Adopt a ‘Here goes nothing’ approach. I looked at my laptop recently at my list of everything I had written in the last few years — blog posts, articles, posts, everything. I realized that every single piece had begun with the words running through my head, ‘Here goes nothing. Here goes nothing. While it’s worked before, there’s no way that it’s going to work. I’m in over my head this time. But you know what? I’m going to try anyways.’…I’ve had this practice for a few years now, always hearing that voice say, ‘You can’t do this,’ and not letting it stop me from fully recognizing my own capabilities and just how possible my dreams are.
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 Kimiko Ebata.
Kimiko Ebata is a career coach and transition expert, who empowers mission-driven professionals to catalyze a career that counts and a life that’s worthwhile. As the founder of Ki Coaching LLC, Kimiko strives to shape a world where the vast majority of professionals wake up feeling inspired each morning, feel engaged and valued during the work day, and return home fulfilled every night knowing that they made some sort of difference in the world. As a member of the Forbes Coaches Council, Kimiko has been interviewed on podcasts, and her career insights have been featured in Fox Business.
A champion for diversity and inclusion, Kimiko has advocated for positive change within UN conference rooms, Wall Street boardrooms, and the classrooms of Ivy League institutions, all in an effort to empower individuals with unique stories to achieve their potential in school and beyond. Kimiko received her MA from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University, and BA in International Affairs from the University of Mary Washington.
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?
As a child, I grew up not feeling at home in my own skin. As the daughter of a Japanese-Canadian father and a white American mother, for most of my life, I considered myself to be a walking contradiction. Even though I was fortunate enough to be raised in an incredibly loving family, I often felt too Japanese for Americans and too American for my Japanese family members, or too Canadian for Americans and too American for Canadians. It was only in college that I was able to see myself more as a unique “hybrid” per se.
But hardship nourishes courage. As difficult as my childhood was in many ways, I credit it with so much of who I am today. As the eldest child and my parents’ only daughter, I constantly internalized the need to perform, please, and perfect. (Turns out that constantly having to evaluate your surroundings can take a lot of you when the entire world is trying to tell you who you’re supposed to be.) As a result, I developed a really strong internal radar for what felt authentic and true to me — time spent understanding others was also time spent cultivating my own intuition and identity.
As a biracial child with dual nationality, I didn’t have anyone to model behavior off of other than myself, so I got really good at observing and learning from those around me even if they weren’t hybrids like I was. I eventually learned that even with this tension, being from two cultures and countries didn’t have to mean that I was excluded from both. It meant that, once I grew enough to feel secure about who I was and who I wanted to be, I could be selfish with my identity. So, while to others it might seem like I’m caught between two races and identities, I’m exactly who I am and where I belong.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
In college, I fell in love with the idea of understanding people, especially those from other cultures and underrepresented groups. I had an endless fascination with the nuances in culture and countries because as far as I was concerned, I was a living, breathing, walking nuance. The hyphens in my racial identity and dual nationalities (i.e. Japanese-Canadian etc.) could have been a deficit, but I saw them as a bridge.
I earned my bachelor’s degree in international affairs and went on to a master’s degree in international development, by which time I began to articulate a different goal for my life and work: empowering others to catalyze a career that counts and to live out the life that they deserve.
I became a career advisor with the Posse Foundation, where I worked with employers to equip post-9/11 veterans and other full-tuition college students with the professional tools and opportunities they needed to maximize their potential in school and beyond.
This experience opened up my eyes to all of the professional realities in our country: 80% of the American workforce is disengaged from and uninspired by their jobs. To flip this, I believe we need to help individuals do more of what inspires them professionally and aligns with them personally because if you can impact the majority of the workforce in this way, together, we can change the world.
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 received a lot of praise for my musical talents when I was growing up. As a violinist, I was always chosen for the solos in our school’s orchestra concerts. I won awards and heard all kinds of superlative comments from my teachers and parents. In the very early days, that worked fine — meaning it didn’t interfere with my love for the instrument or my ability to perform. But over time — especially during the early days of my career — that changed. I became so used to playing with the payoff of praise that when praise didn’t come, I felt like a failure.
