To be really successful in college, you have to be your best.
Outstanding college success is more than just great grades.
Real, usable success looks like:
professors who respect and like you, which can lead to scholarship nominations, strong recommendations, and lenience when you slack off
projects that you make are meaningful and have impact outside of school, enabling you to profit in school and in your career
4 years of confidence in your studies which increases your GPA, mental health, and career prospects (because who doesn't want that?!)
graduating with marketable skills and several career prospects (perhaps even starting your own business in school)
forming a circle of friends who are, like you, ambitious and talented (and who will be viable partners in future ventures)
Becoming an exceptional version of yourself in order to obtain these goals is easier said than done.
Or is it?
For years I'd wanted to become a different person -- a better version of myself. I wanted to kick the cripplingly shy girl I was to the curb and be outgoing and confident. I had little idea of how to accomplish it, so year after year I saw my dream slip through my fingers. I would walk into a room full of people I should have been talking to and feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable -- and it showed.
I often felt small, incapable, and silly.
I wasn't getting anywhere working to be more outgoing from the inside out.
For what felt like the hundredth time, I abandoned my hope of ever changing.
And then something happened.
I went to college.
And in college I didn't just become confident - I became powerful.
I was nailing A after A in classes at one of the top Universities in the world in both graduate, honors, and undergraduate classes. Definitive authorities on Shakespeare, Blake, modern poetry, Joyce, and Proust, became my professors and friends.
In the first year of opening my own business with my then-boyfriend-now-husband, I was recruited to run a performance art institute by one of the most famous performance artists in the world.
I went from the girl too shy to ask for ketchup at a restaurant to one of the top-performing students in my class.
The change didn't happen overnight, and it took a lot of hard work and concentrated effort to actually do the things that made me hugely successful in school.
And of course, I failed a lot. Learning exactly what I needed to do to make the best grades and impress my teachers as more than just a student took me a long time. I mean, a really long time. I spent 9 years as an undergrad (5 years at community college and 4 years at UC Berkeley) and 2 (so far) as a graduate student.
Once I started working out the formula for success, my accomplishments started to snowball.
Yes, I'll be sharing one little trick that will boost your confidence faster than it takes to drink a cup of coffee.
Want more? Download this cheatsheet of 8 strategies for improving confidence in 5 minutes or less.
One of the most valuable lessons I learned was that success leads to success. If you've become a rockstar in one aspect of college, that will expand and touch other areas, until it feels like everything you touch is gold.
Now, let me be honest. A lot of the time I didn't feel like I was hugely successful. When you're in it, it's difficult to see past the hard work and failures along the way. But my confidence was amping up as I gained success.
And confidence, my friends, is the biggest prize.
Confidence allows you to face fear. It allows you to make strong moves and accomplish the seemingly impossible.
The art galleries my husband and I created from the ground up was funded largely from student loans and one generous investment from my cousin. We hustled. We took traditional business rules and turned them on their tail, finding creative avenues for making our dreams a reality.
Confidence led me to accepting huge responsibilities, like becoming programs director for the Marina Abramovic Institute West. My shy-girl self couldn't compete with the work I was taking on. I had to be bold, flying to New York to meet with arrogant gallerists and asserting my own authority (terrifying!). I worked with artists to set prices for their work and created artist statements when they didn't have one. I managed over ten interns who were around the same age as me. And then we partnered with another San Francisco gallery owner open a new space to feature Chinese contemporary art in addition to our two gallery projects. All while still working to get straight A's at Berkeley.
When you're faced with big responsibilities, you're forced to step your game up to meet them.
Confidence will get you there.
But how do you gain confidence when it feels like you have none?
I'm not going to give you an intense bootcamp regimen to boost your confidence in your skills. That's not how it worked for me. I simply went for the big goals, and somewhere in my brain confidence kicked in.
So stop setting goals and start achieving them.
Make a hasty sketch of a plan that will help you start working toward your goal.
That can look like a general list of things you need to do to reach your goal, or a business plan, or outline for the future.
