Am I good enough? Facing a confidence crisis

Written by Monique Henson

Power poses, tracking accomplishments, dressing to impress and listening to bass-heavy songs - I’ve tried it all. I have no idea whether any of it works, but I do know that confidence has played an important role in my career.

This first occurred to me about a year into my PhD. I’d bumped into a classmate from my undergraduate degree who was in the process of applying for PhDs. They asked if I had any tips. My advice, which I still stand by, was to apply for everything! “Let them decide whether you are qualified”, I said. Yet, when they asked how many places I’d applied to, they were a little surprised to hear I’d only gone for a few places. It seemed a bit hypocritical for me to encourage them to spend their time on lots of applications. It occurred to me that I’d stopped myself from applying to lots of positions because I didn’t feel good enough, despite my academic advisor reassuring me that I was qualified enough to apply for more competitive PhD programmes.

Now when I think back over my decisions in the past few years, I realise that my confidence (or lack of it) has played a role in many of them, from deciding which universities to apply to on UCAS back in 2009, to immediately accepting the post-PhD job I was offered this year. In this last example, I was so overjoyed to hear that I was good enough for the role, that the idea of negotiating over salary and benefits never even occurred to me.

"confidence isn’t just important for your career - it’s also crucial to your mental wellbeing."

I say all of this to point out that confidence matters, and I don’t think it’s just me who struggles with it. Whether it’s job rejections, lack of support from those around you, exam results or, as in my case, just a general feeling of inadequacy that impacts on your confidence, it can be really tough to deal with. Often we don’t even realise that it is a problem and instead just see it as part of life.

Yet, confidence isn’t just important for your career - it’s also crucial to your mental wellbeing. According to the NHS, long-term low self esteem can have harmful effects on your health and, in some cases, can lead to depression and anxiety. If you think this might apply to you, it’s worth speaking to your GP.

"One, you’re not alone. Two, we can do this!"

For me, just recognising that I have problems with confidence has been a big step and I know it’s something I’ll keep in mind going forward. Next time I’m applying for a job or even just suggesting an idea in a meeting, I’m going to try and remember that I have a tendency to undervalue myself and my contributions. I don’t know if it will solve the problem, but it’s a least a step in the right direction.

If you’re reading this article and, like me, are often plagued by self-doubt, then there’s just two things I’d like you to take away from this. One, you’re not alone. Two, we can do this! A couple of helpful resources…

  • Mind has some great resources on self esteem, including stories from people who’ve struggled with self esteem and information for finding support.

  • The Young Women’s Trust (UK) offers confidence coaching for young women aged 16-30. They focus on offering support for women on low or no income.


If you find that your confidence or self esteem is affecting your day to day life, your job, or your relationships, please visit your GP or contact one of the charities mentioned above. If you would like to find out more about Monique, see her story shared here, and check her out on  Twitter

Rhys Archer