Self-doubt: The Elephant in the Room

As Baristaville’s high school seniors settle into their new-found status as big men and women on campus, their excitement can be tempered by feelings of self doubt and worry. These are the conflicting emotions that seem to go hand in hand with senior year and the college application process. Questions like “Am I good enough?” and “Did I do enough?” can become haunting.

For Amelia — who we met in the first installment of this series — these concerns come up on a daily basis, as she compares herself to her peers, considers her post-secondary options and questions her own decision making ability.  At the same time, however, Amelia is aware of how much she’s matured in the last few months, and feels a new sense of confidence and growing freedom.

Although Amelia spent the summer completing the minutiae of the college admission process, the feeling of uncertainty and doubt still persists. In the uncharted territory of college admission, she was forced to examine her past choices and the outcome of her decisions. “I just hope I get in somewhere. I don’t want this keeping me out of college.” Even though she continues to do well in school and is genuinely happy with who she is, she still wonders if any school will accept her, and continues to verbalize her inner doubts “What if I don’t get into any schools at all?”

This uncertainty lead Amelia to develop a list of schools that really weren’t a good match, but seemed likely to result in admissions. Ultimately this further exacerbated her doubt and anxiety about the process. Campus visits and intensive research of these poorly matched college campuses netted negative results, as Amelia couldn’t truly see herself “fitting in.” After numerous conversations with her parents, some soul searching and a tour of a local campus, she was able to finalize her list, choosing to stay closer to home than she had previously planned. “I felt so comfortable being nearby, even though I didn’t think that I wanted to be so close to home. I feel like I can be independent, but also come home if I want to. It feels good to have my list done and it feels like I’m applying to the right places.”

Now, as it comes time to actually submit applications, a new wave of anxiety about  “hitting the button,” is setting it. This step is symbolic, and means that the process is now out of her hands. That loss of control can have a powerful impact. The anxiety about the application process itself has dissipated, but as the waiting begins, the fear of not being accepted increases.

As parents of seniors, this is a time to up your level of support. Micromanaging the process does not leave them the room to learn effective ways of coping in the world. The path they should be carving at this point is uniquely their own. By owning the process, they can feel empowered by the decisions they make along the way.

One senior said to me recently, “My parents think I have it all together. They forget that I’m only 17. I’m not going to remember all the dates and deadlines, and I need their help.” As parent, you are the team manager, so at least once a week schedule meeting with your child to catch up on the process, and see how they’re feeling. Some meetings may last longer than others, but everyone needs to sit down together and be on the same page.

If your student needs help with time management — balancing extracurricular activities, social and academic responsibilities along with college application work, there will need to be a conversation about making choices. You, the parent, should not make the choice for them, but rather encourage them to talk it over with you so that they can begin to feel more confident about making those difficult choices in the future.

For others, they simply need a sounding board and someone to listen without necessarily putting in their own opinions. High school seniors need help processing the many changes that they are experiencing this year. Even if they seem in control, by no means should you assume they don’t need active parenting. They want you around, in a supportive role that encourages them to grow so that the process of self-actualization can be a reality. The hopes and dreams of happiness are best achieved if your senior realizes their inner strength and power, with your full support.

If your senior is college bound, encourage him/her to select places that can offer them — not their relatives, friends, or teachers — the best opportunity to reach the pinnacle of self-actualization. It’s from this place that they can achieve something truly meaningful. 

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