Don’t Underestimate Yourself
I like it when people underestimate me.
Maybe I like rising to the challenge. Or maybe I just like being that obnoxious person who’s gonna prove you wrong.
And I’m not alone — we all love a good underdog story.
But think about it: what’s the hardest part about being an underdog? It’s not the succeeding part. It’s regaining your confidence after someone has made your feel inadequate.
My friend Leonor shakes her head at me sometimes and wonders where my confidence comes from. The truth is, I haven’t always had it. But stories like the one I’m about to tell you helped me find it.
Consider the Consequences
My first semester of college, I had the misfortune of taking an East Asian History class with the Worst Professor on the Planet. He was ironically named Dr. Goodman.
Laced in with all his sneers and condescending comments in class, Dr. Goodman told us all that we would have the option to write a research paper instead of taking a final exam. Since I love to write (and his tests were killer), the research paper seemed like the obvious choice for me.
Dr. Goodman said those of us doing the research paper could submit our work early to get feedback before we turned in a final draft. So a week before the paper was due, I sent it to him.
I still remember the next day when I went to the computer lab to check my email. He responded like this: “Jayna, there is a problem. I’m afraid you don’t know HOW TO WRITE.” And then it continued from there and he said I still had the option of taking the final exam or receiving an incomplete in the class.
My 18-year-old brain didn’t understand what an incomplete meant, so I just freaked out. I was going to school on scholarship, but the catch was I had to maintain a 3.5 GPA. If I failed this class, I would destroy my GPA and lose my scholarship, so the stakes were very high.
Laugh It Off With Friends
In my utterly depressed state, the first thing I did was go back to the dorms and tell my friends what had happened. And that’s the great thing about friends — they know how to distract you and make you feel like you have backup.
One friend told me he had a samurai sword I could borrow to deliver my final paper and intimidate my professor.
And the next day, when we were studying in the library, my best buddy Tony took a break from his work to write a fake letter from my professor telling me what a pompous jerk he was. (In fact, I still have that letter after all these years and it still totally cracks me up. I was going to post it here, but it had some curse words in it, so I decided against it.)
Reflect On What Was Said
All the joking aside, I still had some serious decisions in front of me. And now I had self-doubt. Was I wrong in wanting to pursue a career as a writer?
Hmm. In school I’d received a perfect score on a standardized writing assessment. And that same first semester of college I was also enrolled in an honors English class. But more than that, I loved writing.
So considering everything I knew about myself, it was clear that Dr. Goodman was formulating opinions about me without really knowing me. He was judging me on this one paper, and nothing else.
But then what did it mean? Obviously I’d done something really wrong.
So I asked some other older people I knew and the grad assistant in my class to take a look at my paper. It turns out I’d never written a college-level research paper before. Although my citations and paraphrasing were correctly formatted, I’d left out one huge component: I hadn’t done any analysis. I had no original thoughts in the paper.
Once I figured out what the problem was, I worked my butt off to redo that paper. I got other people to read it and give me feedback, and then I turned it in.
And you know what? I ended the course with an A-.
Dr. Goodman was a terrible communicator, and he intentionally lacked clarity as a way to confuse and belittle students to make himself feel bigger. The point is, don’t let yourself be defined by words from someone who doesn’t really know you.
And the more times you persevere in situations like that, the more confident you’ll become.