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Building confidence in a new position

By: Michaela Margida,
Knauss Fellow,
Office of U.S. Senator Cory Booker


If you type the title of this article into a Google search, as I did nearly a year ago when I was first placed in U.S. Senator Cory Booker’s office as a Legislative Knauss Fellow, you’ll find that there are over 27 pages of results. Apparently, building confidence in a new position is on many people’s minds. I learned from Indeed that I should be doing things like setting workplace goals, attending professional development workshops, and emulating confident peers. I learned from Forbes that I should work to identify my strengths and weaknesses, seek encouragement from others, and track my successes. Quite a few sources agreed that I should limit negative self-talk and practice positive affirmations. I read the first 30 or so search results before realizing that confidence probably wasn’t something I’d get through an academic approach.


I continued to listen quietly during work meetings, feeling humbled by the incredible knowledge of my colleagues and wondering how I could possibly contribute something of value in my new role. My mentor was so good at asking smart questions during stakeholder meetings – what if I asked something that seemed stupid? My colleagues were great at coming up with original  ideas when we were brainstorming ideas for legislation – what if I suggested an idea that had already been done before, or wasn’t workable? My fear of looking foolish kept me locked in the listener role, which in retrospect I’m able to identify as stage one of my confidence-building process.


Though I was disappointed in myself at the time for not contributing more, I now recognize that I was learning something new each moment. I observed the types of questions my mentor asked during meetings, diligently typing out conversations word-for-word and looking over them later. I reflected on the ideas my colleagues shared during our brainstorming and strategizing calls, looking for patterns and maybe even the inspiration to develop my own ideas. Soon, I noticed some things about my colleagues that I began to emulate. They were deeply, authentically passionate about the topics on which our office engaged. They seemed to do a lot of reading in their free time on those topics, which fueled their creative ideas. They were constantly pushing themselves to become more informed on the topics that mattered most to them. I felt inspired by their dedication to their chosen causes. As I began to engage more with those topics, I started organically having ideas of my own. Gradually, I transitioned from the listening stage to the next stage of my confidence-building process: the contributing stage. 


At first, it felt pretty scary to speak up during meetings by contributing ideas or asking questions of my own. But as I made a tentative transition from the listener role to the contributing stage, my mentor and colleagues affirmed me and welcomed my input with respect and kindness. I saw some of my ideas put into action as part of legislation, heard the phrase “great question!” when I had the courage to ask, and saw my own words become part of the Senator’s communications. Finally, it clicked for me – the way to build confidence in a new position is by taking risks. 


In Googling the topic, I was looking to achieve confidence through a method familiar to me – research. The truth is, building confidence requires the bravery to take the first step. There’s no safe, easy way around it. By learning to speak up, I found my voice! 

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