Some Thoughts on Writing and other Things: Confidence

This past year, I’ve been doing some thinking on the idea of confidence: What does it mean? Where does it come from? How do we cultivate it within ourselves and each other? Etc. After coming off the confidence bender that is college, I felt a little drained and rather out of sorts. I did not have the same support system that fostered such intellectual confidence that I had found in the halls of academe. I was out of my comfort zone, a place that conditioned the kind of strength I had. But where had that confidence gone? How could a trait that is often seen as the cornerstone for a solid foundation of self-worth and purpose seem to be so fleeting, especially when tested? Where was my confidence as I stocked bananas and corrected comma splices?

Writers know that a lack conviction for the words they choose can be crippling. Stage fright and self-doubt will destroy a musician more than any missed note or poor pitch. And artists show their truest selves with every display of their work.

To be honest, my misplaced confidence has stopped me for writing more than a quick entry in a worn notebook.

As a tutor, I see that one of the greatest challenges my students meet every day is a lack of confidence. One at a time, they come into my office, looking for guidance and assurance that they are truly on the right track. Through some coaching about language and sentence structure, we reach an agreement that they have great ideas and that I am here to help them convey them coherently.

Not only are my students overcoming a number of academic and transitional obstacles, they must also overcome their own self-image. Often, although many of my students are smart and have profound insight, they are inhibited by their lack of confidence as some voice from their past continues to whisper that they can’t do it.

For a while, I would joke that I was more of a cheerleader than a tutor. The majority of many of my sessions with students would consist of words of encouragement and exclamations of “You got this!” in my most New England of accents.

Why is it so easy for us to say that we are not good enough, but so hard for us to see our strengths?

This summer, I stumbled across TED Talks. I feel like I’m late to the game of one of the greatest sources of really awesome lectures and new ideas. Amy Cuddy’s Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are has really resonated with me. She explains that our posture, the way we hold ourselves, not only directs how other view us, but also how we view ourselves. If we appear hunched or walk with our heads down, we not only tell others, but we tell ourselves that we are insecure. Yet, if we walk tall with our heads up and our shoulders back, we not only tell others that we are confident, but we tell ourselves this too.  There is an exchange between the brain and body that causes us to believe (or not believe) in ourselves.

Now, I know that I am not doing her talk justice, so I recommend that you watch it. Here is the link:

Later that same summer, one of my colleagues told me about the phrase academic confidence. Because many of our students come from non-academic backgrounds, the transition to the classroom is really difficult. Although I’m not sure exactly what has come of this or where she caught this idea, I’ve latched onto this idea. As a tutor, I can foster the development of this kind of confidence in my students–the ability to speak with conviction within the classroom, to share new ideas in an educational setting and to be comfortable with this idea of student/scholar.

And with this, I return to my original dilemma–how do we translate this kind of confidence into real world applications? How do we find the same conviction outside our comfort zones?

I use my experience as a tutor because it allows me to distance myself from my own doubts and insecurities. I can see the difference between first semester students and continuing students by the way they carry themselves. Most returning students demonstrate their confidence as they walk through the halls with their heads up. By witnessing how they overcome their challenges, I can reflect on my own and this begets the writing process and some personal reflection on my posture.