Become a mentor. No matter where you are in life or career, there is someone aspiring to be where you are now and could benefit from your wisdom. Mentorship has afforded me the chance to pass along what I know, and in doing so, to acknowledge that I am a valuable contributor and I have much to impart to help others along their own path.

Starting something new is scary. Learning to believe in yourself can be a critical precursor to starting a new initiative. Why is it so important to learn to believe in yourself? How can someone work on gaining these skills? In this interview series, we are talking to business leaders, authors, writers, coaches, medical professionals, teachers, to share empowering insights about “How To Learn To Believe In Yourself.” As a part of this series we had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Warner, Ed.D.

Julie Warner, Ed.D., is a former K-12 teacher, university professor, and author of education books Adolescents’ New Literacies with and through Mobile Phones and Failure Before Success. She now works as a data scientist and coaches other teachers looking to leave the profession for something new as founder of What’s Next Teacher.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I’m glad you asked because I think this is important to my point of view on developing confidence. It surprises people when I tell them that as a high schooler, I was never encouraged to take the SATs or attend college and didn’t have a lot of support in finding my way after high school. Without support or guidance, I think I became a teacher because that was a profession I knew about. We all know about the jobs the people we come in contact with every day have and have a sense of what those jobs entail, but of course there are a million careers other than that handful of job roles.

I enjoyed teaching and I was great at it, but it’s a tough career. I’ve worked in a lot of high-pressure, high-stakes, and high-visibility roles since then and none were as demanding in every regard as teaching is. I made it 4 years in that role, and then taught at the college level for 5 more, teaching courses in philosophy, composition, literature, and education.

I now work in a completely different field, data science, but I draw on a lot of those skills from my early career, especially teaching. In fact, the skills I most associate with my teaching career and those that seem to be the most valued by my employers after teaching.

I work with a lot of teachers who are thinking about quitting or teachers who quit — teacher career changers — and they’re all worried they don’t have the right skills to do anything else. It makes me chuckle, because they have every skill they could possibly need if they’ve made it several years as a teacher. I wish I could shout that from the rooftops, because they deserve to have so much more confidence than they do on the job market!

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

I had a tough adolescence, but I had a few teachers in high school who made me feel seen. Who communicated to me both implicitly and explicitly that I am enough just as I am. That wasn’t the message I was getting at home, so that was buoying for me and critical to my ability to thrive. Knowing how important those figures were for me, I sought to be that person for other young people, and so I became a high school teacher myself. Admittedly, I wasn’t the most focused on teaching content. I was there to make the lives of kids like me just a tiny bit better.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I definitely believe this sentiment and even wrote a whole book on it. I certainly made a lot of mistakes teaching, because teaching is so complex. Anything and everything can go south at any moment. But I really messed up once I left teaching and transitioned into some new careers, and luckily I realized pretty quickly that most of the people I worked with in any workplace were learning on the job and that making mistakes is normal and even expected. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re probably stagnating. Mistakes mean you’re taking risks, trying new things, growing.

But the funniest? I worked on Capitol Hill for a while and I would often ride the elevators to visit different Senators’ offices or to grab coffee in the Senate cafeteria with a friend. I kept finding it interesting that I was so often riding the elevators with Senators, and I was a little star struck (Capitol Hill is like Hollywood for nerds). One day I was walking with a friend to get lunch and she pointed out to me that I had been riding the dedicated Congressional elevators instead of the elevators for people like me, the people who do grunt-work for congresspeople. Oops.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

Ever since I left the classroom a few years back, teachers who were wanting to pivot away from education would reach out to me for advice, and I’d have coffee with them or look over their resumes or suggest career paths they might enjoy but hadn’t thought of. But recently, teachers have been looking to leave the classroom in droves — the latest data from the National Education Association shows that now 55% of teachers are looking to leave the profession. There’s this sort of mass exodus happening. I love working with teachers and I wanted to do something to scale what I was doing informally through my coffee chats and so I founded What’s Next Teacher, a business aimed at helping teachers transition out of the classroom. I coach teachers 1–1 and in a group format, review resumes, prep them for interviews, that kind of thing.

