I responded to this student’s email in 2 parts because I had answered a question similar to his first point in this post. So, in the first response to him, I just referred him to the past post and advised him to take some nuggets from what I said there.
His second point was MUCH more meaty and I didn’t want to rush into a response before having time to think through what I had to say. The message that resulted was one of the longer ones that I’ve written recently, but the question certainly warranted it. I’m posting it here because I suspect that a LOT of young people are wrestling with the same type of issues. Hopefully, some of you can get some benefit from the approach I’ve laid out below.
My name is TW, and I was one of the students at [the presentation you recently did]. I really enjoyed your presentation, and I got a lot out of it. I have really thought about your speech, and the two points that really struck me were wanting a lot of money one day and believing in yourself has being great. I can really relate to you wanting to grow up and having a lot of money. I have always wanted to be very successful and rich. Like you, I have always believed that the money would just come, but after listening to you I feel like I need some sort of plan. I write down my short and long term goals in life, but I feel some of my long term goals are unreachable. My first question is, what should/can I do now as a freshman to put myself in a place to be successful one day?
The next point you made that I really started thinking about is being confident in yourself. I have always had a lack of confidence in myself. I know I am capable of doing something great, but I don’t believe other people see or think that. I have an issue with convincing other people I am great, because I can’t always convince myself that I am great. When some of us stayed after for another hour you asked a couple guys what makes you great. I was so glad you didn’t picked me, because I had no clue what to say. I really still don’t know what I would say if someone asked me the same question now. My next question is, what was the best thing you did to help gain confidence in yourself?
I thought your presentation was awesome, and thank you very much for coming. You really opened my eyes to things I haven’t even thought about. I didn’t even think or consider going to grad school after I graduate, but now I really want to. Your life story was really cool to listen to and all the alcohol stories you told us once everyone left were hilarious. I really appreciate you coming to talk to us and any feed back to this email would be tight.
Thank you, TW
OK, here’s the Part II of my response to your email. I apologize again for chopping this response in 2 parts. I figured that it made the most sense to send you the reply for the first of your questions on its own because it was basically a copy from another email. Your second question was much more meaty and deserved a response of its own. It may seem weird, but I hope it all comes together by the end of this email.
Let me start by saying that I totally feel you about lacking self-confidence because I’ve been there and, for the majority of my life, that’s where I was in my own head. Before early 2006, it would have been a struggle for me to come up with an answer to my “Why are you great?” question that I really believed. I knew that I had good things to offer the world, but I doubted myself so much and, in turn, I assumed that everyone else in the world doubted me, as well. Now, I can look back and realize that a lot of folks were pulling for me and thought I was fantastic going back as far as middle school, but it’s really hard to see that in the moment when you’re not comfortable in your own skin.
In my case, it came down to feeling as if I was a step behind everyone else and, although I kept doing great things, I couldn’t help but think that, one day, the world would recognize that I was basically ad-libbing my way through life. During my “Touchy Feely” class at Stanford GSB, I learned that there’s a term for this sort of fear, “The Imposter Syndrome”. As I learned more about it, I was able to identify traits of it within myself, which was a huge step for me in developing the confidence that I needed to truly be successful. I have no idea of whether this is even a concern for you, but I’d recommend taking a few minutes to Google it to learn more and figure out if it could be affecting you too.
Wow, I’ve kinda gone off track from your question…sorry about that. OK, so what was the best thing I did to gain confidence in myself? As silly as it sounds, I just decided that I had too many good things going for me not to be confident in myself. Kinda goofy, right? It’s 100% true though. It took one of my GSB classmates literally saying to me:
“Marquis, you went from growing up broke in the middle of nowhere in VA to getting a Princeton degree, getting into Stanford GSB, and getting an offer from McKinsey. When are you going to realize that you don’t have anything else to prove? You need to let yourself see that you’re the truth.”
for me to get it. At the time, I thought he was just saying that to be nice, but, as I thought more about it, I could see that he was right. This made me think about all of the other times that people had complimented me and I’d just shaken those kind words off without internalizing them. I finally saw that I’d been beating myself up for years for no good reason and that I hadn’t been giving myself credit for the good stuff that I had working for me. I was a good person who treated people well; I’d built a strong academic and professional foundation for myself; I had amazing friends and family who were checkin’ for me; and, from what I’d heard, I was actually a pretty good looking lil’ dude So, all I had to do from there was believe that I should be happy and proud to be me and that’s just what I did.
