As my final (official) semester of university comes to a close, I want to dispel a huge myth about my life: that I am a real full-time student.
Okay, yes on paper I am "full-time" - as in 60% course load because I am not eligible for my scholarship if I wasn't - but I am by no means taking the fair equivalent of a full-time course load. My three courses were:
1. COMM401: Business & Corporate Strategy
A mandatory course
Shoutout to my group for doing the most and pretending like they believed that I understood anything that was going on
2. COMM405: New Business Development
A discussion based class about... you guessed it! Starting a new business ;)
I never had my readings done because I was always too busy running a new business!
3. COMM501: Independent Study
Here's where it gets interesting...
What is an independent study you might ask? You basically get to create your own course by convincing a professor to work with you on a topic that you find very interesting. I've been working with Professor Kate Rowbotham over the past 4 months and my project has been anything but ordinary.
As you likely know, I am extremely passionate about the topic of Confidence. I'm not just interested on a personal level of "How can I improve my own confidence?", but moreover on a systemic level.
I am fascinated by the question of why so many young people - especially self-identifying young women - are so educated, so hard-working, so accomplished, and yet so lacking in the Self-Confidence department.
Why are we so self-conscious?
How does body image tie into general confidence?
Does it stem from social media?
How does Imposter Syndrome play a role? Is it a chicken-and-egg relationship?
How do you treat the problem on both individual and systemic levels?
These are the questions that keep me up at night... (this is not normal 21-year-old behaviour; I am aware). They all relate to the theory of the Confidence Gap.
As I learned about the Confidence Gap, Imposter Syndrome, Women in Leadership, and general career development tips for young women (this IS normal Commerce student behaviour), they begun to intertwine with my work in fitness.
I recognized so many of my peers struggling with poor health habits, and even worse body image issues.
If you wake up every morning and the first thing you do is look in the mirror and think about how much you dislike your body, how will you ever find the confidence to raise you hand in class, reach for an opportunity you don't feel 100% qualified for, or take a chance on yourself?
Honestly, I think that outer confidence starts within. Believing in your career potential starts with a positive body image, healthy habits, and mental wellbeing.
The question is, how can we teach young women to be more confident NOW?
I have believed in the power of group fitness for years. As a participant in high school (when I had my own body image issues), I could easily walk out of the gym feeling no better, and sometimes worse, about myself than when I walked in. That NEVER happened after a group fitness class. The power of being around other people, cheering the group on, and pushing yourself to more than you think you can is incredibly powerful.
When you don't think you can do another pushup or burpee, and then you DO... that not only builds physical strength, but more importantly, it builds mental strength. It builds confidence in your ability to do hard and scary things that you're not sure you can. The strength and confidence you build inside that fitness studio translate outside the studio to every other area of your life.
After teaching group fitness classes for years, I began to realize that maybe, just maybe, making a dent in this systemic Confidence Gap could be started in the fitness studio.
The combination of love & skill for teaching group fitness classes, developing my own fitness format, and mission to help close the Confidence Gap is what took me from free Instagram livestream classes in quarantine to the federally incorporated, revenue generating, started mid-pandemic and succeeding against all odds business that most of you know today as SHINE. It's because my classes are about so much more than a workout.
Here's the thing... you can't do an Independent Study on a business you're running. That's a Commerce rule. So, I set out to do an academic research study/practical course on the theory behind what makes SHINE so much more than group fitness classes.
Actually, what I wanted to do was write a manuscript. Yes, you read that right. I want to write a book. I want to share with you about the Confidence Gap, Imposter Syndrome, improving your body image, positive self-talk, good eating habits, mental health, recovering from perfectionism, and more - in Jess-style of course (i.e. throw in a few embarrassing personal stories and call it a day). My good friend Hailey Rodgers showed me that writing a book is possible. Her book See Me is wonderful.
I talked to Kate (if you know Professor Rowbotham, you know she only goes by Kate) about doing an independent study and working on said aforementioned manuscript, and she mentioned it might be slightly ~ambitious~ to do that in one semester on top of the other things on my plate *cough, cough, running a business, being in an accelerator program, my "full-time" course load, etc*.
She was right.
No manuscript has been finalized, but I have learned far more from the messy, nitty-gritty showing up & sharing everyday than I have from any other class. I tried to document as much of learnings that were meant to be for a book/this course through posts, podcasts, Instagram stories, etc. and instead of submitting them in a pretty-formatted report to Kate... this is actually my final report.
It's scary sharing this. It's especially scary sharing about a big goal that I had, really wanted, and didn't achieve. I didn't expect SHINE to take-off the way it did this semester, and I absolutely did not expect to recruit, onboard, manage, and lead a team of 6 instructors.
Note to self and any aspiring entrepreneurs: do not triple the size of your team in one go. I love my team to death and wouldn't change it for the world, but don't do it again.
When I had to choose between writing/researching/creating content/academics more broadly and taking care of my team and my customers, my PEOPLE came first every time - and always will.
Fear aside, the reason I share this is because sometimes we won't achieve our goals. We won't always get everything done that we initially intended to. Goals can change. Projects can be pushed back. I'd wager a bet that if you achieve every single one of your goals, you could be setting bigger goals.
So, I don't have a book written yet. I probably won't for a while. But it's not a never; it's a later. I have talked to VERY FEW people about this idea and I am now sharing publicly & permanently on the internet that it's a goal I have, which will either be the smartest or the dumbest thing I have ever done. If you have any thoughts on this, please share. You know that your messages and feedback are the most valuable thing in the world to me - and by extension, to SHINE too.
Instead, here is a compilation of the podcast episodes and Instagram posts that were meant to be book research. This is the Confidence Project.
This is the raw and real, "crappy first draft" work of what will hopefully become a book that changes lives. Thanks for being here team. I am so grateful you're here, and I hope you will continue hanging out with me online and in fitness classes for a long, long, long time. Sending you all the love and positive vibes!
PS. Shoutout to Kate - thank you for taking a chance, investing your time, and believing in my crazy dreams. The work we did in this semester has planted a seed that I can't wait to grow into something much, much bigger!
(The Atlantic) The Confidence Gap
(The Atlantic) Why The Confidence Gap is a Myth
(DoSomething.Org) 11 Facts About Body Image
(Money and Mental Health Policy Institute) Young women in mental health crisis
Imposter Syndrome Self-Quiz (I HIGHLY recommend doing this - even if you don't think it will apply to you; chances are it will to someone you know)
Original Georgia State University Paper on IP (hopefully this works)