these skills changed the trajectory of my life because I didn’t give up and believed I would eventually get to where I wanted to.
Am I the best speaker in the world? Of course not, but I have been told I am quite inspiring and charismatic. I am happy with the work I have done on myself to conquer my self-doubts and make all of this happen.
Was there a time when you did not believe in yourself? How did this impact your choices?
I believe some of us are more biologically wired to risk-taking than others. You have to believe that you will be OK, no matter what happens; this is when you are more willing to take the leap, whatever it might be.
One of the times I seriously doubted myself was when I was bullied in 7th grade. Like so many kids who experience this terrible trauma, I felt alone, filled with shame and embarrassment. These feelings made me want to hide and become invisible, and quit my studies. However, I persevered, continued with school, eventually made a couple of friends, started seeing myself in a different light, and left the bullies behind. Living through this period made me acutely aware of when others are being treated unfairly even as adults. I have no tolerance for discriminatory behavior and bullying, no matter who is engaging in it. It has sometimes caused conflict in my work-life in human resources because I could not stand by and watch someone be mistreated.
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?
As an adult this happened when my marriage broke down. I was 32 and terribly afraid of being alone. It was a time of intense grief and introspection. I desperately wanted to find out why my marriage had ended.
This led me to embark on the most important journey of my life — an inner odyssey of self-development and growth. I read many books, got professional help and took responsibility for what had occurred in my life. I stepped away from co-dependency and self-victimization and woke up to the fact that I didn’t need to be perfect, but I did need to work on becoming “the best version of myself”. The only way to do that was to cultivate belief in myself and my own path. Self-compassion and self-care became important principles of my new life.
What are your top 5 strategies that will help someone learn to believe in themselves? Please share a story or example for each.
1 . Look at everything that happens in your life as a lesson to be learned, not as a personal failure. Even if you try something and it doesn’t work out, there is a golden nugget to be found! As I outlined in my own story, for some of us the path is very meandering, and we try on different “work clothes” that don’t fit. Knowing what is not meant for you clears the way for you to discover what does work. Using this lens to process these experiences will also help you deal with disappointment in a more balanced way, rather than making you think you are “hopeless” or “no good”.
2 . When we are contemplating trying something new, we are often afraid of the unknown and the consequences we might face. One way to work through that is to remember all the times in our lives that we took some action, made a decision and things did go our way! This bolsters our self-confidence and creates a stronger intent to move forward.
As an example, at one point in my life, I was torn about whether I should go to work on cruise ships or not. Making this decision meant divesting myself of most of my possessions and literally living on a floating vessel for months on end. It was quite daunting, but after doing a lot of self-reflection, consulting with my closest friends and speaking to someone who had worked on cruise ships, I decided to try it out. I thought the worst thing that might happen is that it wouldn’t be for me, and I could always return to my old life. This choice propelled me in a direction I never expected and expanded me as a person in ways I would never have anticipated.
3 . Learn to minimize that internal critical voice that tells you that you’re not good enough, worthy enough or knowledgeable enough. This “voice” is something that holds many (particularly women) back from taking a risk and trying something new. One way to minimize that voice is by challenging yourself to try something new on a regular basis. To begin with, choose something that is fairly low-risk and that you might enjoy. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to take salsa classes but were afraid you would be embarrassed in public. If you take a beginner’s class, everyone will be in the same situation and learning from scratch, just like you. At first, you might feel that you have two left feet, but don’t give up right away. From my experience, it takes at least 3 months to get adjusted to anything new, so make sure you give yourself that time.
4 . Adopt the stance of a life-long learner. As you grow and acquire more knowledge about particular subjects that interest you, you come to realize that everyone starts at the beginning. There are very few people who master a skill right away unless they are supremely talented or a genius. The more you learn and grow, the more you will come to believe in your own abilities, whether it’s singing, playing the piano, mountain-climbing, learning another language, gymnastics, diving, whatever it might be. I love watching auditions for shows like America’s Got Talent. You see people who audition and who are very nervous and scared, but they take that risk to do something different with their lives. Whether they “succeed” or not, they have an amazing experience and perhaps learn something very valuable about themselves. You never know where life will take you, if you take a chance!
