List three words...
My journey with self-confidence
“List 3 words that describe yourself.”
No matter how many essays a college required, this prompt always started a tug-of-war in my brain. The tug-of-war was hopeless; ultimately, I always put down the same three words: compassionate, genuine and driven (or something along those boring lines).
But, in the back of mind was the word I actually wanted to put down, the word I should have put down — the word I never did put down.
Ambitious. I am very ambitious.
According to Oxford Dictionary, the definition of ambitious is “having or showing a strong desire and determination to succeed.”
I think that’s a good description of me. I have big dreams for myself. I’m relentless when it comes to achieving my goals. And although I know it’s not possible, my goal is always to be the best at everything I do.
So why was I so against using ambition to describe me?
Because when you Google “ambitious”, it also tells you that similar words include “forceful,” “pushy,” “aggressive” and even “power-hungry.”
And no teenage girl wants to be identified as forceful or pushy. I thought that openly admitting that I am ambitious would make me seem rude or overly competitive. Countless research shows that the same actions from men and women can portray men as confident and women as bitchy or uncooperative. And like many girls my age, I wanted to appear likable, especially to the committees determining my future. I didn’t have the confidence to admit that I was ambitious, and so although the word was embedded in my mind, my personality and all my actions, it never met paper.
I didn’t think much of my decision until March, when I got waitlisted from my dream school. I was devastated. I was so close, but so far, and now I had one page to make it clear why I deserved a spot at this school.
After countless revisions of flowery language and subtle references to my qualifications, nothing fit. I spent hours agonizing over my letter, until I finally decided to be extremely straightforward. My final letter essentially stated that regardless of where I went to college, I was going to do great things because I am an ambitious person who never gives up on my goals.
The minute I pressed submit, I felt so proud of myself. It didn’t matter whether I got off the waitlist or not — what mattered was that I had embraced who I was. In that instance, I was confident, and that’s something I have always struggled with.
I’ve grown up with an older brother who is one of the smartest people I know. Whenever anyone would compliment the two of us, I would always reassure them, “No, he’s the smart one; I just work hard.” It never occurred to me that we’re just “smart” in different ways (to be fair, he also works extremely hard).
And it’s not just me. So many of my friends, especially my female friends, constantly downplay their achievements or doubt themselves. We say things like “I don’t know how I did well on this test” or “I got so lucky.”
Some of the things I said, I truly believed. Some of the things I said, I said to be humble. After all, girls are supposed to be modest in order to be likable.
It has taken me 18 years to realize that it’s perfectly okay to have the confidence to say I’m good at certain things. To call myself intelligent. To call myself ambitious. To believe that everything I have achieved, no matter how large or trivial, is primarily because of me, not because of luck or chance.
Being humble is not about attributing your successes to luck; it’s about accepting your success and recognizing that you still have a lot to learn.
So to my fellow ladies, and whoever needs to hear it, do not excuse your lack of confidence as humility. Stop doubting yourself and stop being scared to say you are good at something.
I believe confidence is one of the most important things a girl can have. There is so much institutionalized sexism in the world; we are going to encounter bosses, classmates and friends who treat us unfairly and hold us back from what we deserve. We can’t hold ourselves back, too.
The earlier you learn to believe in yourself, the more you will achieve. The more you challenge yourself, the more risks you will take, and the prouder you will feel about yourself.
For the past couple weeks, I’ve started to raise my hand more in class or apply for things I probably won’t get. I’m confident enough to take risks because even if I fail, I know I’m still a capable person. These small changes have made me feel so much more empowered. It has taken me a while, but I’m proud of myself. I know that if I could submit that prompt again, I would be confident enough to put down “ambitious” without a second thought.