I realized pretty quickly that teachers lacked confidence on the job market, especially if they were trying to pivot out of education altogether, and the root of that is they don’t understand how their skills translate to other careers or they aren’t sure how to do that translation in a way that makes sense to hiring managers in other industries. But I’ve worked across a number of industries with my education experience and I know it’s possible. Based on that knowledge and that experience, I created a set of pre-made resumes that translate teacher skills for 30 different industries that teachers can use as a template to create their resumes as they apply for jobs outside of education. Because when you’ve been teaching for your whole career, you don’t get a lot of experience writing resumes and understanding how to represent your skills for different types of roles. A little help never hurts!

And in my day job, I get to work in tech to help some of the world’s most vulnerable people. It’s a job where I get to be creative, work with people, leverage some of my teaching skills, and feel good about the work I do at the end of the day. I wasn’t sure if I could find that outside of education, but it’s more common than one might think.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to believe in yourself? Can you share a story or give some examples?

I used to operate under the assumption that if you wanted to go into a specific career, it had to be something you were good at, and then you studied that in college, applied for the job, and then maybe worked your way up. So, once I left teaching, I was working in these jobs I was totally unqualified for, and I felt like a fraud. I was willing to take the risk and try to do these things I felt were out of my depth, but it was by no means comfortable. I knew, though, that if I immersed myself in the right circles, I could learn to talk the talk and I’d probably get by. (And honestly, if you can hack it as a public school teacher, you can probably do anything!). So I was having coffees with people I’d reach out to from LinkedIn, total strangers, just people I thought were really impressive. I’d ask them about their career trajectory, and I do not recall a single person who said they were in the job they’d always planned to be in. Overwhelmingly, they’d gotten into a field by complete happenstance. That was a huge eye-opener for me.

I had another moment where I was working in an office with some of the most brilliant people I’ve ever spent time with, and I was totally intimidated and scared I would make some huge mistake and look completely foolish. During our busy season, one of my colleagues who I really respected was groaning and making these exasperated noises in her office, and was venting about how every year at this time she felt totally overwhelmed and in over her head. And she got help from one of our other colleagues who had been there for years and years and that was that. She didn’t know how to perform a key function of her role and it was okay. No one respected her any less. She truly wasn’t any less good at her job. She just got some help and figured it out and went on about her day, and she would probably have the same issue next year, but she’d just rely on the right resources and get through it. Maybe that shouldn’t have surprised me, but my mind was kind of blown by that.

My point is that a lot of us hold these limiting beliefs either about ourselves or about how the world works. But if we can push past them, almost approach them with a sense of curiosity, I think most of the time we will see that knowledge or innate talent or experience is not what helps us be successful. Instead it’s challenging our assumptions about what we can do or what we need to have in order to have competence or capability. And that, in short, is really just believing in yourself, that you can do what you want to do with the drive to figure it out.

What exactly does it mean to believe in yourself? Can I believe that I can be a great artist even though I’m not very talented? Can I believe I can be a gold medal Olympic even if I’m not athletic? Can you please explain what you mean?

I think it’s like this: it’s not as if you can do anything just by believing in yourself. But it is true that without that self-belief, you can’t do the things you desire to do. Believing in yourself, or at least being willing to take the risk that you might fail knowing that there’s a chance you will succeed, is the first step. That requires a certain tolerance for failing publicly. I will admit that I don’t really care what other people think as much as I want to try new things and grow. Expanding as a person is my north star above protecting my self-image. It seems to me that it all comes down to your values at the end of the day.

To be honest with you, I think if your goal is to be a famous artist or a gold medal Olympic athlete, you have to believe in yourself as the very first step toward those dreams. But being stringently adherent to those types of lofty goals, even if you are a very good artist or athlete, will mean you miss out on the right kinds of opportunities for you, including just the opportunities to learn new things and expand as a human being.

