Learning to Trust Yourself

When I work with students as a tutor, I see that one of the things that people struggle with the most is learning to trust themselves.

The educational system is set up such that as a student, you have to look to your teacher, your grader, your evaluation to know whether you have understood something. This is fine, it’s a system, and it works.

But what I always try to encourage students to do is develop the ability to self-correct, to self-evaluate. You should know if you’ve written a paper, whether it’s good, so-so, or really not that good. In a perfect world, your grade would reflect this. It’s not a perfect world, so your grade doesn’t always reflect this.

Sometimes you think you did a great job, but you get a poor grade. This is your chance to adjust. This is your chance to see where your understanding was not lined up with the grader’s expectation, and to adjust your understanding.

Sometimes it’s the opposite, and you think you screwed up, but you get a good grade. My general advice when this happens can be summed up in the old phrase “take the money and run”. Don’t overthink it; just accept your good luck. Sometimes teachers give you a freebie because they know you’re a good student and deserve a good grade in the course even if you messed up on one assignment, and sometimes the bar just isn’t that high. Either way, you did well.

Grades are information that you need to assimilate into your own understanding so that you become able to evaluate your own work. That should be your goal as a student.

The reason that that is your goal as a student is because you are not going to be a student for ever. And when you aren’t a student anymore, and you are a professional or an artist or you are doing something else, you are still going to want to do well, but you won’t have a teacher running after you correcting your spelling. You need to hold yourself to that high standard.

Jane Austen was one of the greatest writers in the English language, and one of the reasons for this was that she was her own merciless editor. Tolkien is another great writer, and he also didn’t need an editor. Being able to self-correct is a necessary ingredient for excellence.

And to be able to self-correct you need to trust yourself, trust your judgement, and trust what you see. Develop that ability, and watch your performance start to glow.

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