Good News: The “Bright-Side” of Insecurity

Distinguished Fellow Helen Eckmann of Brandman University provides us with some sorely needed thoughts on the positive sides of the insecurities many of us are feeling during these “pandemic days”……….

During the Pandemic I had had more time alone and thus more time to think. This has been for many of us a time with a lack of laughter and joy. One of the many questions I have asked myself in this solitude, is “when do I do my best work?” (Perhaps wondering if I would ever do “good work’ again.) Before, I had always assumed my best work came from the times that I was feeling confident and strong.

I have taught 200 students online during the Pandemic and I have wondered about how the confidence levels of my students affects their performance.

I wonder how my students who feel scared or “unable” to complete a new assignment or task perform overall? How often do my students sometimes feels like everyone else in the world can figure out what they cannot? 

Do we all have some tasks and assignments that we continually feel unable to accomplish? Do some of us open a spreadsheet with a sign of defeat? Do some of us get ready to make a presentation with a lost empty feeling in the pit of our stomach?

I refer to this type of fear and insecurity as being “de-skilled.” These are the times that our normal confidence to accomplish tasks is not available to us. These are the times when the ways that we usually tackle life’s challenges seem to disappear.

It is a common experience for most human beings from four years old to about 90 to sometimes feel “de-skilled.” Some tasks and assignments feel overwhelming. For the tasks (like spreadsheets), some of these “deskilled” feelings dissipate over time with practice. Other tasks and skills are daunting for the entire span of life.

The purpose of this blog is to look at the “bright side” of our feelings of inability and insecurity. Below is the bell-shaped curve, (or the graph that is the common type of distribution for a variable).  The bell curve below is used to describe and display the “nature of confidence.”

The tail ends of a normal distribution indicate the infrequent occurrence on either end of a spectrum. The middle of the distribution indicates the more likely scenarios.

So, we are evaluating both sides of the human experience.

  1. The times that we feel “uber-confident – “I got this” times when we know (or think we know) exactly what needs to be done and we feel fully capable of accomplishing the task. We do not need the help of others. We refer to this as the “Uber-confident” experience.
  2. The times when we have conflicting confidences. We may be able to do some of the tasks or assignments, but we are unsure about completing the entire requirements.
  3. The times when we are underconfident, “de-skilled,” and question our abilities. These are the times that many of us look for help.

      →→→→More confident→→→→→→→→→→→Less Confident→→→→→→→

Uber Confident                       Conflicting Confidences                     Unconfident/“Deskilled”

            5%                                                50%                                                5%

                                     ↑                                                                  ↑     

Following the graph above, 5% of the population is almost always uber-confident; an example could be Donald Trump. Once he makes a pronouncement, he appears to believe that it is the truth. There appears to be minimal questioning or reflection. This 5% of the population probably assumes that they are the brightest person in every room and have the final say-so on every topic.

On the other side of the graph are the 5% of the population convinced that they cannot do anything right. They think they are bad drivers, lovers, friends, and workers. They are in a constant state of being frozen, and their internal conversation is filled with words like “stupid… do not throw the ball to me I will just drop it…. or why would I even try…I know I will mess it up…everyone knows I am a loser.” From this position, shame can be felt for even trying.

The middle of the population in this distribution is the part of the population with conflicting confidences. They may be on the “right side,” more confident side in some areas of their life, and then within the same minute, meeting or day experience a “left side” less confidence issue. For example, of conflicting confidence, some people feel confident about their work, but they feel less confident to cope when dealing with emotional issues at home. Another example is that some people feel confident about their body, that they are strong and look good, but that same person might feel less confident about their ability to solve problems. Other people are just the opposite and feel confident in their problem-solving ability but feel very unconfident about their appearance and body. Further, some people feel confident in their communication skills but lose confidence in more technical issues, while others experience just the opposite. This conflicting confidence is how many people experience confidence. One-minute feel strong, confident, and capable, then the topic changes, and the next humbling moment has occurred.

Further, it is interesting to consider the 20% on either side of the bell curve.

The “self-confident” side (bottom left of the graph above) is where we walk into a room and feel like we have answers to share and ideas to bring.  This is when the feelings and past experiences would indicate being prepared, willing, and able to handle the task at hand.

The “questioning self” (bottom right of the graph above) is not too far away from “frozen,” but this dimension of confidence is where the realization is that of being out of a comfort zone and questioning. The questioning self looks around the parameter for clues and cautiously moves forward with some fear and trepidation. There is a willingness to try, but it is accompanied with an insecurity for success.

As I ponder these five positions of confidence and apply them to myself, I discover that I am at my best “self” when I am at the “questioning self” dimension of confidence. Without this reflection, I would have assumed that my best work and life experience would have been in the “Self-Confident” stage.  I have taught over 2,000 MBA and master’s students over the past decade, and as I reflect further, my experience of these students closely ties to my own experience with confidence. So, as a university professor, I have noticed that this is often true with my students. 

The students who begin classes with complete confidence are often the ones that will find constructive criticism of their work to be insulting. They believe that if they do not get an A on an assignment, it is probably my fault for one of two reasons; 1, I did not make the assignment clear enough; 2, my grading standards are unreasonable. Even after conversation, it sometimes does not occur to the student that their work is not up to standards.

However, the students that enter the classroom (virtually or in-person) with some fear, questioning, and doubt now appear to me to be the students that most often end up successful in my classes. These questioning students listen carefully for instruction and do their best to apply what they have learned. They are open to learning from collaborations with their classmates as well as me. They question themselves enough to consider learning a challenge they want to take on, and they are hungry for new resources of help.

It is interesting to consider that when we are experiencing some insecurity about entering a new assignment or task…we may be getting ready for success. I wonder if our insecurity brings with it an openness for adventure and learning. Perhaps we can consider our insecure side of our being as the place ripe for the most growth.

I wonder if we welcome our questioning self to life – if we might find joy?

Meet Helen: Helen Ekman, Ph.D.

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