This desire to perform and please persisted. As a young professional, I followed the career paths that I thought I should follow rather than those that I actually cared about. I was a box checker, who marched to the resolute beat of effort/outcome, effort/outcome — a devout follower of the established path. I knew how to achieve, and I knew how to please and how to get to the next level, but no one taught me how to dig deep inside to figure out what I actually cared about.
One day, after graduate school, I was on my way to a final-round interview with one of the most prestigious foundations in New York City, trying, once more, to land the job that I thought that I was supposed to have. I had my notecards in hand and was rehearsing all the reasons why I had convinced myself that I wanted this job, which was for all the wrong reasons. Like many, I hoped all my perpetual striving would make me come alive, but instead, it left me feeling overwhelmed, underwhelmed and wondering: How much of this was my idea? Are these my true desires, or is this what I was conditioned to want? Wasn’t it all supposed to be richer than this? When these feelings and questions arose, I quickly silenced them, telling myself to be grateful, hiding this discontent — even from myself.
After receiving the rejection email, I decided to rewind all the learning and conventional wisdom that my degrees and years of schooling had taught me about the paths I should choose to connect with my values and who I was as a person. It was only with that rejection that I realized that there was a life meant for me that was truer than the one I was living. But in order to have it, I realized that I needed to forge it myself. It was up to me to create on the outside what I was imagining on the inside.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I’m currently working on a few exciting projects that aim to empower impact-driven individuals — career advisors, DEI specialists, and post-9/11 veterans — to identify their professional “Why” and find meaning in their professional transitions.
One of my all-time favorite quotes is by Johann von Goethe, a German poet who said: “Each ten years of a man’s life has its own fortunes, its own hopes, its own desires.” Your work life, like your relational life, has its own natural rhythm. The task for each of us is to find the connection between the change in our work and/or career and the underlying developmental rhythm of our life. To me, this phenomenon underscores the importance of knowing our strengths and current desires — insights that will allow us to pursue the career that is right for the person we are today. Through my coaching practice and consulting work, I seek to inspire others to identify the professional pathways that will allow them to bound out of bed every Monday morning, feel engaged and valued in the office, and return home fulfilled at the end of the day. This is my mission, and I hope to make it a reality for as many as possible.
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?
There is a voice of desire and truth inside each of us. Each of us was born to bring forth something that never existed before: an idea, a way of knowing, a community–something original and something that’s entirely ours. We are here to fully introduce ourselves, to impose ourselves and thoughts and dreams onto the world, leaving it forever changed by our being and our depths.
We strive so mightily to be good partners, family members, friends, and professionals, but it’s this perpetual striving that leaves us asking ourselves: Wasn’t it all supposed to be richer than this? We are left with a feeling of discontent when we find out that we’re not living the life of our imagination, but instead the life of our own indoctrination.
When I was a child, I felt what I wanted to feel and I followed my intuition and planned only from my imagination. I was free to express the thunder rolling beneath my skin and the electric energy buzzing inside me. Until I contorted myself to fit the visible order. Until I put aside the norms and behavior that were inherent to adopt the inherited. Until I surrendered myself to others’ expectations and cultural allegiances. Until I buried who I was in order to become what I was supposed to be.
In my early career, I watched leaps of imagination, important ideas, and visions for change not making it to the places where they were desperately needed as a result of fear. This was especially true in the rooms that were occupied by women and other underrepresented groups. I was so attuned to this phenomenon because as a female who was also in the racial minority, I often struggled with it myself. All the support, education, and success I’d had somehow had not left me feeling confident or eager to pursue my dreams. Instead, I lived in fear and was not doing the work I longed to do.
Then in my mid-thirties, I decided that if I kept doing the “right” thing, I would spend my life living out someone else’s life instead of my own. I didn’t want to live my life without living my life, so I vowed to make my own decisions as a free woman, from my core, not the cultural constructs.
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?
It is my belief that every person has at their core unfailing, perfect wisdom that can direct us to our own truth. When we are unsure of what path to take, the wise part of us knows what next step is right. When a complex problem overwhelms us, the wise part of us is able to find the simple answer. When we are confused, the wise part of us has clarity. It is only when we stop listening to our inner critic and the voices that tell us what we are supposed to do that we’re able to give ourselves permission to listen to a very different voice within: the voice of self-belief.
