Woe Is Me! “Online Education Has Killed My Confidence. Will I Ever Bounce Back?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“The online mode of education has made my confidence level null. No matter how many answers I know in the class I just can’t bring myself to unmute and tell the answer. Many of my friends on the other are side seem quite confident and always remain active. They do not hesitate in the slightest in answering questions even if sometimes they are wrong. This has made me feel anxious about my own inability and I often have trouble sleeping thinking of my lack of confidence. I often find myself thinking about how will I adjust in colleges that I dream about applying to with this little confidence. Do introverts have no future? Can’t we go ahead in life without being the one who never fails to answer in the class?”
— Underconfident Student
RN: Hi there, I am so sorry you feel this way. I completely empathize with you and I understand how isolating it feels. Unfortunately, our social world is designed to privilege extroverts over introverts, and so are our measures of performance. It can be really difficult to navigate. But I hope it helps you to know that there are people and places out there that do value your insights however you choose to express them. What you see as weaknesses now could actually be your strengths. As an introvert, you possess skills that are unique — you are probably more thoughtful, introspective, and are a good listener. Not answering things instantaneously could mean that you have the ability to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. You may be able to spot things that others tend to overlook. You may lack the confidence to speak up, but this doesn’t mean you don’t have the answers! You just express them differently and are quiet about it, but this doesn’t mean you have less to offer. You can absolutely apply to your dream colleges and find your own footing there — please don’t think of your introverted-ness as an obstacle or a weakness. It can be your strength. This isn’t to undermine how difficult it is to go through this, but I hope it helps you to know that there is immense value in who you are right now, without you having to change yourself to fit in better.
I would also encourage you to read Quiet by Susan Cain — it may give you some comfort to know that there are so many people like you who did “get ahead” in life, and you might also understand yourself better in the process. There are also other ways to prove yourself in online classes which don’t involve speaking — you could perhaps email your thoughts and questions to your teachers, or try answering in the chat. But even if you can’t, please don’t worry about not being able to get ahead in life — you can and you will. Schools can be pretty restrictive and there is a whole world outside which can accommodate your authentic self. You don’t have to always be visible to be valuable.
KB: The short answer is: yes! Online life has killed various parts of all of us — you are not alone. There are many people who find engaging with their colleagues, professors, or even friends over a screen to be more difficult and draining than having the same conversations in person. There is something about being spotlighted on that screen, in front of tens of peers, that is more terrifying than answering questions in live classes. What you are experiencing is very common. The important thing to remember is that this pandemic will eventually end, and you will return to live classes and interactions with friends and teachers. And when you do, though it may take time, you will eventually forget the difficulty this past year presented and regain your footing. Eventually, this whole thing will be a distant memory, and your confidence will come from the amazing things you experience and accomplish after you emerge from your bubble.
DR: I graduated a good four years back when there wasn’t a pandemic raging on, and hence online classes were unheard of — but I feel you. In college, there were courses I was actually interested in, but couldn’t do well at because they relied excessively on class participation — which basically meant raising your hand and speaking before the whole class. Scoring badly doesn’t really matter in the long run, but I still hate how inadequate the classes made me feel. However, if this is something that you actively want to work on, perhaps, you can try to get in touch with a counselor or a therapist, who could help you understand the nuances of speaking up in class that you’re struggling with — and whether these specifics can be addressed through therapy.
Having said that, I don’t think failing to answer in class will actually prevent you from progressing in your professional or your personal life. But, unfortunately, our education system tries to “fix” introverted-ness rather than allowing people to achieve their true potential without wasting their breath in trying to change who they are. I would suggest that you can try to introspect and understand your challenges — introspection is always helpful, unlike public speaking which may or may not be. However, I’d say don’t be too harsh on yourself, society can make life difficult enough for introverted people. Good luck!
OG: The new normal has caused many of us considerable discomfort and I’m really sorry it has been so tough for you. Personally, I’ve always preferred speaking to people in person than over the phone/video call, it feels more natural and it is easier to pick up social cues. It can be hard adjusting to online classes because everybody seems to be in their own homes and you feel like you are under surveillance at all times. It is true that being able to answer makes a good impression, but you will have plenty of opportunities to prove yourself through the work that you do. Regularly submitting quality work, even if you’re quiet in class, will make people take notice of you. As you make progress in your work and gain validation, your confidence will grow. Also, try to identify why you don’t speak up? Are you afraid you’ll give a wrong answer? (Because it’s okay to take a chance on these, it’s okay to be wrong sometimes). Or is it just the fear of speaking in public? (Speak to your teacher separately to see if they can help you get over this.)
Having said that, quiet individuals are often great listeners and can come up with the best ideas. Maybe you work better in a different environment, maybe you like to mull things over, plan them and come up with well-thought-out solutions. Workplace environments are very different from classes. You have much more flexibility and provide opportunities that enable you to contribute in ways that showcase your potential. However, you must always remember to keep communication lines open, whether through the written mode or one-on-one conversations, figure out what works best for you. As long as you are making sense to your team and they are making sense to you, there will be a million ways to succeed in life, on your own terms.
SK: Although it might not seem like it, things will get better. Education wasn’t meant to happen this way, nothing was. It might help to separate the cause and effect to make sense of the hit your confidence has taken — your reticence during online classes is by no way a reflection of who you are, your capabilities, and what you might go on to do in the future. There are two things you can do here: you can either push back against this feeling, deliberately make an attempt to speak up (even if you know you’re wrong), confide in a friend who might encourage you, or even speak to a counselor about how best you might navigate this. Or, you could just let this be, you know? I can go on about how introvertedness is typecasted and seen as “lesser-than” something. But what you must know is — it’s okay if you’re not the one jumping at each question. It’s okay if you’re a passive observer and you learn better that way. It’s okay to sit in silence, observe the discussion, and just absorb the knowledge.
In the end, we all pick our fights. But for what it’s worth, you will bounce back and feel like yourself again. Irrespective of how much — or how little — you speak in classes.