The Delicate Balance 1/24/19

By Richard E. Bleil, Ph.D.

For an aspect of our lives so important as self-confidence, it is striking how delicate it can be.

My self-confidence has taken a multitude of blows, both personally and professionally. My last two positions were administrative in nature, and in both cases, there were elements of those I supervised who decided that I needed to go and conspired against me. In both cases, my supervisors elected to believe what they were told, even though the claims made contained easily verifiable lies. I was dismissed in one position after accomplishing a difficult goal that the institution had been pursuing for two decades. In the other, I was making significant progress in concerns that threatened accreditation for the institution.

A former student of mine made the comment to me, “The opinions of others in no way reduces your true worth.” We all have potential, but many of us fail to convert. I believe a strong reason is lack of self-confidence, but is this the fault of the people?

I know the importance of self-confidence, and preach it as I help tutor students. Lack of self-confidence results in mental paralysis, or worse. Today, when I see a job that seems like one to which I should apply, I find it difficult to get beyond opening a document with the name of a cover page.

In my age, where I still have all of the credentials I have earned from my degrees and titles, I find myself with more experience than ever, and yet I find it difficult to believe that I have any value whatsoever. Several months ago, I sent out my four hundredth application, some of which were “shoot for the moon”, but most were lateral job move applications (with some step-downs as well). Over four hundred applications, and only a few phone interviews. Nothing of significance beyond that.

Losing two major jobs wherein I was highly successful in my accomplishments, and literally hundreds of rejections, is it any wonder that my self-confidence is depleted? There was an old (and rather cruel) psychological experiment, wherein a dog was placed in a cage with two sides. Each side floor could be independently charged with an electrical current. When they charged one side, as expected, the dog jumped the small barrier to go to the other. When they charged both, at first the dog jumped back and forth, however, when it learned that it made no difference, she just curled up in the corner and cried. When they tried to undo it (by charging only one side), she still just cried, even after being literally dragged to the uncharged side multiple times. Never again did she try to get away from the charge. Psychiatrists called this “learned helplessness.”

Knowing the incredible importance of self-confidence, and working to help instill it into others, is not enough for me to find mine. Suffering from depression as I do makes it worse. My self-doubt begins to feed on my past failures, creating an inability to even make a fair effort today. The longer my inability to motivate continues, the more my confidence erodes, making it harder to motivate. I revisit my past failures constantly in my mind, question my every move, and dwell on each error from my history. It’s a vicious cycle with seemingly no end in sight.

Men are “fixers”, and this man is definitely a fixer. I wish I could give some sage advice on how to break these cycles, instill self-confidence, and motivation to keep fighting when all seems lost, but I have no words. How could I when I cannot find my own strength? The truth, as hard as it is to say, is that I am broken, and no cliche advice will fix that. All I have is a wish, just one wish, that people would start thinking about others before causing them harm.

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