I was not a very good basketball player. I could shoot, pass, and dribble pretty well though. But, when I got the ball during the game and I was faced with those three options (shoot, pass, or dribble), I often panicked and chose the wrong one. Fundamentals and skills were not the problem, confidence was.
Six feet behind the arc? Seems like a good time to shoot. My teammate is double teamed and I’m open? I should definitely try to pass it to her. And my personal favorite, let me dribble into the corner until I’m surrounded by the other team.
I had almost forgotten that feeling of panic and uncertainty that came with playing basketball until I became a physical therapist. Let me tell you, PT was way worse. I now had WAY more than 3 options when it came to clinical decision-making and the fundamentals and skills weren’t as good as I wanted. My first three years as a PT were by far the most challenging.
I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing and I was constantly second guessing myself.
I remember every detail of one experience in particular...
“Will this work?” he asked with uncertainty. Actually, he sounded angry. He had a eighty-five dollar copay and I had just finished telling him what I thought was causing his back pain and how we’d improve it.
I believe in our worth as PTs and I think the service we provide is well worth the financial investment. The copay wasn’t the problem. But with his question, I felt a moment of panic. I was a little over a year out and hadn’t had success with all the other cases that presented like his case.
A second earlier I had been feeling very good about my diagnosis and treatment plan, but all it took was his one question to rattle me.
I remember giving a very non-committal response like, “Well, we will both do our best.” I knew as soon as I said it that it wasn’t what he was looking to hear.
I paused for a second and thought to myself- If there wasn’t an eighty-five dollar copay, if I wasn’t pressed for time, if he wasn’t doubting me… would I feel good about the diagnosis and treatment plan I had just given him?
The truth was that when I removed all the compounding information, I doubted myself way less. I treated him for four weeks and he got better. The process was painful though. I second guessed myself the entire time. I felt uneasy through his whole plan of care. And even when he was better, I still felt like I got lucky to some extent.
When I looked back on the experience, I realized something important. Lack of confidence is not a bad thing. Second guessing myself made me look at the case from different angles. And the feeling of discomfort heightened my learning process. I can still tell you years later what treatments we did and what worked and what didn’t.
While I don’t think lack of confidence is a problem, I do think the way that it can hold us back or the stress it can cause is something that we need to work on.
Here are the three things I wish someone had told me when it came to a lack of confidence in my career:
1. Confidence comes from experience
Any time you do something new or something more challenging, you are more than likely going to feel unsure or insecure. This is normal. You have nothing to compare it to and the unknown is scary. If you’re a new grad or about to do something you’ve never done before, recognize that you don’t need more confidence, you just need more experience.
2. Lack of confidence does not mean lack of ability
You can be uncertain, but prepared. Lack of confidence is not a representation of your ability, but rather a reflection of your experience and your mindset. I’m not saying will yourself into confidence, but sometimes we need to recognize other contributing factors that are making us question our ability.
3. Unimportant variables can cause confidence to waver
It may not be your lack of manual skills, but the first time someone has an eighty-five dollar copay that makes you feel unconfident. Sometimes it helps to try and remove all the stressors of a situation when thinking about it and see if you’d still feel the same if certain circumstances were different.
If nothing else, the most important thing is that you can still be an amazing PT, you can still go after big goals, and you can still step outside your comfort zone even when you feel like you have no confidence.