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Columbia Business Monthly

Building your confidence takes a series of small steps

Mar 06, 2019 12:01PM ● By Kathleen Maris
By Hadia Ghandour

What do you do? In America, we define ourselves by our jobs. This is understandable as this is what we spend over a third of our lives doing. However, 70 percent of Americans are in jobs they don’t necessarily want. 

When I ask my students what they want to do with their degrees, there are some who are impressively clear about every step they want to take until they reach their goals. Kudos to them! Others are embarrassed because they do not know what to do with their hard-earned degree.  If only they knew that they are like the majority of people.

If you allow yourself to dream without restraint, you may well have a picture of what you want to be. You might think of it in terms of what you want to feel, rather than what you want to be doing. You probably dare not entertain that dream as it is “unrealistic.”  How do you develop the confidence to find what you want and how to get there?

Confidence is the reassuring feeling that you can get to where you want to go. According to “The Confidence Code” by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, confidence is built on successive small, actionable steps. You might say you don’t even know what you want, so what steps do you take? Take any small step, and you will realize whether it is the right one. 

According to David Kelley from the design firm IDEO in his TED Talk on creative confidence, by taking action, you will build your confidence and find creative ways to design your life. Take a wrong small step? No problem. Try something different. Since it is small, you can afford to change course.

At college, whether you are a traditional student or nontraditional student, you should not miss out on all the opportunities that college offers. I can hear you say, “I am focusing on getting my degree.” But ask yourself this: is the degree an end in itself or is it a milestone in your life journey? 

While many nontraditional students are already extremely busy, I urge you to find the time to take advantage of the events that colleges offer that may help you explore and further your career.  At Columbia College, as I am sure at many other colleges, there are many clubs and organizations that meet in the evenings. All students can use those to explore their next steps and take small actions to develop their confidence.  

Even in my classes, I try to incorporate actions that lead to confidence. We are a small school and some of my classes have fewer than 15 students. We are often able to bring in real life issues and take actions to address them. 

In my Principles of Marketing class—which is very much a beginning business course—my students work on a live marketing plan. We pick very small startup businesses for our small steps. This semester, we will be working with our neighbor on North Main, Keith Alexander, who has opened the Rare Variety Café. It is a vegan café whose mission is to serve locally sourced vegan food and employ young black men who have faced additional adversities. Keith’s business echoes the need to take small steps. By giving an opportunity to people who need a fresh start, Rare Variety Café helps boost their confidence and gives them an opportunity for growth. 

You can build your confidence by not thinking about the big task of achieving your goals, but by always thinking about what you want to do next. Choose small steps, achieve them, and build your confidence fortress brick by brick. By going through successive steps, you will inevitably find some that fail. Go back, take a different step, and keep building your confidence.

Hadia Ghandour is a lecturer in Global Business and Entrepreneurship at Columbia College.
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