5 . Finding a mentor, a champion or a coach who can see you for who you truly are and is supportive of you goes a long way. This is particularly true when you are contemplating a big life change. The person you choose should be able to help you work with your strengths, and also be able to discuss your weaknesses. This is a collaborative process and the main work rests with you — self-reflection, self-awareness, and a desire to make the necessary changes. There is no shame in asking for help and becoming conscious of the things you need to work on, otherwise there will never be any growth or improvement.
I mentioned what a difference my voice and presentation coach made to me when I began speaking in public. I could not have done it without her.
Conversely, how can one stop the negative stream of self-criticism that often accompanies us as we try to grow?
These are two of the most important skills we teach in our women’s empowerment Program — how to deal with negative beliefs and what we call the “inner critic”.
Most of us hold subconscious limiting beliefs we are not even aware of. But like software programs, they run our lives from behind the scenes. Beliefs like “I am not worthy”, or “I am not good/smart/strong/pretty/etc. enough” are self-sabotaging because they often manifest as inner critical voices. They stop us from acting out of fear. To give an example of how this may show up, statistics show that women will often not apply for a job unless they believe that they have 100% of what the job advert requires. On the other hand men often apply for the same job even if they have only 60% of the skills listed. This is because, generally speaking, women have much more self-criticism and less belief in themselves than men do.
These limiting thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and concepts, as well as their corresponding emotions, must be brought to conscious awareness and questioned. They then need to be reframed into more positive and empowering thoughts and beliefs. One way to do is to recall all the times that you were good enough, succeeded, and made things work. For many people, especially women, this is a challenging exercise to undertake alone and might require the support of a good friend or a coach. The more positive action you take, the greater are the chances that you will become more confident and increase your faith in yourself.
Are there any misconceptions about self-confidence and believing in oneself that you would like to dispel?
Yes, there is some confusion regarding self-confidence and arrogance. Many people fear being judged as too arrogant and “full of themselves”. But there are distinct behaviors that differentiate the two.
Arrogance is often marked by loud and dominating behavior, speaking too much and not allowing others to express themselves. There is a need here to be “right” and to show off one’s superior intelligence, education, etc.
True self-confidence is marked by internal self-assurance and inner knowledge. As such, there is no need for bragging or false bravado, or the need to impress others. It is anchored in a profound understanding of yourself, as well as the desire for achieving personal best, as opposed to showing others as incompetent or inferior.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with imposter syndrome?
Many people, including celebrities and CEOs struggle with this phenomenon. It often shows up when someone begins something new and they fear they will be unmasked as a “fraud”. It is closely linked to perfectionism and as such is detrimental to self-development.
The reality is that everyone starts at the beginning. No one is born a CEO or a President, or anything else. Practicing self-compassion and patience is very important to get through this transition period, until more competence is gained, sometimes through mistakes. Having a group of supportive people or at least a mentor or coach who believes in you is also very helpful. Confidence will grow as experience and lessons are learned, as with everything in life.
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.
One of the things I have given a lot of thought to since beginning to deliver this training program is the curriculum taught in school. I believe that if we began to teach young people about basic human psychology, living with compassion (for self and others), communicating with empathy, finances 101, setting appropriate boundaries, eliminating negative beliefs, yoga and meditation, and other such courses for the development of the inner being, we would be creating a whole new generation of people. Given the state our world is in now, perhaps it is time for something radically different.
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 am a fan of Dr. Claire Zammit, Ph.D. of Evolving Wisdom, and greatly admire her work on feminine empowerment. I would love to connect with her in person. I have taken some of her courses online and found vision and her work in alignment with my own.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Our company YouTube channel — https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4Ttw9nq9i_LEXW8XE-BrTQ
LinkedIn Profile — https://www.linkedin.com/in/ileanarontea/
My online FB Women’s Group — https://www.facebook.com/groups/410154630391507
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.