Being in a social situation can cause some level of discomfort for most of us. Even for lecturers who have spent years presenting materials in their field of expertise, it can still be difficult not to notice the tenseness in their chests and their hearts racing before giving a lecture. For introverts, being able to stand tall and speak fluently without the shakiness in their voices and flushing faces can be even greater of a challenge. Especially for those who are minorities where they live, such as myself, it may be extremely challenging to feel confident with our identities. This can be highly problematic as confidence is undeniably an essential quality for not only attaining success but also for maintaining one’s mental wellbeing. For instance, who would be confident enough to hire you if you cannot be confident about your ability to do the work? In this blog post I will share the story of how I build confidence throughout my time at UBC and hopefully, this will help you in your own journey of building confidence!
As a minority in Canada myself, I started off with a troubling lack of confidence. I worried a lot about how others would see me and treat me based on my identity, even though there has never been any direct traumatic event that happened to me because of it. It stems more from the fact that the people of my community have been constantly experiencing prejudice and discrimination. This has led me to feeling inferior and powerless in the eyes of others. The worst part is that some of us, myself included, unconsciously internalize this idea and the more I internalize it, the worse it affects my ability to build confidence.
Moreover, I identify as an introvert. Sometimes, I find socializing for a long period of time energy- consuming as it is not easy for me to initiate natural talk and often have to put lots of effort and attention to every little detail in my conversations. After the interactions, I find myself evaluating the conversations: Were they able to understand what I was trying to convey? Did I use correct English? Was the image I showed them consistent with my ideal self-image? If the answer is no, I may be embarrassed and penalize myself for doing it wrong. Because of this, my confidence shatters whenever I think someone views me in a bad light and it is detrimental in a way.
When I started my university life at UBC, I changed in a way that I could never have imagined. I have never felt so confident in my life thus far. However, I do not want to picture this as something that happens overnight. It takes lots of effort and requires me being outside of my comfort zone every single day, and there is still so much more that I need to work on. Since I cannot fit everything that has helped me get to where I am now in terms of confidence in this one blog post, I will narrow it down to three key things:
1. Do what makes you uncomfortable (to the extent that it is safe for you to do so):
Take a moment to ask yourself, have you been uncomfortable doing something because you are uncertain about the result and/ or are afraid of failing? In social situations, failures can lead to embarrassment and the guilt of not doing it the right way. Whenever this happens, I replay the situation in my mind over and over again thinking about what I could have done better. This feeling is exactly why I do not want to retry such activities and explains a large part of how I had lost my confidence over time. Then, what did I do to grow my confidence?
At UBC I have had the opportunity to do things that I’m not comfortable with initially. As an introverted minority, I am terrified of being the centre of attention and get very nervous when having to speak up in front of a group of people- which is something I am well aware that I cannot avoid my whole life. As a baby first step, I began to speak in class and contribute more in group discussions. Outside of school work, I took on executive roles in clubs such as World Vision and the Psychology Student Association. This way I have learned to face what I used to consider as big fears of mine. Then, I also applied for Work Learn positions and was lucky enough to become a Chapman Learning Commons Assistant (CLCA). For me, the challenge usually begins from the interviews which can involve both the stress from talking to a potential employer or colleague, while having to show them that I am confident with my ability to succeed in the job. After that, it is the nature of the job itself that forces me to be out of my comfort zone. For example, as a CLCA, the frequent interactions with patrons is something that allows me to practice my communication skills and put it into action in real world situations. This process is exactly what helps me build my confidence. How so? Let’s use building confidence in conversing as an example.
At the beginning, I had to plan out in my head exactly what I wanted to say far ahead of time, but I always ended up speaking with shakiness in my voice and then mumbled, said nonsense and eventually regretted speaking up. However, I kept practicing in my own time and continued to make conversation thanks to the nature of my job, and gradually got used to it. I also came to understand that the feeling of embarrassment is natural and that it does not define who I am and my abilities as a whole, and eventually, I started to care less about what other people think and more about what I am trying to convey. When I am able to focus on the quality of the conversation rather than what people see me as, my speech becomes more coherent and fluent. Over time, I have seen myself learning from my mistakes and improving which in turns, makes me feel more and more confident about both my ability and identity.
You can try to apply this process to other tasks such as building confidence in writing, learning a new sport and so on. The main take-away points from this process are that it is okay if you did not do well in something, what’s important is that you try our best and that you keep trying, and that embarrassment will only work against you if you let it overpower many other valuable qualities that you possess. Lastly, failure does not indicate that you lose but rather you are one step closer to success if you frame your thinking that way. This leads us to the second point.
2. Adjust your thinking process to allow yourself to build a growth mindset:
After many trials and failures, it can be very easy to come to a conclusion that we will never succeed no matter how many more times we try. However, this way of thinking prevents us from growing our confidence and I’ve held this kind of mindset before. From the moment I realized that it will do me no good, I’ve learned to adapt a growth mindset. I think of my previous failure as something that allows me to see what I did wrong on my previous trials and how I might alter my approach in order to come closer to success on my next try. I believe that the reason why we failed previously is in part because we did not possess a specific knowledge or skill that is needed to reach desirable results, but since we are constantly learning new things and growing, there will always be a chance that one day we will obtain that missing piece. Our success or our acknowledgement that we have the ability to be successful helps us feel confident and being confident in turns, helps us achieve success.
Furthermore, I find it helpful to remind myself that these failures happened in the PAST and could NEVER be changed, so there is no valid reason to keep blaming ourselves about how bad we did something in the past and lose confidence because of them. Nonetheless, it is a good idea to refer back to the past events to learn what could be improved.
Finally, one thing that helps me a lot is a reality check that no one will ever remember or care much about how I failed in front of them and really everyone is busy with their lives and no rational individual would spend their precious time on thinking of someone else negatively. Therefore, there is no need for you to not be confident even in front of these same individuals who saw you failed. However, please don’t take this the wrong way, I am not trying to say that others’ opinions don’t matter at all, I do believe that asking for feedback from others is a great way to learn and grow but please use it wisely. Check out this article to learn how!
3. Most importantly, DON’T let others define who you are:
It is easier said than done, especially for an individual who is identified as a minority, but here are some of the things that have been working well for me, and I hope they will help you too. First, either try to stay away from or confront those who intentionally or unintentionally destroy your confidence (of course, if it is safe to do so). If you are anything like me and don’t want to get involved too much with people who intentionally defame or negatively define you as something you are not, it is best to just let those people stay out of your world as their negative energy can be highly contagious. You might take it further by seeing and defining yourself through their views without you even knowing it and this can undoubtedly be incredibly damaging to your confidence. However, sometimes, there are people who unintentionally make you feel insecure and I, personally, think it is good to let them know how you feel and the impact they have had on you if they are someone you care about and do not want to cut them completely out of your life. You and them can have a conversation to see if you both can work something out together and also, to see if they have any intention to be mindful and respect you. Nevertheless, please always remind yourself that the only person who can control your life and determine who you are and who you want to be is you and no one else. If you want to be confident, only you have the ability to allow yourself to see your potential and worth.
To conclude this blog post, I understand that it can be extremely difficult to not care about what people think about you, your identity and your failures and how hard it is to stay confident, but please remember that you can always work towards it. It may take an immense amount of time and effort but it is definitely not impossible. Hope this helps! Let me know in the comments down below what you think about these strategies and if any of them has worked for you.
Check out this article if you want to read more about how to build your confidence as an introvert.