Category Archives: self-confidence

How much is enough? Truth about accomplishment

By Nikea Ulrich ’17

“Overachiever” is a label I get constantly. The connotation of the term in high school was one of mild disdain, but it has since then, in some respects, morphed into astonishment and appreciation. Truth be told, I don’t know which response I favor. No matter what way you look at it, “overachiever” sets an intrinsic expectation: an expectation for continued success and accomplishment.

This expectation is something I have struggled with for as long as I can remember. Of course, there are different types of expectations: those I place on myself and those that come from others within academia and society as a whole.  I am fortunate that others see high potential in me and have so much faith in me; my gratitude goes beyond words. But that is just it: I am uncomfortable shedding light on my inner struggles because I feel like I should always be grateful for the experiences and recognition I have gotten. No one seems to mention the added stress and expectation that comes with notable accolades. Granted, a lot of it comes from my own personal issue of comparing myself to others, of fearing disappointment and failure. I have worried in the past that I wanted to achieve because I felt like I had to achieve. So, how do you get out of the cycle of comparing your success to others when you are one such person to whom others seem to compare themselves?

Take high school, for example. The teacher is handing out the graded tests, the classroom atmosphere is filled equally with relief and dismay, and the first question most students ask their neighbor is: “What did you get?” It’s a simple question, but in my own experience, it’s a loaded one. It didn’t matter how vaguely I answered the question. If someone found out they scored higher than I did, they had somehow “truly succeeded.” Conversely, if I had scored higher, I heard “of course you did” as a retort. Maybe this is commonplace for every valedictorian in high school, but the expectation for always being exceptional has affected and continues to affect me.

Fast forward to college. The resume says Goldwater Scholar, DAAD Undergraduate Scholar and Young Ambassador, Fulbright Fellow, and first author on a research publication, among other things. I have worked my butt off, and I have been fortunate to have the amazing opportunities I have had.

However, it doesn’t mean that they came easy for me. The label “overachiever” makes me cringe inside because in my view, such perception diminishes the work involved during the process. It is as if those accomplishments were going to happen anyway, regardless of what I did, or that they were somehow effortless. This is not true.

Image result for trophyI think that sometimes the inherent struggles associated with accomplishment are overlooked and those that have found what people may deem as “great success” don’t share them for fear of showing weakness. Another possibility is that I represent a minority of those who feel this way. But, that doesn’t mean I am weak! In fact, I have started to view things a little differently: is something a true accomplishment if there is no struggle involved? Challenge is an integral part of success! For example, during my study abroad experience in Germany spring of 2016, I took a master’s course through the Max Planck Institute of Terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg. It was a completely new level of academic rigor for me, and I struggled so much that I honestly didn’t think I would make it through the course. But I did, and wow did I learn a lot! I felt so accomplished upon the course’s completion and so proud. In retrospect, the struggle was definitely worth it.

Personally, I love challenges. I love being academically pushed and tested. I seem to thrive off busy schedules and coffee-filled mornings, afternoons, and evenings. Of course, a daily dose of chocolate and a nice run outside are also needed.  Work doesn’t always come easy to me, and I don’t always accomplish what I set out to do. I struggle too, and thank goodness for that!

So when does the bar stop rising, when do the expectations plateau? I hope never, so long as the expectations are from within myself and not dictated by others. How much is enough? Well, for me, I know that I will always feel the need to do more and to be more. Imposter syndrome is a common companion, but if anything, I am starting to feel pride in my accomplishments. It comes down to feeling pride in my work rather than in my reputation. Lastly, I have begun to appreciate and understand the advice from Daniell Koepke: “Let go of the judgement you have about what you should be or could be doing, and today, allow yourself to simply be…Quiet the voice telling you to do more and be more, and trust that in this moment, who you are, where you are at, and what you are doing is enough.”1

1Koepke, Daniell. Internal Acceptance Movement. Tumblr, 23 June 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2017.