There was a time in my life where I would formulate these five year plans and they were meticulously planned down to the month and then each month I would plan my weeks and then my days. Every day was aimed at these 5 year time horizon goals I had. And then I realized that this was leading to a sort of myopia that was really limiting. I was so focused on those goals that I was missing out on different opportunities that might have been great for me, either because I didn’t see them being that I was so focused on what I was focused on, or because I refused them thinking they weren’t going to help me achieve my pre-determined goals.

And what I have realized since that time is that some of my most valuable opportunities came about because I said yes to something that my gut told me to say yes to, even if it didn’t seem to fit in with the goals I had for myself. And those opportunities opened other doors, which opened other doors, and so on.

What’s more, any goals that I set for myself are rooted in my current perspective, and what I know and who I am right now. There is so much out there that I’m not aware of in terms of opportunities to expand myself or what’s possible for me. As I learn, and grow, and evolve, better and better things become available that go beyond what my feeble, limited perspective can conceive of in this moment. Some of the goals I thought were really out of reach for me in the past look silly now in retrospect. I’ve been able to do things I never dreamed I’d be able to do just by being curious, open, aware, and by putting my inner knowing at the center, instead of a goal.

So I don’t set those kinds of goals anymore. Instead, I try to broaden my vision and become aware of and open to experiences and possibilities that present themselves. It’s been more useful for me to go toward my fears than to go after my goals. Every time I’m scared to do something and I do it anyway, bigger and better things come my way.

Was there a time when you did not believe in yourself? How did this impact your choices?

Definitely! And I still struggle with self-doubt. That programming from our youth is strong and can be really confining. If you don’t have role models who you relate to or influential people who suggest to you that you’re bright and capable, I think you have a lot of catching up to do later, maybe even a lifetime of doing your own counter-programming.

In short, before I came at the beliefs I hold now about how great things are accomplished, I couldn’t even conceive of the idea that I’d be able to do some of what I’ve done in my life and my career. My choices were really limited to what I saw others doing around me or what others told me I should strive for. Unfortunately, other people project their own fears onto us much of the time, and won’t encourage us to stretch or strive for something seemingly lofty. Somewhere along the way I realized that and started to get a bit more audacious about what I would try to accomplish and stopped listening to other people. I applied to attend an Ivy League school even though I didn’t have a strong academic background or the kind of profile they look for — and I got in AND finished my doctoral program before my peers. I pitched a book idea to the top series in my field, one I had studied in my doctoral program, and was accepted to write my own book for the series. I got a chance to work on federal policy and actually author parts of regulations and key policies shaping the education field, with no real knowledge of the legislative process beyond my social studies classes from high school. I pivoted into data science, and I have a learning disability called dyscalculia, a sort of numerical dyslexia. If I had listened to the people that thought those things were out of reach for me, I wouldn’t have had those options.

I think it’s important not to count yourself out, and instead to let the gatekeepers count you out. Apply for the stretch position. Go after the thing that seems completely out of reach. Raise your hand to do something you want to do but that terrifies you. Let them say no, and be strong enough to hear no. Because you will get yeses, and those are the opportunities that will change your life.

At what point did you realize that in order to get to the next level, it would be necessary to build up your belief in yourself? Can you share the story with us?

I can give you a really concrete example. When I was graduating my doctoral program, I was going after professorial positions. They are really hard to secure, because doctoral programs are just churning out PhDs without consideration for the fact that the ratio of PhDs to open university positions is like 70:1 or something outrageous. In other words, once you graduate, the academic job market is extremely competitive.

I realized I would need some way to stand out from other applicants. I saw that the University of Pennsylvania School of Education would record the applicants they invited to an on-campus interview giving what’s known as the “job talk” and they’d publish the job talks online. The job talk is the opportunity to talk about your research, what it means for the field and for practice, and what you plan to research in the future should you get the position and the funding that comes with it.

