Have you heard of the “birdmen?”
These are the extreme sports enthusiasts who, with nothing but a wingsuit and a prayer, climb up the soaring heights, and leap from the tops of mountains. As they hurl into the yawning void below, they reach speeds of up to 140 miles per hour.
How do they do it? Where do they get the confidence to leap into the unknown?
This question flutters around my head as I think of all the students who have shared with me their fears of what they will do after college — and others students who stress about finding a summer job or deciding upon the “right” major.
Confidence in our decisions and plans is a mercurial thing. Life requires us to act with imperfect knowledge. There are no guarantees of happiness or success. While our choices have consequences. Fortunately, unlike the birdmen, most are not written in stone. If your student chooses the wrong major, they can change it. If they find themselves in a dead-end job, they can try something else or return to school.
Yet, to navigate these choices and transitions, requires a certain amount of courage and self confidence.
While your students are busy studying for tests and writing research papers, applying for programs or preparing for graduate school, hopefully they aren’t getting lost in the external accolades of success at the expense of self-know ledge. Self knowledge is that intangible presence that infuses our choices and decisions with authenticity and meaning.
Over the years of doing therapy, I have come to believe that a major source of self-confidence is support. First, we have to borrow confidence from others. Only later can we make it our own. Lest you feel inadequate in this sphere, few of us have the chutzpah of a Roseanne Barr or George Clooney. Self-confidence can be loud and brash or soft and relentless like a slow-flowing river, expressed in moments of enthusiastic zeal or in righteous defiance and assertion of one’s worth and dignity. Think of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus.
Here are some ways that you can help you student with self-confidence as they navigate difficult choices and transitions:
- Encourage them to gather more information. After all, knowledge = power.
- Encourage them to utilize campus resources like the Career Center or Academic Advising.
- Advise them to break new and challenging tasks into small, manageable steps.
- Encourage them to meet with others who are knowledgeable about their proposed major, internship, or career path.
- Be aware that they may need more support during transition times. Support is not doing it for them, but offering guidance and your abiding faith in them
- Remind them of how they successfully navigated transitions in the past and what helped them get through these past transitions.
- Pay attention to what they have enjoyed in their life as a pointers to their own unique happiness.
- Try to see who they are trying to become, not only the person who is stuck.
Speaking of George Clooney, I’m reminded of a scene from the film, The Three Kings. In the film, Clooney plays an Army major who is counseling an enlisted man who fears the impending battle. To the young soldier, Clooney says something like, “You think that you need to find courage in order to go to battle. In fact, you go to battle, and then you find your courage.”
Mark Evans, Ph.D., is a staff psychologist and a fiction writer.