What would you do if you had more confidence? Change your major? Apply for that internship at the company where you’ve always wanted to work? Let yourself pursue the dream you won’t admit even to yourself?
Now you’re shaking your head. For one thing, you just don’t have what it takes – the aptitude, background, or money – to reach that mythical place. Second, you lack the confidence to take that leap. You’d have to work on building your confidence before you could go beyond googling “wildlife conservation volunteer in Patagonia” or “internship at Disney studios” – if you ventured that far. After all, there’s no point in hoping for what’s out of reach.
There’s no question about it: building confidence is hard: far more challenging than increasing your muscle mass or improving your calculus grade. That’s why I want you to stop worrying about your confidence levels. Forget about them. Yes, surround yourself with inspiring quotes and murmur heartening mantras if they make you feel good. But don’t try to fix your insecurities. Don’t indulge them: just ignore them.
Instead, I want you to do what you would do if you had more confidence.
That means applying for that internship at the magazine in New York. That means pursuing medical school if you dream of a career in medicine. That means approaching someone at a graduate school or company for an informational interview. That means contacting the art gallery about showing your work.
What it doesn’t mean is ignoring your shortcomings. You may need to take more classes, gain more experience, or improve your craft before you start law school, land that coveted position in advertising, or publish your work. Effective people aren’t delusional about their background or talents. What differentiates them from less successful people is their approach to their goals. They assess their abilities honestly, consider how they could increase their chance of success, and then act accordingly.
For example, an old friend earned a bachelor’s degree in photography. For several years, she supported herself as a newspaper and freelance photographer. Later, she became interested in health care. At that point, she wasn’t qualified to get a job in the field. Nor was she ready to apply to graduate programs in health care. However, she researched graduate programs, took prerequisite courses, earned excellent grades, and volunteered at her local hospital. She gained admission to physician’s assistant program. She graduated and is doing splendidly. My friend recognized switching careers would be tough, but she identified what she had to do and took steps toward her dream.
And these lessons don’t just pertain to the classroom and career. Try applying them to your personal life as well. Would you hang around with your current group of friends if you had more confidence? If you were happier with yourself, would you stay with your significant other? Plenty of people remain in relationships they find stifling, dissatisfying, or even abusive because they’re convinced they couldn’t do better for themselves. Don’t wait until you’re more secure to make new friends or break up with that person: take care of yourself now.
At first, faking confidence will be difficult. Any hint of rejection may set you back. But ignore those discouraging voices in your head and keep going with your job hunt, graduate school search, or other efforts. Soon, you’ll find yourself more oblivious to your insecurities: at times, they may even disappear completely. From time to time, they’ll resurface, and that’s okay. Doubt is part of the human condition. But this time you’ll know how to handle your doubts – and you’ll be able to live your best life in spite of them.
-Dorothy A. Dahm