Confidence, dread, and crisp-craving crises.

My final exams start in just under two weeks. Excellent occasion to write a blog post about confidence*.

I’ve been feeling quite anxious for the last week, and am currently recovering from the stress I wasn’t even aware I was feeling (seriously, my body had to tell me). One thing that helped in the process was meeting two of my tutors who basically took me by the hand and kept telling me that I did know stuff, and just needed to be more confident and say it. The part of me that is not my inner critic (according to whom I would probably not do anything at all for fear of not being good enough) largely agrees.

The thing is, I wouldn’t rate myself as generally under-confident.

*sorry, I won’t actually talk about crisp-craving crises. But I think you get it anyway.

To find out what made me confident in some and not confident in other situations, I made a list and identified a couple of factors that seem to play a role. Here we go:

“Intrinsic” factors: related to how I feel about the task

1) finding it easy

For example, for my German Linguistics paper, I found that I could complete the work without having an existential crisis in the process. Indeed, I was familiar with lots of the concepts and could apply native speaker intuitions – nice for a change.

2) finding it interesting

That’s kind of obvious, I hope?

3) being passionate about it (thinking it’s important)

That mostly applies to stuff I do with charities. It was a big driving factor in my community-oriented volunteering (at the Oxford Hub), and one of the factors that balances my low confidence in effective altruist circles.

“Extrinsic”/Group-related factors

4) getting positive feedback

The hub committee is a great illustration of this: more often than pointing out mistakes, and certainly more often than elsewhere, people pointed out when someone did something right. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be critical, but reflecting on it, I kind of miss that positive and encouraging atmosphere.

Academically, it’s tutors telling you that you’ve done well, or getting a good grade. However, in low-confidence constellations, it’s easy to think that this was accidental, or that they are trying to be nice. For example, me getting a first in statistics didn’t change my belief that I’m bad at maths.

5) being good in relation to others

See also (4); somewhere in 4+5, there is also something about not feeling judged, but encouraged in the group situation.

Conversely, there is nothing worse for my confidence levels than being in the room with people who either are better or who I think are better than me. They’d have to be exceptionally nice for me to think that they are not judging me.

6) and a difficult and fuzzy one: identifying with it

Is that about past experiences? And how much of that is social conditioning? And why do I not stop believing that I “can’t do” maths or logic? And should I be worried about the fact that I would rate myself as less analytical now than I did at the start of my degree?

I don’t have more time to think about this (there is finals waiting for me), and this seems too complex to just blame it on gendered social conditioning.

Also, crisps…

Yet, quoting one of my tutors:

“you know, if stereotypical white males are allowed to say things they are not sure about with confidence, then you should allow yourself to do so, too”.

I always like to take lessons from my thinking, so what is the lesson now? Just act more confident?! Yeah, lol.

Trying to remember for the future:

  • It did help to remove myself from group situations that convinced me that I was inadequate >> by telling my tutor about struggling and getting one-on-one tuition
  • It did help to seek out people who are good at being encouraging, and stressing that I do know things, as well as showing me how to use them in an exam situation.
  • I’m lucky enough to find most of what I study interesting anyway. YAY I LOVE MY STUDIES (*makes mental note*)

What I’m not sure about yet is whether I should think more about what lies behind “identifying myself” with something, since that might be a phrase I use to plaster up insecurities (“It’s okay to fail, this is not my thing anyway”) or false (and possibly gendered) beliefs… and whether that is something to tackle in the long run.

For now, I’m happy enough that in this moment, I feel sufficiently confident to go through the next weeks and that in the worst case, I have enough vague knowledge on everything to at least make up something. Another tutor quote:

“And when you look at the paper and think that you can’t answer any of the questions, you might as well take that to mean that you can answer all of them”.

Have any thoughts? Just pop them below! Especially if they provide an easy and quick answer to all of this! 😛 


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