Get out of your own way

Overcoming insecurity and discovering who I really am

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Shilpa Sweth / Daily Collegian

By Maxwell Zeff, Head Podcast Editor

Everyone’s got that little voice in the back of their head.

That voice telling you you’re not good enough, not attractive enough, not smart enough. Or maybe it’s saying that you’re not creative enough, not funny enough. Too awkward or too weird.

Not enough of this, too much of that.

In a word, insecurity.

In a young man’s life, enormous.

In my college dorm room freshman year, too much for me to handle.

It feels hard to talk about my experience in college without talking about my fall semester freshman year. I remember standing in my mirror, looking at myself, hearing laughter and dorm chatter from just outside the door.

This is what I’d been waiting for all summer, all my life.

Yet I couldn’t open the door. I couldn’t get out of my head and just open that damn door. Standing between me and that door was the little voice in the back of my head.

So that first semester, I struggled; my GPA was a 2.1. Just a class-skipping, nicotine-addicted, partying college student.

But a college student who was lonelier than ever, too afraid to make conversation with his classmates. To pursue his dreams of making videos and to wear the clothes he wanted to wear.

Just barely working up the courage to leave that dorm room for those first few months.

But somehow, in that absolute pinball of stupidity, fear and poor judgment calls, I stumbled into the Collegian office for Wednesday night Op/Ed meetings.

I didn’t say much at those first few meetings. I arrived close to when the meetings started and left abruptly after they ended, but I spent hours before meetings stressing over 30-second article pitches.

I think at first, I really just enjoyed having a quiet place to sit, where people went around the room and listened to each other one at a time. And really listened, with the intention of responding.

A place where people didn’t care if you were awkward, or quiet, or this or that. They’ll listen to your ideas nonetheless and really hear you out. A place where people can exchange ideas.

It took great bouts of courage to just come to those meetings.

To write an article, even more.

To make a friend, more still.

And to make a podcast took a miracle.

I was so scared of becoming the person I always wanted to be.

The thing most people don’t know about me is how much this insecurity controlled my life. How much I disliked myself. How I sabotaged my own happiness. How I was my own worst enemy. How I wouldn’t get out of my own way.

My college career has been defined by a battle of courage, to stand up to my own inner critic, and the Collegian was on the front lines of that battle.

For me, the Collegian became a way for me to grow out of my comfort zone. To explore an intellectual space I was too afraid to enter. A place I could be sensitive. To be personal and honest in a way I wasn’t in the rest of my life. To be creative and artistic. To be weird. To be myself.

With every article and podcast came a small battle in my personal war with my own insecurity. And each victory left me a little more confident in the rest of my life.

A little less shy, a little more out of my shell and a little more comfortable being myself.

In the process, I learned not only to silence that little voice in the back of my head, but that the voice was wrong. I learned that not only could I do some of this stuff, but I was good at it. Not only that, the more I could silence that voice in my head, the more I was able to achieve.

Today, I’m incredibly proud to say that in the final installment of my work with the Collegian, I get to tell you that I do love myself.

That I am confident in myself and my abilities.

That I’ve learned to embrace who I am.

That I was able to overcome this insecurity and work with NPR and CNN this year.

That soon I might get paid to make documentaries and podcasts and articles.

That I’ve been able to become the person I was always too scared to be.

And the Collegian had a big role in me gaining the confidence to become this person.

Of course, I still struggle with insecurity. I still get in my own way. I still have these doubts and fears every day. However, I’ve gotten better at handling them. And more importantly, they don’t control my life.

The battle between college-aged men and the insecure voices in the back of their heads is a silent war that causes more problems than you might think. In a world where young men aren’t taught to be kind to themselves, young men often aren’t kind to the world. I’m sure there are thousands of young men on this campus struggling with the same insecurities, unable to face that man in the mirror. And I wish them the best because they are surely struggling.

If I can advise you anything, it’s to get out of your own way. Because at the end of the day, you’ve only got this one life.

So, what choice do you really have, when the choice is between what you love and what you fear?

Maxwell Zeff was the Head Podcast Editor and can be reached at [email protected]