AuGuest Post: Confidence and Grad School, by Diana Antholis

Confidence and Grad School

I was always a confident, independent woman…until I went to graduate school.  

Self-assessments and personality tests hold no ground compared to the self-realization process I encountered during graduate school.  I was stripped down to my core while simultaneously being built back up.  A truly bizarre experience.

During my time in school and at work in New York City, I was doing pretty well.  I excelled in school, I had best friends, I did fabulous things, and I was promoted at work.  Even when I moved to San Diego when my boyfriend returned from his deployment in Iraq, I easily found a job, made friends, and lived THE life on the beach.  

I was never arrogant or obnoxious.  But I knew I was smart and lucky.  Though I do believe that you have to work hard and make the right decisions to have good luck.  

Graduate school was something I had always wanted to do.  After about three years in advertising, I was ready to pursue that goal and take on a career change.  The change would be difficult, but not impossible.  I never lost confidence in my ability to make things happen and get things done.  

So, when my acceptance letter came in the mail for The George Washington University in Washington D.C., I was ecstatic.  THIS Organizational Management program was for me.  When I was offered a spot in the “Fellows” program, a chance to complete the master’s in 10 months with a small cohort, I said, “Why not?!” and jumped on the opportunity.  I was honored that I had been chosen.

This program differed from the two-year traditional program as it consisted of seven-week semesters back-to-back completed with the same small cohort of people.  It sounded so fabulous as we were given the titles of “Fellows,” special attention from professors, and the ability to charge through a master’s degree while really getting to know our classmates.

I was nervous, anxious, and excited at the same time.  I was curious about my classmates and professors.  I was interested to see what being in a graduate program would be like.

Well, let’s just say that 10 months of constant contact with the same group of people allows you to REALLY get to know people – including yourself.  The eleven people in this cohort couldn’t be more different from one another: professionally, personality-wise, and demographically.  

While the whole class was composed of genuine good people, I felt out of place.  So out of place that I began to question myself.  

Friends and Pressure

Usually, I can easily find friends or people I’m compatible with, but I was having trouble with this group.  The more I tried to create friendships, the more I became disappointed.  I was putting unnecessary pressure on myself.  

School and Balance

School was hard.  I had 300+ pages of reading per week per class (with anywhere from 2-4 classes at a time).  I was preparing research papers and presentations nearly every week.  I was the graduate research assistant for the Chair of the program.  And I was trying to maintain my relationship with my boyfriend at home.  

Pep Talks and Confidence

Every other month or so, my boyfriend had to give me pep talks because I would completely break down.  I would lose confidence in my abilities.  I didn’t think I could handle any more.  I thought others were smarter than me.  I didn’t know if I could keep up.  I felt bad energy from certain people.  I felt like everything I knew was wrong.  The pressure was overwhelming.  

Then I became mad at myself for feeling insecure.  That wasn’t ME.  How could I let myself think those things??  

Then I would snap out of it and give myself a pep talk.  Deep down, I knew I would excel in my classes, but I’d let the little things get to me.

Then it would start all over again.

Later I found out that most people feel that way in grad school.

What Had to Happen to Avoid Insanity

I had to learn to not become so emotionally involved in school.  I had to toughen up, go to class, do my work, and have confidence in who I was and who I was going to become.  

I had to learn to create a balance between school and personal life.  I’d watch other people completely stress out and exclaim that they would be writing papers all weekend long.  I’d easily tell them I was planning on going out Saturday night and having a good time.  

I had to stay calm.  I’d listen to other people argue with one another in class about things that really weren’t necessary to become so enraged about.  My patience was tested, but I passed.  

I had to stay out of the drama.  I’d hear others speak negatively about each other behind their backs (and to their faces as well!).  Competition, personality differences, and pure immaturely fueled this.  I’d try not to get involved in the drama and avoid thinking about what they could possibly be saying about me.

I had to stay confident in my goals.  When we talked about our futures, my thoughts were so drastically different from every classmate.  When I talked about starting my own business, I was given strange looks.  I knew I was different.  I knew my experience was different.  And I knew that I also knew things they didn’t.  That’s how I made it through.  

By the end of the 10 months, we had all had it with one another.  But surely, a few months after graduation, we realized how much we all meant to one another.  Being in that program with all of them was the best self-realization process I have ever been through.  I was put to the test in my knowledge and my personality.  I appreciated every single person in that class for challenging me in a way that I never would have challenged myself.  Being so uncomfortable made me ready for anything.  

I still keep in touch with almost every single one of my classmates.  I’ve even seen half of them in the past year and we all live around the world.  We have a special bond now that only we can understand.  We know and appreciate what a strange group we really were.  We can talk about everything that happened between us openly and with laughs.  We appreciate being given the chance to experience one another, because we were all so drastically different that we never ever would have crossed paths in this lifetime.  

I believe that’s why many things don’t scare me now.  People have so much fear, but once you go through certain things in life that really have an impact, fear becomes less significant.  When you are pushed to your limits in every single aspect of your life, you start to prioritize the things worth stressing over.

That process was eye-opening.  And as uncomfortable and insecure as I was through the whole thing, I’m so happy I went through it because it made me the person I am today.  

Too often, we let fear and insecurity take over our thoughts.  But this is not a bad thing.  We need to acknowledge these emotions and challenge them.  We become better people once we understand who we are and why we act certain ways.  Socrates couldn’t have said it better, “Know thyself.”


Diana Antholis helps young adults who have been in “adulthood” for a few years transition to a new career based on their wants and goals to ultimately make them much happier, healthier individuals at Enter: Adulthood.  She has been known to accept bribes concerning chocolate.

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