Is it just me, or do we become less confident as we grow older?

When I was 21, I thought I could conquer the world. Everything was in front of me. I had limitless potential. I knew I was brilliant, nice, attractive, well-educated. I had only to set my mind on something and it would be achieved, accompanied by support and praise from those around me.

Perhaps my outstanding confidence was due to the fact that I was a big fish in a very small school. I went to a women’s college that had only 650 students. I was one of three classics majors, and I was the most talented. My professors loved me and encouraged me to go to grad school in the classics. As I graduated from college magna cum laude and gifted with the annual Sibyl Smith Latin award for the third time in a row, I knew I was destined for great things.

Over the next couple of years, that sense of ability and power began to wane. I arrived at grad school, and for the first time in four years, I wasn’t the best anymore. Others in my program were smarter, better, had more potential. It was a blow. I began to realize that I wasn’t all that special. I neglected to make the same kinds of connections I made with my undergrad profs, and fearing that I didn’t have the chops to continue with the Ph.D, I made my decision to leave with a masters in Latin.

Another factor in changing my course away from academia came in the form of my fiance Mike, who was finishing his Ph.D in economics from Yale. I knew that even if I finished my doctorate, the chances of us getting hired at the same place were nonexistent. How could my grad experience at UC Santa Barbara possibly compare with his five years at an Ivy League? Contemplating the comparisons between us and our different academic and professional possibilites also no doubt led to my slipping sense of power and confidence.

The fact that I was beginning a new life with Mike also played into my waning sense of direction and purpose. As a 21 year old with no serious romantic possibilities, it had been easy to fantasize about rising to the top of whatever profession I chose. As a 23 year old, I was forced to come face to face with my biology and the fact that I would be at some point having babies. And how to balance that with a serious academic career….? All these doubts piled into my mind, and I withdrew away from the academic world. And into a terrifying world of grayness. Of not knowing my future. Of not knowing if I am living up to my potential.

I entered my 20’s brimming with possibility and optimism. I am now leaving my 20’s unsure of my future but pretty confident that I’ll never make the big splash in the world that I once anticipated. I wonder if this is a normal progression. If many people in the confidence of youth think that they are destined for great things but then come to realize that their lives and their abilities really aren’t all that important in the grand scheme of things. Does this realization occur as our lives become more circumscribed by family or geographical limitations? Or is there a flipside I have not experienced? Does confidence grow as people enter into professions and/or parenthood that they feel they are truly suited for?”

Caroline is a part-time high school Latin teacher who dabbles with classes in library science. She enjoys reading female-authored novels, commenting on feminist blogs, and fantasizing about adopting more animals from shelters. She lives in Southern California with Mike and her two rescued pugs, Sophia and Sibyl. She is expecting her first child this summer.

Caroline has a PhD in religion and studies Mormon women.


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