I’m still surprised at how quickly I felt the change in my outlook take effect. I felt everything in my head change within a couple of days and the rest is history. Of course, there have been times since then that I’ve doubted myself and started feeling down, but, for the most part, I was able to develop the confidence that you and your classmates saw during my presentation. Some people tell me that I’ve probably gone a little too far in the other direction, but I’d say that’s better than feeling down on myself all the time. It’s great to finally believe that I’ve got something great to offer the world each day and that belief serves as the foundation of my confidence.
So, what does this mean for you? I admit that I’m guessing a bit here because I don’t know anything about what’s in your head, but here are a few tips for you:
- Take some time to think at a high-level about what your vision for your future is. What are your professional goals? What are your personal goals? What kind of person do you want to be? How do you want others to see you?
- When you’ve honed in on the vision for your future, think of a concise 1-2 sentence statement that describes that vision and write that statement on the top of a sheet of paper.
- Think about all of the positive things that have made you distinctive and have helped you to get to where you are today (i.e., your personality, the relationships with your friends and family, intelligence, academic performance, the way you treat people, etc.). Write all of those items down on the left-hand side of a sheet of paper below your vision statement.
- Think about all of the traits about yourself that you believe are holding you back from being confident OR that you believe make others doubt you, your abilities, and/or your potential. Write all of those items down on the right-hand side of the same sheet of paper below your vision statement.
- Read everything that you’ve got on that sheet of paper and think about how that vision statement, the left-hand list, and the right-hand list have impacted your view of yourself and your place in the world.
- [Final step...I promise] Underneath the left-hand list, write the words “BUILDING BLOCKS”. Underneath the right-hand list, write the words “ROADBLOCKS”.
After going through the steps above, you’ll end up with a basic roadmap for how you can build toward your own vision for the future. As you build upon your accomplishments, positive personality traits, relationships, and professional/educational foundation, you would add new items to your BUILDING BLOCKS list. In turn, as you address the perceived negative traits as seen by you or others, you would mark off items on your ROADBLOCKS list.
Of course, you lilkely won’t maintain this list forever, but I wanted you to go through the exercise on paper to help you in doing it in your head later. It’s amazing how basic some of these things end up being once you do them on paper Over time, you’ll see the left-hand list getting longer as the right-hand list gets shorter and, eventually, you’ll reach the point where YOU decide that you’ve got too many good things going for you not to be confident in yourself.
I recognize that what I’ve advised here is easier said than done, but that’s the beauty of it all…it really is a matter of believing in yourself and making it apparent to others that you know that you have a lot to offer. No one else will respect your G if you don’t and you’d be surprised how much of a difference it makes to walk around with your chest poked out or to be willing to offer your perspective in a classroom or casual conversation in a confident manner.
When I was a Freshman in college, I saw myself as a 125-pound cornball and, if someone would have convinced me that what I’ve done since then was possible, the last 16 years would have been MUCH easier to get through. Trust me when I say that it all starts within your own head and heart because, having lived it myself, I know it to be true. As long as you live your life as authentically as possible, try your hardest to do great things (both big and small), and treat people right, you should have no reason to doubt yourself. Furthermore, if someone else tries to throw shade at you, just take that as a sign that they’re not worthy of being around you and keep it moving. As I said in Takeaway #9 from my talk, you should be your own biggest fan. Once you get to that point, other people will eventually become fans of you too.
I don’t know if the advice that I gave you above is as specific as you were seeking, but it’s basically what I’ve got for you right now. If you have any follow-up questions, please let me know. As I said after my presentation, I want to do whatever I can to be helpful to you guys.
Take care and keep your head up. You’ve definitely got what it takes for you to great…now, it’s up to you to recognize it. Once you do that, everyone else will see it too.