Counselling and career development


Your self-confidence is how you feel about yourself and is mostly shaped by your personal experiences (for example, your relationships with your parents and siblings; how you relate to peers and how you compare yourself to others).

Low self-confidence impacts on other areas in your life, mainly your career and your studies, in several ways:

  • Your confidence determines the effort towards your studies and your career. For example, if you don’t believe that you can pass a particular module, you also do not spend time studying, since when you start studying you think “what is the use – I will fail in any case”.
  • If you keep on telling yourself that you are not capable of completing your qualification because you have low self-confidence, challenges in your studies act as confirmation that you are a failure.
  • Even when you experience challenges that are normal for all students, you tell yourself it’s a confirmation that you cannot make it.
  • You spend disproportional time and energy gathering evidence or reinforcing your belief that you cannot make it so that it becomes a reality.
  • When you do things well or when you get positive results you deny them. You find it hard to accept that positive things can happen in your life.
  • When you are presented with an opportunity, you don’t make use of it because of a fear of failure.
  • You project a negative attitude towards yourself and others. You find it hard to appreciate the strengths of others and you are critical of them. This impacts how you relate to others.
  • You will not take risks to advance your career because you think you will not make it. For example, you will not apply for an internship because you decide that you will not be selected even though you meet all the requirements.
  • You are always concerned about how other people perceive you and you will not speak to the lecturer or ask other people because you think they will think that you are stupid.

On the other hand when you have a healthy self-image:

  • You accept yourself for who you are and acknowledge that there are things you do well and things you don’t.
  • You use your strengths in one area to build your self-confidence in other areas.
  • You acknowledge the things that people appreciate about you and use them as a re-affirmation to develop areas where you feel you have room for growth.
  • You believe you can achieve your desired career goals and you put your energy and resources towards your vision. You are comfortable talking to others about your study-related challenges and are pro-active in terms of managing your studies.
  • You are able to recognise and make use of opportunities as you believe that you can make a contribution. You are able to help others understand your potential and you appreciate how others could contribute to your development.

How do I build a healthy self-confidence?

Step one: Build your confidence

This starts with small, practical actions. As you get feedback about your actions, take note of those things that are positive and those things that you need to spend time developing. Spend time each day writing down things you did yesterday that you can be proud of and things you would want to do differently.

Step two: Take action

It’s time to take risks and test what you can do so that you see the results of your actions. For example, if you really want information about your career, send an e-mail to your lecturer with questions and see what the response is.

As you take risks, you will notice a change in your attitude about how you view challenges and yourself. You will start realising that challenges are not linked to failure, but are there to allow you to learn and discover new things about yourself.

Step three: Embrace your failures

You need to be able to embrace failure as part of the process in order to succeed. Your failures do not define you as a person. Even when you fail, you do not internalise the experience that you are a failure. You learn from the experience and you try again. We want you to keep in mind your three circles (career, studies and personal life) and make sure that you use one of the circles where you have more positive experiences to influence the others.

For example, in your studies, you are getting good results and you are capable. However, you feel demotivated every time you think about your family situation. Think about how the fact that you are succeeding with your studies could impact on your career – could it make you hopeful that you will be able to find a good job and could then change your family’s situation in the future?

Step four: Focus on the things you can control

Thinking more about the things you can control (for example, your studies and how this will impact positively on your career), enables you to minimise the sense of helplessness in terms of your family situation. When you focus on the things you can control, you create a positive outlook for yourself, about your life and others.

Further resources for self-confidence

Self-confidence (MP3) A lack of self-confidence impacts on your career, your studies and your relationships with others. In this interview, we chat about ways you could consider building your self-confidence. This interview was originally broadcast on Unisa Radio.

Need to talk to someone?

Learn more about the support services offered by the Unisa Directorate for Counselling and Career Development and how to contact a counsellor to have a conversation.

Last modified: 2019/02/27