“Don’t be Ugly”

by Belle Tuten

“I so sorry I was ugly.”Image result for little girl in a dress bow old 19th century

My cousin’s three-year-old daughter stood before me with solemn eyes peeking between her blond curls. She had some crumbs stuck to her lips.

She meant that she had taken and eaten the cereal O’s I had brought as a snack for my baby son. I said “That’s OK, honey,” and sent her on her way (valiantly not laughing).

It struck me that “Don’t be ugly” is what many Southern mothers say to their little girls (and sometimes to their little boys) when what they mean is “stop misbehaving” or “mind your manners.” It made me wonder what that phrase meant to girls, and to think about all it meant to me.

“Don’t be ugly” = don’t play rough games; don’t use strong language.

“Don’t be ugly” = don’t hit back.

“Don’t be ugly” = don’t smart off to your mother. Or your grandmama. Or the pastor.

“Don’t be ugly” = don’t argue with the teacher who thinks girls can’t do biology, math, science.

“Don’t be ugly” = don’t tell the music teacher that a boy comes into the practice room every day and harasses you. You’re pretty sure it must be that skirt you wore last week.

“Don’t be ugly” can mean “stop misbehaving,” or “mind your manners,” but it can also mean “don’t bring up uncomfortable subjects” or “don’t make a scene” or even “don’t tell the truth.” It can also mean “don’t do anything” even when someone else is doing or saying ugly things to you.

I can’t help remembering the scene in the Senate this past week, when Elizabeth Warren was, essentially, told not to be ugly to a fellow senator. The letter Sen. Warren wanted to read was later read out by four other senators, all male. Nobody told them, “Don’t be ugly.”

I decided to put that phrase aside forever.

I will do the activities and say the things that I want to say.

I will speak the truth; I may do it nicely, but I will do it.

I will not be silent when others are doing or saying ugly things.

I will do something. I will respond.

When ugliness is required, I will be ugly.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Scrabble

by Nitya Chagti ’19

In December of 2010, I sat in a tiny booth and frowned at the Scrabble board in front of me. To my left lay a page bursting with words, proudly proclaiming to be a so-called Cheat Sheet for CSW-12. My fingers flitted over the seven tiles on my tile rack as I contemplated my next move. My opponent heaved a bored sigh and patiently turned my tile rack to face him. Around us, other players were bent over their games. Silence, broken only by hushed whispers, had fallen over the top floor of the restaurant. The man in front of me clucked his tongue suddenly and tapped the board to get my attention.

“Look,” he said patiently, “you have a bingo – you can use all seven tiles in a word. If you put that on the board, you get an extra fifty points.”

I gave my tiles a cursory glance. He’d arranged them to read G-R-I-N-D-E-R. The word did not look right to me. I stole a look at the Cheat Sheet, but it was of no help – the only words listed on it were two-lettered or three-lettered. I did not know who to consult to check the validity of the word.

Grind-er,” my opponent said purposefully. I looked at him inquisitively, unsure if it was a word. He nodded at me emphatically. Noticing my doubtful expression, he elaborated, “Someone who grinds is a grinder. The official Scrabble dictionary is different from the normal English dictionary. It has its own words which you will have to learn. Now, tell me, where can you place the word on the board?”

I scanned the board. It looked completely overtaken by tiles. Unable to follow his instructions, I looked up and shrugged helplessly. Scrabble had stumped me so far. My opponent motioned at the board, urging me to look again. I bit back my frustration and said dully, “It doesn’t fit anywhere. It’s too long.”

The man plucked the tiles from the rack and started placing them on the board. I drew a surprised breath as he, in what I thought to be a stroke of genius, connected the G of GRINDER to another word on the board. He continued to place the rest of the tiles and grinned at me when he was done. Now there were two new words on the board – GLOVE and GRINDER.

Wow,” I said. At twelve, I was easily impressed by his demonstration of out-of-the-box-thinking. Staring at those two words, connected in a seemingly effortless manner, I fell in love with Scrabble.