Identify your end result and work backwards to determine what it will take to get there.
Start in on the little things, the preliminaries, like building a website or talking to someone who's done what you want to do.
For my husband and I, our first move was creating a rough business proposal that we could present to real estate agents with empty spaces. There was one space we had our eye on -- across the street from campus. It was a beautiful historic building and just the right size. In a city where monthly rents were upward of $3000, we proposed a whopping $1500 in rent by showing how we'd be improving the space at our own cost, making it more marketable down the line. And it worked. We moved in February and had about 20 days to get the old, run-down interior looking like a swank new gallery. We hustled -- for a huge pay off.
Leaping ahead when you're scared and uncertain counters fear and confers confidence.
Cameron and I had no idea how to run an art gallery when we opened ours. It was the first business either of us had started aside from bake sales and lemonade stands. We were reasonably intelligent. We knew we could figure it out (and thought that we'd do it better than many). That first nip of confidence led us to our success as gallery directors and curators. We had a vision and we worked to make it real, using whatever methods we could come up with to circumnavigate obstacles.
We never would have accomplished anything if we hadn't simply dove in head first.
Fear is the #1 emotion that holds us back from becoming our best self.
The quickest way to conquer fear is to plunge ahead anyway.
Learn 8 strategies to help you conquer fear and gain confidence quickly.
Find a friend or someone who can hold you accountable. If I didn't have a partner to push me when I was uncomfortable, I wouldn't have achieved nearly as much.
There's one moment (likely in a string of others, but this one stands out to me) where I backed out of a great achievement because I was scared. Maura Nolan, director of the Chernin Mentoring Program at Berkeley asked me to speak to the undergraduate students about career possibilities for English majors. My greatest fear, perhaps to this day, is public speaking. So on the day of the event, I bailed.
Ouch. It still hurts.
So I urge you all to try, try so hard, not to let fear ruin opportunities.
Work hard to build confidence so you can be your best self and achieve your biggest goals.
There are going to be plenty of moments when you need confidence but can't feel it. An important job interview. Public speaking opportunities. Final exams.
Panic and anxiety can destroy all that you worked for in a heartbeat.
But there's a secret to building confidence quickly (it takes less time than finishing that latte.)
It's a spin on the "fake it till you make it" principle, which social psychologist Amy Cuddy has turned into "fake it till you become it."
“Let your body tell you you’re powerful and deserving, and you become more present, enthusiastic and authentically yourself,” Cuddy says. Hers is the #2 most-watched TED Talk to date.
Changing your body language is a whole lot easier than changing your brain.
Yet the effects precipitate. Adopting a strong, confident pose, Cuddy wrote in a collaborative study, increases testosterone and decreases stress hormones.
Fake it till you become it is a great motto for those who are timid and afraid. It's the easiest, simplest way to gain confidence.
The confident go-getter who climbs to the top of the business ladder, or the person so talented it seems they can never fail doesn't have to be you. YOU don't have to be anything other than little, regular you.
The end result will follow the action.
You can achieve great things if you fake your way toward greatness. You can trick your brain into believing you're in control when you're really uneasy by modifying your body language.
And your professors, or anyone you're interacting with, will see you as a more powerful, capable person if you're demonstrating that through body language.
This was the key to my early success.
Sitting in a professor's office for office hour, I would force myself to adopt an alert, open position, even though I felt like I wanted to shrink back in my chair. I would lay a hand on their desk, claiming some of their space, asserting a confidence I rarely felt.
In class, I made sure to sit in the first or second row, near the center. Not only was this the best vantage for note-taking, it put me right in the line of the professor's sight. For the entire class I sat either at the edge of my seat, attentive and eager, or I relaxed back to simply listen. I realize now, after watching Cuddy's talk, that the poses I was adopting were open, not closed off or shirking, which made me feel like an excellent student, before I became one.
If you want to know more about how to use posture to create confidence and gain you college success, send me an email. I'd love to chat with you about it.
Here are 8 strategies that will have you feeling more confident in minutes.
And watch Cuddy's TED talk and let me know how it goes!