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Build your confidence 

How to Gain Stand-Out Confidence

| “If you’re a teenager, go after the things that make you different. If you’re a parent, encourage those things that are unique in your child.”

 Over the years, I’ve had a chance to chat with students about what they think about school. I found that too many of them feel one of the two ways: disengaged or pressured.

If that’s how you feel about your school, then make sure to listen to this episode. Because here’s what you’re going to discover today: 

What most teenagers–like yourself–will easily agree with:

  • Common terms that high school students use to describe their experience

  •  One approach that should be avoided in your college prep process

  •  Two places where real self-confidence comes from

  •  How to think about yourself if you want to gain stand-out confidence

  •  What you can learn from the Ivy League Challenge student, Iris 

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Too many people are overwhelmed, stressed out, and frustrated about college admissions prep. I created this podcast to help you build a standout college profile and boost your confidence. Enjoy!

– Steve Gardner, Founder

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Welcome back to season two of the Ivy League Prep Academy Podcast. Equipping you to successfully pursue the college of your dreams. We believe everyone deserves to reach their full potential and the admissions process shouldn't hold you back.

Over the years have had the chance to ask a lot of teenagers what they think about school. And I found that almost all of them generally feel one of two ways. Either they fit category number one, which is the most common, and that is disengaged bored, a little bit frustrated, or a lot frustrated, but really just tuning out of school.

And the second category is the incredibly pressured category. These students feel overwhelmed. They feel like the entire process of moving through high school into the university is daunting.

It's just very, very high pressured. Now, one thing that almost all of them agree with is that most of what happens in high school, at least in the classroom, feels irrelevant to their lives outside of school and certainly to their future careers. And there is research to back this up.

Of course, there's the Gallup Poll that we've talked about before on this podcast that shows that most students are somewhere on the disengagement spectrum, at least from grade eight through grade twelve. The most common terms that high school students use to describe school are fatigue and boredom. And there are these amazing studies that show that the most common jobs today did not exist ten or 15 years ago.

And certainly most of the jobs that our teenagers today are going to be involved in and working in when they become adults do not yet exist today. Right? And so here we are in high school and what do most students focus on? They focus on trying to fit in and they focus on trying to do well in a school that is honestly, it's still based on trying to train workers from at least a generation ago, but in many schools we're talking about 100, 200 years ago. So today I want to spend a few minutes talking about what we can do about this.

I also know that a lot of my listeners are teachers and principals of high schools. And so what can we do differently? This is obviously a really complicated and challenging task. But I think if I were to approach this from the perspective of the high school student and maybe the parents as well, then the teachers and principals listening in can also think through how to change policies or how to improve the environment in the classroom to help these students out as well.

And while I recognize there are many different approaches that need to be taken in order to address this issue, the one that I want to focus on today is this idea of students trying to blend in in high school. This is by far the most common reaction to the culture that exists in high school and the stress that is developed either through teachers or through peer groups or through some other variable. Most high school students choose to try to blend in, even if their goal is increased popularity.

For example, if they think that they're standing out by being more popular. Oftentimes these students are choosing paths that have already been blazed before them in order to become popular. And so it's just one more version of actually blending in.

We've talked about this before on this podcast. The top tier schools like Princeton and Yale and Harvard, and of course, there are so many others, they're not looking for students who blended in while they were in high school. Most students in high school honestly believe that high school is all about preparing for some other day, for some other time.

They believe that they need to work hard in high school so that they can be ready for college, even if they don't really understand what that means. Instead, let's talk about where self confidence really comes from. Because if you're going to make high school fully relevant today and really live your life today, you're going to need to have the self confidence to blaze your own path.

And in my experience, I believe that that comes from two types of students. The first is the student that comes from a really, really safe environment somehow. Either their family environment is amazingly supportive, very progressive and amazingly supportive, or and or I should say, the high school where they go is a private school that somehow stands out in amazing ways and helps them feel confident in taking risks and blazing their own path.

Far more common are the students who are just so different for one reason or another that they've just stopped trying to fit in. They don't care anymore about trying to blend in, trying to fit in, and they just live authentically because they've already accepted that they are just too different from everyone else. I want to encourage everyone within the sound of my voice, all of you who are listening in, to go after what makes you different.

If you're a parent, encourage those things that are a little bit unique in your child. Don't join clubs just because your friends or the popular kids join those clubs. Instead, you want to think like a specialist rather than a generalist.

When someone specializes in a unique field, they're able to charge a lot more money. They're able to much more easily find their clientele, and the service that they provide to the world and to their community is just far more clear. Well, I want to encourage high school students to have that exact same mindset.

For example, there are millions and millions of people who believe that English is their strength. English is their best subject. However, there are a few less million people who believe that English writing is their thing.

