by Karen Carodozo
My last post discussed the socially constructed and gendered Confidence Trouble that many women experience, largely from a disinclination to take risks and a fear of being disliked. Following on this, Kay and Shipman note the “natural result of low confidence is inaction” whereas, as psychologist Richard Petty suggests, “Confidence [is] the stuff that turns thoughts into action” (a process that might also require a bit of courage).
Lesson 3: Action breeds confidence. K and S suggest that the daily practice of even small-stakes decisions, even if mistakes are made, is preferable to inaction. Acting decisively helps you turn thoughts into practice, to learn from experience, and to move on with less self-recrimination over time. There is no substitute for having done a thing often enough that its familiarity cannot help but engender confidence (or at least, quell the worst of your doubts). Public speaking (or related aspects you may have experienced as a teacher or presenter) is a familiar case in point. At some point you stop questioning whether you can pull it off – your track record simply plays too loudly.
From my unscientific perspective, but one based on decades of teaching and advising, another sure way to forget one’s fears is to be too consumed by a real interest to heed them. This brings us to the importance of finding inner conviction in your Alt/Post-Ac transition. There’s simply no shortcut for the self-assessment process, which uncovers and reveals what’s most genuine about your vocational desires as well as what you may be best suited to do. Unfortunately, along with killing confidence, academic training often leads us to replace our true interests with those most likely to please our evaluators.
Lesson 4: Pursue Your Convictions. Over the years I’ve marveled at how otherwise painfully shy students can write brilliantly argued papers or deliver engaging talks when they really care about the subject. That’s why one pillar of my teaching philosophy is to allow self-selected topics whenever possible (this is the core of career counseling as well!). While passion may be too cliché or strong a word in an academic context, when one is intrinsically motivated by any pursuit, confidence tends to become a non-issue. You simply do what must be done. Way leads on to way.
When you are convinced you’re on the right path, you don’t need confidence. That conviction (although you may call it confidence) is what enables you to convince and inspire others. The odds of landing a great new Alt/Post-Ac situation increase exponentially if you can identify a niche that represents the unique convergence of your particular experiences and interests. By definition, a niche implies a smaller applicant pool, in which you are more likely to rise to the top.
Finally, Kay and Shipman offer a few other practical nuggets:
Sleep, move, share – This is a maxim based on research which finds that lack of sleep and exercise produces an anxious brain, while socialization among trusted friends has a relaxing influence (Really? How fortunate that we have such grant-funded studies to probe life’s deepest mysteries!). Since being an academic does not lend itself organically to exercising, sleeping or socializing among cherished friends, it’s no wonder that many PhDs lack confidence. Do some self-care, people!
Focus on others – not only can supporting others build THEIR confidence (pay it forward, sister) but there’s been a plethora of research showing that civic or social engagement boosts endorphins and happiness levels by taking the focus off the brooding self.
All of this adds up to the realization that confidence isn’t something you have: it’s something you do, and by doing it often enough, come to internalize as a familiar way of being. In other words: you CAN fake it till you make it. But that requires action on your part. In short, building confidence is antithetical to the academic privileging of thinking over doing. Don’t deliberate until you feel confident enough to act; as the philosopher Nike once said: just do it.