As is the case with anything worth loving, to fall in love with Scrabble, I had to hate it first. I had to frown at the board because my tiles were incomprehensibly bad, and I had to blame a higher deity for my awful luck. To love Scrabble, I had to cram my head full of meaningless jumbles of letters, grumbling about it the entire time as I did so. But, above all else, to love Scrabble, I had to learn to win and lose. Without a win, I’d never have felt the exhilaration that comes with playing competitively, and without a loss, I’d never have learned to work for the next win.

Undoubtedly, there are days when the stress gets too much, when the words seem too nonsensical to care about, and when the ends don’t seem to justify the means. In the span of six years, I have played hundreds of matches in multiple state, national, and international-level tournaments. I have represented India, and have come out on top as the best Under-18 player at the 10th iGate International Scrabble Tournament in 2014. I was the best female player (having placed in the Top 20) at the 3rd GAIL International Scrabble Cup in 2016.

I am not afraid to say that although I love Scrabble, I wouldn’t love it as much if it hadn’t made me work for my achievements. It has made me resilient and determined to succeed. It’s also given me the courage to fail, which is a courage we all must have if we are determined to grow.

Career, by Accident

By Lorri Panaia Shideler

Lorri Panaia Shideler is Director of Conferences and Events for Juniata.

I often am asked, “how did you get into this business?” and honestly, the answer is by accident!

Did I go to school to do this? Um, no.  Was this ever in my “life plan?” Definitely no.  I really didn’t know what an Event Planner did, nor did I even remotely think I would be doing this as a career, ever.  I was going to be an International Buyer.

Well, guess what?  Reality set in before that was ever going to happen!  So I’m an Event Planner, and have been for most of my career.  An Event Planner (now that I know what one does) is responsible for planning all aspects of events.  From audio-visual needs to room set-up to food and beverage needs, we handle it all.  And events can encompass anything from a meeting to a black tie gala and everything in between.  And yes, while it may not have been my “plan,” I wouldn’t change how things occurred because I I’m happy with where I am.

I will say that I am here because of two pieces of advice I received, and followed, early on.  Those two pieces of advice are:

  • be open to new opportunities, and
  • remember the most important thing you have is your reputation.

These two nuggets helped shape how I approached things when things just didn’t quite go as I had “planned.”  These two gems of advice helped me see that there were other doors to walk through when the one I wanted was closed.  (Let’s be honest, it was slammed, locked and dead bolted.) So,  I had two choices: continue to wait and wait to see if that door would be cracked, or suck it up, put on my big girl panties and re-evaluate. Thankfully, I re-evaluated, otherwise I’d still be sitting by that door that was never going to open.

That’s where the first nugget of advice came to assist me with what I needed to do.  I happened to be working at Walt Disney World at the time, in the theme parks division, so I took a crazy leap that my parents (among others) thought was nuts.  I moved into the resort division of the company!  How is this crazy, well, it’s crazy because I went from selling t-shirts and souvenirs to assisting people with planning their entire stays!  Granted, did I move into the resort division and immediately become a VP, GM, or a Manager?  Um, no.  I was a front desk agent.

Talk about a reality check! I was scared to death, knew no one, and didn’t even know what a front desk agent did.  But I quickly learned that the basic qualities I had already learned transferred into my new role, thank goodness.  Some of those were smiling (A LOT), being courteous, listening and being organized, to name a few.  I did have to learn how to balance a register, which was tough for this non-math person, and also how to plan itineraries, but I quickly figured out this was more figuring out who to call to assist, and that a 5:00 a.m. shift comes quite early!  But, I jumped in, learned the ropes and discovered I actually liked the resort side of things better than the theme park side.  Score one for the non-International Buyer!

Now, here’s where the second advice nugget helped me get to be where I am today.  I was minding my business, doing my thing, when I was approached by a manager about a new endeavor that was beginning and she wanted me to be a part of it.  Who, me, what, why?  She liked the fact that I wasn’t afraid of a challenge, that I rolled up my sleeves, and was a great team member.