And yet there are only a few thousand teenagers in the entire world who really, really focus on, say, comedy writing, comedic writing? And how many of these people are comedic writers who are actually working on some project? We're probably down to a few hundred in the entire world. Now, if we can specify that project and turn it into something that's impactful, that's meaningful for future generations, how about a comedic writer who's working on a TV pilot to preserve a lost art for the next generation? So that example is a real life example of a student who is admitted to their dream university. Here's another one, one that you're familiar with, but I want to break it down in the exact same way.

Millions of students love economics, a few less million love behavioral economics and even fewer. We're getting into the thousands when we talk about behavioral economics and bias. So if you believe that your strength is in something more specialized, like behavioral economics and bias, that already gets you down to just a few thousand competitors.

But what if we were to specialize which bias behavioral economics and gender bias, and then we could go one of several directions, right? If we were to make a lasting impact and live authentically through what is most important to us in our specialization, we're not walking the same path, blending in with everyone else saying that we love economics. Now we're saying, I love behavioral economics and understanding gender bias through behavioral economics. Let's take that one step further.

I'm going to reach out to a professor who is studying gender bias and behavioral economics and help with that research, or what one of the people you've heard about on this podcast, Iris did, where she said, my strength is in economics and gender biases really violate one of my core values. And I have identified correctly, by the way, that most high school economics textbooks have a clear male gender bias. And so I'm going to write an Economics 101 textbook for middle school students that is not gender biased.

I'm going to write a gender neutral economics textbook, which she did, she wrote, she published, and then distributed this textbook to schools in her local area. And all of this occurred before she was admitted to her dream university, Stanford. And you can hear that story earlier in season one when I interview Iris on this same podcast.

So what kind of students could possibly have enough confidence to chart paths like this? This only happens when you have done the real work. And I mean that most adults have not done the kind of work that I'm talking about, where you identify your core values, what breaks your heart, what makes you angry, what brings you to life? All right, identify your core values, what is truly meaningful to you, then identify your real strengths. What are you good at? You have to have high levels of self awareness, self efficacy.

This is absolutely critical in this process. And most high school students are not willing to do the work to gain that level of self awareness, to gain that level of self efficacy. But once you get there, you also have to be proactive.

You have to know how to focus on things that are within your control or within your influence, rather than those things that are completely outside of your control. And you have to know that you're going to learn by doing. And that means overcoming fears, which is another key ingredient.

You have to be willing to take risks, because that risk taking leads to failure. And the failure combined with introspection, combined with real reflection is what leads to growth. And that growth adds to your confidence, right? And that begins that virtuous cycle of confidence leading to competence, competence leading to more confidence, and so on.

And so that virtuous cycle has to begin somewhere. And that is why my invitation for everyone who is listening in is to take that risk and to start where you can. If at all possible.

I want you to join the Ivy League Challenge so that I can help you identify those core values, so that I can help you identify those fears that are getting in the way of taking the risks that would lead to the most growth. And I can give you some of the tools that you can be useful when you need that introspection. That leads to the self awareness, that leads to the self efficacy, that inevitably leads to you having the self confidence to walk your own path and do your own thing rather than trying to blend in to a high school.

As I am recording this podcast, those of you who are my regular listeners, you still have a few more days. On June 30, registration will close for the Ivy League challenge. And if you are listening after June 30, I still encourage you to go and sign up for the waitlist so that you can be notified when the next cohort becomes available and you can register at that time.

In the meantime, I write my podcasts with the intention of being able to help you as much as I can without having that face to face interaction, that personalized interaction. So I hope you know that I create these podcasts with you in mind. I want to help you develop that level of self confidence so that you can pursue your dreams while you're in high school.

Live your life today. Not as if you're preparing for some other day, some other time, but as if you realize that now is the time to engage in life at whatever level you're capable of. And if you live your life now in this way, you prepare yourself effectively to stand out when you apply to university.

And those students who do not need Princeton or Harvard or Yale or whatever your dream school is, in order to be confident and in order to be successful in life, are exactly the kinds of students that those top tier universities are trying to get into their schools. And so continue listening to the Ivy League Prep Academy podcast to clarify in your mind the most effective strategy. But most of all, choose to take a risk.

Choose to walk the path that others do not walk. Choose to identify your values and choose to live them more authentically. It is the best decision you'll make, whether you make it as a middle school student, a high school student, a college student, or as an adult.

This is the most important decision you can make in your entire life. I want to be there for you through this podcast and through other materials that I'm creating on your behalf to help you identify those values and help you engage more authentically at whatever stage in life you're at. Continue listening for more and choose today to take that risk.

Walk your own path. You can do this.