Do you think it's impossible to be confident about something you haven't succeeded in yet?

We generally think that success is a requirement to build confidence in a field –  and granted, doing something again and again and doing it well is the most pleasant way to get confident about it. But it’s rare to succeed all the time and in everything we do, no matter how high-achieving we are.

What if there are other, maybe less conventional ways to build confidence? What if you can build confidence even from failure?

I’ve done it – and so can you!

My first job out of grad school in Germany was teaching college in a small town in the US. Unfortunately, I had vastly overstated my teaching experience when I applied (let's not get into that here ...).

I figured I had a few months before my starting date, so I asked a friend who managed an adult education program if she had any classes I could teach. Lucky for me (I thought), she immediately assigned me an entire week with one of her groups.

I felt a little nervous about teaching this class, but also excited and well prepared – until I realized that none of the participants was there because they wanted to reskill or find a new job. They were required to be in my class; if they didn’t show up, their unemployment benefits would be severely cut. As it turned out, the class had such a bad rep that all the usual freelance teaching staff had declined to take it on.

I’ll spare you the details of this absolutely awful week, but I can tell you, the whole thing was a massive failure on my part.

Now, it would have been easy to think “I suck at this!” and freak out about having accepted a one-year, full-time teaching gig. Maybe even bail on my plan to move abroad.

Truth be told, I did freak out for a bit. But having ranted about the experience about a gazillion times, it struck me:

There was no way any teaching job would be as bad ever again – this one had really prepared me for the worst. Anything would be easier after that!

So when I actually started teaching college, I had total confidence that I could make this work. After all, I knew from experience pretty much everything that could potentially go wrong. Been there, done that, fortunately never got the t-shirt!

I’ve had my fair share of scary classroom moments – in person and online – over the years, but knowing that I did survive teaching Class From Hell has always helped me through these moments and turn my confidence faucet back on.

Granted, it's not the most pleasant way to gain confidence, but as failure just happens sometimes, may as well convert it into something useful.

What's your take on this? Have you ever – or could you now – reframe a failure and use it as a baseline to build confidence?