Confidence. It’s a funny thing.
Not funny ha-ha. Funny as in totally ephemeral. There one moment, gone the next.
Rarely the other way round though. Have you noticed that?
Who are you?
When I was younger, I struggled with my confidence. An only child, I preferred the company of my ponies and my dogs to people. Except some grown-ups. They were ok. But people my own age – I didn’t know how to play, what to talk about, how to interact. And so I did things I was good at – which generally didn’t involve too many people.
Once I was older, high school was a – yes, I’m going there – it was an ordeal. I was the girl who didn’t shorten and tighten her skirt to fit in. I didn’t love going out at night. I didn’t drink. I didn’t fit in. A middle-of-the-class achiever (in a very academic school), I did ok. If you teach now, you’ll recognise the type. The ones who turn up, do the work but whose names you don’t know because – well, why would you? They don’t cause trouble and they don’t wow you with their grades. Just quietly middle of the class.
Being front and centre of a lecture theatre was hardly the future I envisioned for myself.
And yet, when that very thing happened, I understood that it is possible to channel a tiny spark and turn it into something much bigger.
And don’t we do damaging confidence in the world of academia?
- Don’t know enough.
- Haven’t read enough.
- Misunderstood the argument.
- Did the prepwork wrong.
- Missed a key (?not so key?) point in the paper.
- Too trendy.
- Not trendy enough.
- Too bright.
- Not charismatic enough.
- Too loud.
- Too quiet.
And on it goes.
Each little comment, look, action chipping away at our delicate confidence and self-esteem.
A lesson in building self-esteem
My first teaching was the lead lectures of the biggest class in the university. Four hundred plus final year undergraduate students. In one room. First thing in the morning after ‘party night’. Every week.
This was many years ago. We didn’t have Teams or Online Learning Environments, so they had to turn up to class to get notes (those were the days!). As the hour went on, the alcohol fumes rolled down the tiers of seats and bathed me in their hangovers.
Holding their attention was an art as well as the application of pedagogical science.
But I did it.
- Great classes.
- Great outcomes.
- Great results.
And yet, still, I walked around – apart from that hour or so and the seminar hours each week – feeling that I wasn’t enough.
Was it acting? Maybe. Acting authentically, I guess. I was the true ‘me’ in front of that class. I knew my stuff. I could ‘perform’ and hold attention.
Was it fake? No. Absolutely not.
Did it carry on outside the lecture theatre? Also no.
The journey from there to now, when I’m in possession of a much more established self-esteem, has been long.
I’ve done more and more training, education, qualifications.
They didn’t provide it.
I’ve loved and lost. Many, many times.
That didn’t change my self-confidence, even though I proved time and again that I’m strong AF and my survival rate to date is 100%. Sometimes only just, but I’m still here.
I’ve won – and lost: conferences, paper submissions, competitions.
So what did change?
I think it was (and is, daily) the gradual application of radical self-acceptance. I embraced my preference for horses and dogs – but I’ve also learned that people can be glorious. Fun, kind, loyal, loving, supportive, challenging, sometimes stoopid as. My students have been instrumental in inspiring me to like people. I’ve learned from them. I’ve shared with them. And i’ve stayed being myself. The girl in jeans. The one who says it bluntly. Valuing my ability to see the solutions before I even understand the problem fully. Allowing the full me to come through.
It isn’t easy to do that and often I still would rather not. But I recognise now that it’s a journey. Taking one step at a time and trusting that the only person I can really be, is me (is that a Dr Seuss quote?).
Somehow, that’s become enough to hold my head up wherever I am and to look the world in the eyes.