I have recently moved from student to teacher in the culmination of years of dreaming and hard work.  In my first-ever semester as an adjunct professor for my alma mater, Franklin Pierce University, I have managed some nerves while balancing a lot of excitement. I have envisioned how each week will play out, how the students and I will engage, the difference I will make and the impression I will leave.

My class is comprised of 19 students spanning across Generations X, Y and Z. This means varying learning styles, communication preferences, technology skills and expectations. For example, on the first day of class, a student informed me that their book was delayed for financial reasons and they were not able to complete all of the assignments for the week. When working on another assignment, this same student told me that her computer had a virus, making it impossible to contribute to the class discussions.

Being sympathetic to the student’s plight, I offered options to keep her from falling behind. I pointed her to the lecture notes and presentation slides from the chapter to help with the assignment deadlines. I also gave her the opportunity to complete an extra credit exercise in place of the missed discussions. I was shocked when she responded that she was too busy to do any additional work, and that I should have done a better job of helping her along. I immediately assumed that her lack of effort and perceived sense of entitlement must be a “generational thing.” However, in talking through the situation with one of my colleagues, I realized that although our generational differences may be a factor, they are not the most significant issue here. The main issue is that this student is so far unwilling to be vulnerable or take responsibility for her own success in this course.

While setting assignments for class, I included a video of a TED talk by Dr. Brené Brown, “The Power of Vulnerability.” Watching this video, I instantly realized that the challenge I am facing with this student is perhaps more about her feelings of shame and fear, which are keeping her from bringing her true self to class. Perhaps her inability to take responsibility for her own situation stems from her being afraid to be honest with herself, and with me.

The reality is that many of us find it easier to react to feedback or criticism in a defensive or dismissive manner for fear of being judged. Or, we feel shame around the real reasons for our lack of performance, which reveals itself in excuses. Dr. Brown’s video highlights that in doing this, we ultimately set ourselves up for failure. Correlating this to my student, she might be in a course that is uncomfortable to her. She may be challenged in ways not familiar to her, or maybe she has not encountered a professor with the level of expectations that I have set.  Regardless, without taking responsibility, having trust, and ultimately being able to connect with me, she will not achieve the success that she desires, or that I desire for her.

I reflect on the early days of my career and I can relate to fearing failure and giving lots of excuses. I was afraid to be my true self for fear of not living up to the expectation of others. It was easier for me to place blame than it was to take responsibility. I did not have the tools or knowledge to understand that being authentic and vulnerable would allow me to build my confidence in who I was, rather than trying to be what I thought everyone wanted me to be.

So, how do we navigate through this? What can I share with my students to help them overcome their fear, share vulnerability and take responsibility for themselves? How can I help guide them to success faster by building their self-confidence? Dr. Brown discusses three key areas to help build confidence in being our true selves:

  • Courage – to be imperfect
  • Compassion – to be kind to ourselves first, and then to others
  • Connection – with others through authenticity

These concepts are simple, but difficult to implement.  They require us to be vulnerable with ourselves as well as others.  Allowing ourselves to be imperfect without criticizing, being kind to ourselves without feeling selfish and being authentic without fear of judgement is scary.  It is uncomfortable because we must be honest and true with who we are. However, embracing and practicing these concepts allows us to be confident being our true self in all situations, without fear.

My hope is that I can help this student (and others in the class) realize that power lies in being your true self and in taking responsibility for one’s own success. The impression I wish to leave with her this semester is that being authentic does not make one weak, it instead shows confidence and strength. Do you give your real reasons for a lack of performance?  Do you practice being your true self? Have you always? Do (did) you have fear or shame in being authentic? Share your journey with us (and my students)!

Until Next Time,