The Path to Self-Confidence

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 “The key to growth is the introduction of higher dimensions of consciousness into our awareness.”   Lao Tzu

For the past several years, I’ve been set on becoming a counselor. Part of my certainty may be just because I want a concrete goal that I can work towards. But honestly, I think the biggest reasons are because I’m very interested in the human condition and want to have a positive impact on other people. More than anything, I wish that everyone could be content with their lives. Seeing a happier world would make me happy. Unfortunately, there are many obstacles in the way of this rather idealistic aim, but the one I want to address is self-confidence. Since starting college and trying to broaden my view of the world, I’ve noticed that many people my age, but also much older, don’t seem to have that much faith in themselves. While I totally understand that being self-confident is not an easy thing to achieve, I believe that it is misinterpreted and would like to offer my perspective on the subject.

First of all, I want to be clear that having shaky self-confidence is completely natural. For me, leaving home for college and beginning to be truly independent highlighted this belief. The prospect of having to make your own way in the world can be daunting, even when you have accumulated a lot of experience. It can also seem a bit lonely: even if you have friends and loved ones that form a strong support system, you still feel like you're responsible for your own life. You really can’t ever be sure of what the future holds, which can cause you to doubt how you’ll manage. Not having a strong support system can make this even worse. (However, that’s why the UO Counseling Center exists, don’t be afraid to check it out!) How can you be confident in your ability to handle a situation or event when you don’t even know what it is? If any of this is how you feel or have felt, it’s very understandable.

This fear of one’s inability to handle the unpredictability of the future can create an idea of self-confidence that I believe is flawed. I can see the logic: if you’re afraid of how you’ll deal with what lies ahead, then shouldn’t you strive to know how to cope with everything all the time, or at least appear that way? To be fair, this may work for some people, and if you’re one of them, then right on. However, the problem I have with this approach is when people think there’s no room for error, that it’s bad if you don’t know what you’re doing sometimes. But life is unpredictable, so why feel like you have to know how to handle everything that happens? And while faking it may be necessary in some situations, does that help you become more self-confident or does it just make you more confident in your ability to fake it? I believe that it’s okay to not be sure of what you’re doing, as long as you trust yourself and do what you think is best. However, this attitude requires a different idea of what self-confidence is.

I think the most important part of being self-confident is recognizing that everyone is in the same situation. We’re all human. It’s true, even if it may not seem like it sometimes. You may have people that you look up to, maybe because they seem like they’ve got it together or they have accomplished a lot in their life, they’re smart or they’re famous. And they might seem like they’re on a different plane because you don’t see how you’re anything like them. But I’ve been in classes that have seemed really difficult, and initially everyone is guarded, yet when ​one person ​openly admits they’re intimidated by the course, the tension breaks. Why? Because most people, if not everyone, can relate to that person. Most everyone in the class felt insecure, and that admission of self-doubt allows them to connect. That’s why some people view their parents differently as they grow up, why it’s so interesting to go into professors’ office hours, and why we appreciate it so much when famous people are vulnerable during interviews. In all of those cases, we can see that people that we may have thought were on a different level are in fact more similar to us than we thought. And that is comforting.

Now, recognizing that we’re all human and truly believing that are two different things. In order to be truly self-confident, I think one always needs to be conscious of this, as opposed to just thinking about it once or twice. That’s the importance of the quote by Lao Tzu at the beginning. When you become aware that you’re not the only one who questions their capabilities, that everyone has moments of self-doubt, then your self-confidence can grow. As Remy says in ​Ratatouille, “The only predictable thing about life is its unpredictability.” There’s no way to know what to do in every situation, so if you’re uncertain, do what you think is best. Many of the people who appear to have it all together are more willing to trust themselves and probably have learned to do so through experience, which includes their own moments of self-doubt and even failure. Self-confidence is something that usually takes time to develop, and doing so requires an understanding that, in times of vulnerability, you aren’t alone in feeling that way.

Anyway, I hope this helped, or at least found it interesting. In college, the world can seem like a big and uncertain place, perhaps too big for a young adult just starting out, but you’re not alone in feeling that way. To me, self-confidence comes from knowing that everyone is in a similar situation: we have ups and downs, triumphs and failures, “I got this” moments and shots in the dark that are all part of the human experience. So, the next time you don’t know what you’re doing and are worried how you’ll manage or come across to other people, try to remind yourself that it’s not the end of the world. It may be stressful, but you’re simply being human. Just like everyone else on Earth.

Sam Linder, 2nd Year (Psychology & Philosophy, Clark Honor’s College)

Counseling Center Student Advisory Board