The new endeavor was a Conference Services position, also known as Event Planner.  Seriously, me, someone with no experience as an Event Planner?  I didn’t even know what that was!  But, I reverted back to the first nugget and opened myself to this new endeavor.  I will never forget my first event I had to plan, on my own!  It was an internal meeting for our front office staff, and I think I broke out into hives for a week prior because, as planners soon learn, these events are sometimes a “make or break” situation for the other planner, the person on the other side of the desk.  Did it go perfectly?  I wish I could say so, but something I learned early on is that events rarely do go perfectly.  I really wish I could have known that in advance, but my mentor told me later that it was part of the learning process.  She was right, and granted, it was nothing catastrophic (the coffee wasn’t ready on time), but to me the world was ending.  The learning here was how to react “in the moment.”  So, I kept my cool, (while sweating through my suit jacket,) apologized for the misstep and asked what I could do to make things better. Much to my surprise, the world didn’t end, my event still was successful, and here I am today continuing to try and “make the magic!”

Back to how this started: this manager and I had never worked together, so how did she know this would be a right fit for me?  Reputation.  Unbeknownst to me, she had approached my managers and co-workers.  I hate to say it, but it’s true: people talk, and people watch.  Hence, why reputation is so important.  It is often the only information people have about you. Whether at work, or at school, or hanging out with friends, your reputation follows you!  Always.

Women in the work force, I’m sorry to say, do have it tougher than our male counterparts.  People may disagree with this statement, but I believe it, to my core.  My advice on reputation to anyone entering the work force, especially women, would be to be sure you have a strong work ethic, meaning you are willing to put in the time and effort to do a good, scratch that, great job!  Also, be tough when needed, but not just tough to be tough, there is a difference.  Seeking to understand is much more beneficial in the long run, for both you and the others involved.

Be careful, and heed the advice.  Trust me, I knew it, but I didn’t want to believe it.  Both pieces of advice were given to me by my father, believe it or not, when I was in High School.  How on earth is he ALWAYS right?  That’s a whole different story, but he is.  Still, to this day.  He. Is. Always. Right.

I hope you’re proud of me, Dad!

Fight like a Woman

“What is this?” yelled the freshman student. I was a graduate student, barely older than he was. calvin

“It’s a B minus,” I replied.

“I am not a B minus student!” he insisted.

I did my best to convince him that, yes, he had earned that B minus. But when he announced he would bring in his father to yell at me, I chickened out. I cancelled office hours and handed him off to my supervising professor.

Chickening out worked that time. Unfortunately, though, confrontations are inevitable in the professional world. Here are a few hints about workplace confrontations and how to get through them without increasing everyone’s pain and suffering.

  1. Define each issue as a problem that has to be solved by both of you.

If you’re in a confrontation with a boss, keep calm! (Have you ever gotten so nervous you cried? You want to avoid that.) Start with “I understand there is a problem and I’d like to help solve it.”  Acknowledge your mistake, if you made one. State how you plan to solve the problem, or ask for help coming up with a solution.

If you have to have a confrontation with a peer or with someone who works under your supervision, do the same thing, but ask for the collaboration a little differently: “I have a concern that I’d like your help with.” This is particularly helpful if the person you are talking to is in an emotional conflict with someone else. “I want our working relationship to be good, so I’d like to talk to you about how best to address this problem.”

When you define a disagreement as a mutual problem, the stakes are automatically lower, and everybody can negotiate to a compromise without feeling they’ve “won” or “lost.”

  1. Keep your cool.

This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to get pulled into the emotion of a workplace spat. If you are angry or upset, go away for a few minutes and get yourself together. Like it or not, women who lose their temper in public also lose their authority (even more than men do).  This is a bit easier to do if you:

  1. Listen more than you talk.

Listen to the feelings and/or thoughts of the other person. You don’t have to agree with them or share their point of view, but you should validate it.  Use “I hear what you’re saying,” or “What I hear you saying is…” That may seem clunky, but reflecting back what you think you’ve heard is a good way to help the other person know you’re paying attention to them.