No one else in the world can define or limit your opportunities because no one in the world knows what you should do. The therapists, coaches, parents, friends, they don’t know; not even those in our closest circles know because no one has ever lived or will ever live your life, with your gifts, background, hardships, and people. This life is yours alone, so it’s up to you to seize opportunity, create the map and become your own pioneer.
The more you live by your own truth, according to your own needs and desires, the more courageous you’ll be, as an aspiring athlete or artist. Your own self-belief is what will nudge you, guiding you to the next right thing — whether that be towards an Olympic medal or a Grammy. It’s just your job to feel it and trust that it will guide you home.
Was there a time when you did not believe in yourself? How did this impact your choices?
When I was thirty, I found myself sitting on the curb of the Upper East Side apartment after my fiance at the time decided to end our relationship and call off our wedding. I stared at the filthy street and thought: Well, this is impossible. At thirty years old, I am all alone and have no idea who I am or who I want to be.
At the time, I was in between jobs and had become cynical about both my personal and professional outlook. As I sought to piece back together my life, I vacillated between wanting to play big and resorting to the comfort of playing small. There were certain times when I could remember what I truly loved — coaching, creativity, diversity and inclusion, professional empowerment, and being part of a community — and I could envision building a life that was about those things. But during this period, I was lost from all that. My previous education helped develop my intellect as a student and a professional, but the creative in me became lost along the way and I neglected my passions. I was taking cues from the social constructs around me rather than listening inward to what I knew to be true. For many years, this led me to make personal and professional decisions from my indoctrination and not from my own imagination.
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?
A couple of months into the COVID-19 pandemic and a year and a half into juggling part-time coaching with full-time employment, I decided to leave the education foundation that I was working for. I started to think about bringing the coaching work I was doing to a larger audience, and in my mind, there was no better time than now. I faced the truth that many of the real dreams I had for my career — to do something highly creative, entrepreneurial, and in the personal growth field — had gotten buried during my time in college and graduate school. It was at that point that I started to feel a disconnect from self that was too painful to ignore. For the first time in my life, I had a realization that drove me to make personal and professional changes that better reflected my true aspirations both for my life and for my work.
Fast-forward eight years: I’m thirty-eight years old now; I live in the mountains of CO and now have a cat, a team that I manage, and a career that I love.
What are your top 5 strategies that will help someone learn to believe in themselves? Please share a story or example for each.
1 . Go deep. I’ve come across this advice many times before, but it resonated most strongly with me only recently. It’s not “Go ask others for their advice” or “Go dive into research by the experts.” It suggests a different approach to knowing our needs and true desires.
Its message is reflected in a card recently that said “Be still and know.” If you stop trying to fix, do, manage, and just be, you’ll start tapping into your inner strength and innate knowing. It’s this wisdom that will ultimately nudge you toward the next right thing, one thing at a time.
Whether you’re presented with a professional, personal, or family juncture — whenever uncertainty rises, go deep. Go beneath the swirling fear, conditioning, and those critical voices to uncover your own guide, your intuition, your source or deepest self, and then learn to trust it.
2 . Pain is magic, not tragic. With my Japanese ancestry, I was exposed to many Buddhist beliefs and values as a child. Just like Buddha, who had to leave his life of comfort to experience all kinds of human suffering before finding enlightenment, we might initially feel pain, but we will ultimately rise. True suffering only happens when we try to avoid pain and end up missing our own evolution.
This is what we can and must avoid: missing our evolution because we’re too afraid to surrender to the process. My personal goal with this struggle is to stop abandoning myself and trust that I’m strong enough to handle the discomfort that is necessary to my own process of becoming. What scares me more than this pain is living my entire life and missing my own evolution.
3 . Label and notice your inner critic. We all have that voice, I call it my inner sensor, while others call it their inner critic. It’s always sitting on our shoulder in some way and it says different things to each of us. It says, ‘You’re dumb,’ or ‘How dare you?’…When you hear your critic talking, label this voice by simply saying to yourself, “Oh that’s the voice of my inner critic talking right now.”
