The Confidence Gap

by Dec 13, 2016

Some of our talented interns here at UTS Careers recently ran some focus groups so we could find out what students really think about the careers service, internships, CareerHub, the world of work and how prepared they feel to enter it.

It didn’t come as much of a surprise to hear that the one thing many students wish they had more of is confidence.

I feel like I hear this from people all the time (and not just students). Whether you call it a ‘lack of confidence’, ‘fear of failure’, ‘anxiety’, ‘nerves’ or ‘self-doubt’, it’s something that transcends cultural, age and gender boundaries and keeps us from moving towards the things we really want to do.

Think about it – what have you given up? What have you missed out on? What opportunities have you not taken advantage of because you didn’t feel confident enough to do it? Was it striking up a conversation with that cute stranger in the café? Taking up salsa dancing? Joining a club on campus? Heading overseas? Going for that job? Changing degrees? We want to do something, but fear holds us back from taking action.

What I find most interesting when I talk to people about this, is that many of us have the perception that other people don’t experience this fear. Other people come across as fearless, so naturally we want to learn how to become fearless too so we can do the things we really want to do, right? We say things like: “No, I just don’t feel ready yet.” Or “I don’t feel confident enough.”  Or “It’s different for that person; I’ll do it when I feel more confident.” – implying that when we feel more confident, then we’ll do it; that first we need to build our confidence (somehow), then we’ll apply for that job, join that club, ask someone on a date.

I used to think like this as well. Then I read ‘The Confidence Gap.

Now, don’t start judging just yet – I’m no more of a fan of the self-help aisle than the next person. But the fact that my barista said this book changed his life intrigued me enough to read it. In this book, Dr Russ Harris, a Melbourne psychologist, writes about the approach he uses (which includes mindfulness) to help people overcome the fear and anxiety that holds them back.

For me to be absorbed in a non-fiction book, it has to be good. Harris’ honest anecdotes about his clients, self-depreciating humour acknowledging that our minds are probably calling BS on this, along with stories about incredible people like Mandela and helpful (non-dry) exercises make this book an easy read.

While I read it a year ago now, there are a few things that stuck:

  • The first is myth-busting the idea that we can become fearless. That fight or flight, adrenaline response we get when we’re out of our comfort zone has kept our species alive for hundreds of millions of years- it’s not going anywhere. But what he does talk about is changing our relationship to it. Rather than trying to avoid the discomfort of nerves, fear and anxiety, Harris encourages people to make room for feelings of discomfort and even change how we talk about it. Think about this – when you see a great sportsperson before an important game, they don’t say: “Omg, I’m so nervous, my hands are shaking!” They say something like: “Yeah, I’m pumped!” This has the ability to reframe how we view that fight or flight response.
  • Another big take-away from the book for me is about flipping the idea that you need to ‘feel’ confident before you do something. When in fact the actions of confidence come first, the feelings of confidence come later. Someone once responded to this with, “Oh so like: fake it ‘til you make it.” However I think this is different from that. ‘Faking it’ almost suggests you ignore the feelings of fear you’re experiencing. However using this mindfulness approach, you acknowledge the fear is there, thank it for being there, and do the scary thing anyway. Think about a time you did something you were really nervous about – didn’t you feel great afterwards? This is what Harris is talking about.
  • Another topic Harris delves into is values and goals (as presumably you want more confidence in order to achieve something). Values being how you want to behave as a human and goals being the desired outcome. E.g. ‘Get my dream job’ might be the goal, but the values associated with that might be: studying hard, being enthusiastic at work, putting yourself out there. While the goal is important, Harris highlights how acting on your values plays a major role in developing confidence and enhancing performance.


It’s difficult to summarise the wisdom from this whole book in one blog post, so I highly recommend you put this on your summer reading list if any of this blog has resonated with you. As Helen Keller said:

‘Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.’



Featured image courtesy of Techly.

By Lauren Robertson

By Lauren Robertson

International Youth Engagement and Communications Advisor

Lauren Robertson is an international youth engagement and communications advisor. In her current role at UTS Careers, Lauren supports students in getting a taste of what it’s like to work in their industry before they graduate (and making sure they feel confident enough while doing this!).