Confident, confused and leaked exam papers

Picture courtesy — Unsplash

It’s true, external circumstances can cripple us and make us feel unsure about our own abilities. It’s also true that it’s easier to build on past wins and succeed when the winds are blowing in our favour. But both those approaches have their drawbacks. It means we are either victims of circumstance or need to experience success to feel confident.

you were an average student like me, exams were always a source of tension second, guessing and confusion.

Will I pass?

Will what little that I have studied be enough?

Will I be able to copy?

Will the paper be easy?

Will the correction be lenient?

With all of these questions swirling in your head, beginning an exam in a calm state of mind isn’t on the cards.

Then, one experience changed everything.

During a particular year, the question papers leaked. When I say leaked, I mean word for word. They arrived via SMS the evening before the exam, giving everyone ample time to prepare.

The sight on exam day was one to behold.

Everyone, including the average students, were bubbling with not just confidence, but overconfidence. The only tension was waiting to see if the leaked paper matched the actual paper.

All eyes would be on the first person who received the paper. Once it became clear that it was the same paper as the one that had leaked, everyone’s posture changed. Writing an exam feels different when you’re prepared, even if that preparation is the result of a leaked exam paper.

I’m not a big fan of any education system that uses marks as a measure of a student’s capability. At the same time, I also don’t celebrate it when papers are leaked. It’s not something to be proud of, it’s just something that happened.

That incident came back to me when I realized how one small thing, in this case knowing the questions in advance, can change a person’s posture from unsure to sure, underconfident to confident.

When you are confident and positive, you walk with a spring in your step. You are able to make connections, be spontaneous, wiggle out a situation, find an answer just when you need it. It works in sport, life, business, all aspects of life really. Confidence and certainty give you the ability to pull stuff out of thin air and make things better because you feel like you’re on a roll.

When you’re muddled and confused, everything is the exact opposite. You feel uncertain, unsure and your thoughts are incoherent. It’s like walking backward in slow motion. This means spontaneity is totally out of question and every step feels like a lead weight. You run around in circles, trying to grasp at straws, feeling like a rat on a hamster wheel that is going nowhere.

Over the weekend, Chelsea got hammered by Manchester United 0–4. I’m sure at some point, the Chelsea players lost their bearings and went into a shell, allowing Manchester United to trample all over them. In cricket, if the top order gives a good start, it’s easy for the batsmen coming later to feed off that confidence and pile on the runs.

This means one thing — we need to put ourselves in a state where we are confident and certain more often or create situations that will ensure that we emerge victorious. But this is easier said than done. We don’t know how the boss or board will react to our presentation tomorrow, we’re not sure if our book deal will fall through if we should take the leap and turn entrepreneur. Worse yet, if we fail, does that mean we are doomed forever and ever?

Countless systems and people get in our way, robbing us of our confidence, positivity, and certainty. Unanswered emails, unclear directions, hubris, dreadful work cultures, all get in the way of us being able to present our best and uninhibited selves to the world.

The alternative is being uncertain and fearful, plodding through life, waiting for a clear passage (or the equivalent of a leaked exam paper) that is at best, a gamble.

It’s true, external circumstances can cripple us and make us feel unsure about our own abilities. It’s also true that it’s easier to build on past wins and succeed when the winds are blowing in our favour. But both those approaches have their drawbacks. It means we are either victims of circumstance or need to experience success to feel confident.

Ever so often, we see people who have turned a corner, fought against the tide and emerged triumphant. If they were not building their confidence on a winning streak, where was it coming from?

In sport, the term ‘choker’ is given to a player or team when they repeatedly fail to pull together in key moments. Which basically means they find a way to fritter away all the confidence that they have built up until that point. It can also apply to people.

No one is confident all the time. Yet, the truly confident ones don’t let that uncertainty and failure blindside them to the extent where they find it hard to claw their way back.

We think confidence is a result of wins and successes that stack up. If so, where does confidence from the first win come from?

Seen in this light, confidence is less about big words and big promises and more about possessing an inner resilience that allows us to build upon it, even when things don’t go according to a plan.

Being confused and muddled is a choice.

Thankfully, so is confidence.

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