4 . Separate the “I” from the inner critic. Most of us are untrained in differentiating the various voices we hear in our thoughts. We think they’re all “us” in the same way, but it’s important to begin unbraiding it from the other strands of “you”: your aspirations and your knowing. For example, you might say, “My inner critic is having a panic attack right now” rather than “I’m having a panic attack right now.” When you refer to the inner critic as the inner critic, instead of conflating it with your own “I”, you train your mind that the critic is simply one of many voices inside of you and not just the primary one.
5 . Adopt a ‘Here goes nothing’ approach. I looked at my laptop recently at my list of everything I had written in the last few years — blog posts, articles, posts, everything. I realized that every single piece had begun with the words running through my head, ‘Here goes nothing. Here goes nothing. While it’s worked before, there’s no way that it’s going to work. I’m in over my head this time. But you know what? I’m going to try anyways.’…I’ve had this practice for a few years now, always hearing that voice say, ‘You can’t do this,’ and not letting it stop me from fully recognizing my own capabilities and just how possible my dreams are.
Conversely, how can one stop the negative stream of self-criticism that often accompanies us as we try to grow?
It almost seems too easy, but it’s true: you don’t have to take significant action when the voice of self-doubt arises. In a world that’s all about doing, this is a counterintuitive truth. Consciously recognizing the critic’s voice is often enough to immediately snap us out of its trance. However, liberating yourself from this critical voice depends on one simple insight: you are not the inner critic. You are the person aware of this critical voice. You are the person trying to understand it and work with it. The real practice, from my experience, is in quieting that voice, not banishing it.
Are there any misconceptions about self-confidence and believing in oneself that you would like to dispel?
Over the last ten years, I have learned that self-confidence is not about gaining the respect of others by being the loudest person in the room or making it seem like you have it all figured out. It’s about moving past the voice of self-doubt of “not me” — the voice inside that is sure you’re not the one to take that dream job, to write that book, to speak up in the meeting. Once you’re not listening so much to your inner critic, you have the opportunity to tap into your own strength and truth to create what you most want to create — in your career, community, or passions outside of work.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with imposter syndrome?
I think that we all suffer from these five biggest fears, myself included:
- I have nothing to say.
- Someone smarter has done it before.
- People will laugh at me.
- By doing this, I will upset those I love.
- Once I execute this idea, it will never be as good as it is in my mind.
If we let critical voices get in our way, they will shut down our impulses (‘No, you can’t do that’) and perhaps turn off the spigots of our passions altogether. As you begin to move beyond your self-doubt, name your inner critic voice and cultivate a sense of belonging, by turning down the volume on your inner critic and turning up the volume on the voices and things that matter.
Today, I love teaching other mission-driven individuals how to recognize self-critical thoughts because it’s actually relatively easy to change how we relate to our inner critic once we have the right understanding and the appropriate tools to use the moment it acts up.
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.
I believe that everyone arrives on this planet with unique desires, gifts and talents, and as we all journey through life, it becomes each of our individual missions to discover what these are for us. My mission is to equip professionals with the tools and knowledge they need to nurture their unique desires and strengths, so that they can bloom into the most authentic, joy-filled version of themselves. This is my vision, and I hope to make it a reality for as many people as possible.
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 would have a private meal with Brené Brown, a woman of many talents who has impacted our society for the better. As a charismatic leader and storyteller, Brené is smart and incredibly accomplished, but even with these achievements, she doesn’t hide her humanity. I want to hear her stories as a woman who has been able to lean into the discomfort of shame and vulnerability to find her own voice, while helping others find their own belonging.
I see a lot of overlap in our values and parallels in our backgrounds. Similar to Brené, I was the oldest of three in a volatile household, and in order to protect myself and my siblings, I needed to be hypervigilant. Growing up, this was my mode of survival; I constantly needed to grasp the connection between emotion, behavior, and thinking to survive. I also share Brené’s ‘recovering perfectionist’ tendencies and would love to hear more about the defense mechanisms she uses to combat shame and the strategies that she has adopted to lean into discomfort and inspire others to lead meaningful and full lives.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can visit my website to subscribe to my email list or schedule time for a complimentary discovery call: www.ki-coaching.com. I can also be found at @careercoachki across all social media platforms.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.