  1. Ask, “What do you want?”

Often, people who are dissatisfied don’t express their feelings directly. Asking this question cuts through the white noise and gets to action faster.  It also suggests that the questioner is interested in helping the other person. It also stops passive-aggression if you use it right, and :

  1. Say what you want, clearly.

You should use “I want” when you want something. A “want” statement is stronger than a “feel” statement. “I feel that I did a lot of work on this assignment” is a less effective message than “I want you to review my grade.” You can follow that up with a “think” statement: “I think that we should look at the statistics more closely.”  Try not to pose your statements as questions. Only ask a question if you really have one.

Moral: Straightforward talk solves most problems and prevents others.


Are you a Faker?

by Belle Tuten

Dr. Belle Tuten is W. Newton and Hazel A. Long Professor of History.

My dissertation advisor looks nervous and apologetic. We are in his office, which is rather dark, and he offers me a cup of steaming tea in a paper cup. I’m doing my best not to cry or faint.

He had sent me an email advising me that my third dissertation reader had refused to approve my dissertation. He had found a number of mistakes in my Latin translations which, he said, made him wonder whether the overall argument of the work was credible.

I am nauseated with embarrassment and horror. I keep thinking over and over, “They’ve found me out. They’ve found out I was pretending all along. I should never have come to graduate school. I’ll end up flipping burgers…”

Since my first day of graduate school, I had known I was a secret incompetent among all these smart people. They were all better prepared, smarter, more skilled and more accomplished than I was.  I should never have tried it; I had written my whole dissertation and now it was a failure. I was a failure.

I didn’t know that my feelings were not unique. Psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes identified “Impostor syndrome” in the late seventies while trying to describe a feeling of “phoniness” in high-achieving individuals. (Read the original study here.) Clance and Imes were interested primarily in women who dreaded being unmasked as frauds in their professional lives. Since then, it’s become clear that the feeling is widespread – maybe even normal.

It never occurred to me that anyone else could feel like an impostor. Years later (after I successfully fixed my mistakes and graduated) I read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on “Impostor Syndrome” and instantly recognized myself. What amazed me was that I found it on a close male colleague’s Facebook page. He had posted it because he identified with it himself! As more and more friends and colleagues began to reply to it with their own admissions of self-doubt, I was flabbergasted and, secretly, really happy.

Every year I see the same thing in younger women: particularly in high-achieving women, many of whom somehow think that no matter how well they do, there is some perfect score that they won’t attain. Some of them obsess over the seven points they missed instead of the 93 points they earned. Some of them deliberately sabotage themselves, because hey, if they don’t try, then of course they fail – putting forth effort would mean really failing. Most of them suppose that the feelings of inadequacy they have are theirs alone. Most of them think they are less talented, less prepared, less worthy than their peers. Most of them are sure that there is some perfect student somewhere out there (or sitting next to them in the classroom) who is effortlessly better than they are.

They are wrong.

Need evidence?

Statistics: 60 percent of Americans will never go to college; only 40 percent will get any degree above high school. More of these college-bound people every year are female – in 2015, women with bachelor’s degrees edged out men with bachelor’s degrees for the first time (30.2 percent versus 29.8 percent according to Time). By going to college, my students are edging out the majority of their peers in the United States.

So here are three rules to live by when you feel like your life has been faked.

Rule 1. Your career is not some giant yardstick against which you must measure yourself (and against which you will fall short) or be measured by your peers.

Rule 2. Your career is a pyramid of the knowledge and skills you build as you grow and the mistakes you learn from. If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t taking risks.

Rule 3. Every career pyramid is different. If your pyramid turns out not to be a pyramid, but ends up looking something like a game of Tetris, that’s OK. The important thing is that it is meaningful to you.

Your mistakes and your accomplishments are all yours.