Confidence is key to success in today’s competitive professional world. It’s also an important quality for aspiring and current college students. Unfortunately, students and professionals alike increasingly feel that confidence is all but impossible to cultivate. This is a common problem, as shown in a My Confidence Matters survey in which 70 percent of respondents admitted to lacking confidence at work.
This absence of confidence is often accompanied by a significant dose of self-doubt, which can affect everything from salary to education and even personal relationships. To shed light on this problem, we delve into the negative impacts of self-doubt in various facets of life — and we highlight excellent reasons and opportunities to replace doubt with personal confidence.
Why Is Self-Doubt a Problem for College Students?
Many promising students never make it through the college admissions process — and not because they lack the qualifications or motivation. Rather, self-doubt gets in the way. This is evidenced in a 2020 survey from the Strada Education Network, which suggests that self-doubt is a greater barrier to postsecondary education than cost. Nearly half of the survey’s respondents admitted that they would find it difficult to pursue additional education because they are afraid of failure. For many, concerns about too much time away from the academic environment factored into this perception.
Reflecting on this survey, ReUP CEO Sarah Horn explains, “If learners don’t see a way that they can become successful, they start to question if it’s worth it — and that has large ripple effects.” In far too many cases, these ripple effects begin with students not seeking higher education and continue with lower salaries and poor job satisfaction. These, in turn, prompt a standard of living far below what would have been possible with a confidence-inspired bachelor’s or master’s degree.
Even when students ultimately decide to attend college, self-doubt can continue to get in the way. Those who lack faith in their academic abilities may choose not to pursue college programs based on their passion simply because they doubt that they can handle the most difficult classes. Some may even neglect to take on competitive majors that support their long-term career goals due to these concerns. Similarly, those who have graduated with their bachelor’s degree may choose not to move on to graduate school because they worry they’ll struggle in grad school’s more rigorous academic environment.
How Does Self-Doubt Impact Career Prospects?
Beyond to keeping talented individuals from seeking higher education, self-doubt harms people who have already graduated — or those who are employed but lack college degrees. This problem exists in every industry and may have huge implications on both a personal and societal level.
Employees plagued by self-doubt accept stagnation, even if they are capable of accomplishing great things. From a professional perspective, this means forgoing new responsibilities or opportunities that could set them up for promotion. Similarly, those who do feel confident enough to accept elevated responsibilities might still doubt their ability to seek promotions for which they are clearly qualified based on industry standards.
Another source of damage? Staying with an employer that fails to recognize the unique talents of their workers. If employees plagued by self-doubt are treated poorly on the job, they may accept this negative workplace environment because they assume that they deserve no better.
Between a lack of promotions and an unwillingness to change employers when necessary, self-doubt can cause major monetary losses over time. This is often compounded by the aforementioned reluctance to seek further education when dealing with poor self-esteem. Someone who experiences too much self-doubt to enroll in an MBA program, for example, may never enjoy the pay boost that comes with increased education.
What About Self-Doubt and Personal Life?
A wealth of research demonstrates the causative relationship between professional pursuits and success and personal wellbeing. When you feel trapped or disrespected in your career, this bleeds into your day-to-day life, including your relationships, hobbies, and physical and mental health.
Unfortunately, self-doubt can easily spiral into a self-perpetuating problem, causing not only a stalled career, but also further doubts and anxieties as the feeling of being trapped continues for longer periods of time. This relationship goes both ways. Stress brought on by self-doubt at work tends to be brought home while a lack of confidence outside of the office can harm professional pursuits.
This unfortunate interplay is evidenced by researchers, whose study published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health aims to answer an age-old question: Does wellbeing come first in personal life or at work? The study suggests that, while issues with everyday wellbeing have a greater impact on work than the other way around, satisfaction in both areas are critical to overall mental health.
How to Overcome Self-Doubt
There’s no denying the damage that self-doubt can cause, but what if this negative self-perception is already a deeply ingrained part of your life? Don’t worry; you are not predestined to academic or professional failure. Targeted strategies for mind and body can make a discernible difference. By implementing these techniques, you can overcome self-doubt and improve your performance — and satisfaction — in multiple areas of life:
- Seek an outside perspective. Are you feeling trapped in your own head or overwhelmed with negative mental chatter? An outside perspective might help, assuming it comes from the right person. Nobody can provide a boost when you really need it quite like a trusted friend or family member. At least one person in your social circle is likely known for giving amazing pep talks or being willing to lend an ear; seek out their perspective when you’re feeling especially down on yourself.
- Practice meditation. It’s impossible to 100 percent remove feelings of self-doubt — and efforts to do so will likely backfire. The occasional negative feeling is perfectly natural. Still, you can learn how to deal with these difficult emotions by practicing meditation. This encourages you to observe self-doubt from an impartial perspective, allowing such feelings to emerge and then dissipate as you focus on your breathing.
- Embrace an educational mindset. Sometimes, all it takes to change your self-perception is a new mental framework. If you’re plagued by doubt because you lack a certain skill or knowledge in a specific area, acknowledge that you fall short. Then reframe it as an opportunity for growth rather than a personal shortcoming. This mindset will encourage you to make the necessary changes, such as enrolling in a relevant degree program or seeking mentorships.
- Remember how far you’ve come. Wrapped up in feelings of self-doubt, many people fail to take stock of their personal accomplishments. These can be easy to downplay, as so many people are accustomed to worrying about their deficiencies rather than considering all they’re able to achieve. For example, those worried about seeking an MBA may forget how much they accomplished as undergrads. To get past this mindset, force yourself to take notes on your accomplishments, no matter how small they initially seem. You might be surprised by how long of a list you’re able to draft and the perspective you’ll gain.
Self-doubt may be a common problem in today’s workforce, but it can be overcome. Implement the strategies highlighted above and remember — you are far from the only person to experience doubt, and you won’t be the last to overcome these feelings in your quest for your dream career.
For more information on how University of Tennessee-Chattanooga can help you pursue your academic and career goals, contact us at https://www.utc.edu/.