I would watch these job talks and then follow up to see who was hired. So often it was the person who was able to present in an engaging way. I realized that if everyone is smart and academically accomplished, the one thing that can help you stand out as an academic is being able to speak well and to be likable in front of an audience. And what’s more, if you appear confident, I believe there is a sort of transference that happens wherein others become more confident in you.

So many of the job applicants’ job talks that I watched were abysmal. The research was good, that’s why they were invited to this campus interview in the first place, but they couldn’t talk about it in a way that was interesting or compelling. Or they just looked terrified, which makes sense since most people hate public speaking and doctoral students spend so much more time locked away in libraries or toiling independently than developing good social skills or gaining a lot of experience presenting, especially in high-stakes contexts like a big job interview.

Even though I would have rather eaten a sack of gerbils than do this, I joined a Toastmasters club, and I committed to giving a speech in the club every week there was a slot available. And even most members of the club dreaded giving speeches, so there was usually a slot available. In the club, you give your speech, usually 5–12 minutes, and then you get evaluated by a fellow member on anything from the content of your speech to your posture, to your gestures, to your tone. It can get truly brutal. But because it gets truly brutal, you get better. And through evaluating the speeches of others in the club, I started to get a sense of what helps an audience connect with a speaker. It’s a real 360 degree education in public speaking.

I did end up getting a couple of big job offers when I went on the academic job market, and one hiring panelist told me directly that it was my job talk that led to the offer. And I have a strong suspicion that the confidence that I gained through the evolution of my public speaking abilities has been critical to my ability to push through self-doubt and go for opportunities that seem like a big stretch.

But that’s just one example! Every time I endeavor to try something new, there’s a similar sort of transformation that has to happen. That’s the nature of it.

What are your top 5 strategies that will help someone learn to believe in themselves? Please share a story or example for each.

1 . I’m a former teacher who left teaching for a new career in a vastly different field. I now have a teacher career coaching business called What’s Next Teacher and one of the key issues I work with clients on is self-confidence and overcoming imposter syndrome. I have found teachers have difficulty seeing themselves as anything other than a teacher because of the nature of the profession: we think of teaching as a calling and not just a career. Thankfully, confidence can indeed be a learned skill.

One of the key practices I teach is informational interviewing. I have the teachers I work with use LinkedIn to find the profiles of professionals who are in the roles these transitioning teachers want to be in themselves and reach out for informal coffee chats over Zoom. Asking questions in that forum like, “tell me about your career path” typically reveal a circuitous and even serendipitous career trajectory. That helps them build their confidence that they too can take on that role. And chatting with professionals they admire and are perhaps intimidated by allows them to see that they’re just normal people, just like themselves. That’s a huge confidence booster because it helps them see themselves in the person they aspire to emulate career-wise.

2 . I also ask clients to create a database of their skills and accomplishments so that they have tangible evidence they can point to that they have valuable experience and abilities. A simple spreadsheet can catalog a vast array of different professional experiences and what skills are demonstrated in the various examples. Anyone who has been working for even just a year will have many stories to tell about problems they’ve solved on the job. And when my clients are in need of a confidence boost, they can review this resource, which also comes in handy when crafting resumes or preparing for job interviews. This is one of the most impactful things you can do to further your career and help build your confidence in turn.

3 . I believe a key piece of learning to believe in yourself is being able to hear “no” and not crumble. There’s a mindset shift that has to happen for most of us wherein instead of seeing no as a rejection, we start to see it as proof that we are putting ourselves out there, and that we’re reaching beyond ourselves. For this reason, a key strategy toward learning to believe in yourself is to reach for opportunities that appear beyond the scope of where you are right now. Each time you hear no, you begin to build a greater tolerance for rejection. And the beautiful thing is, you will start to hear “yes,” too. It might surprise you in some cases. And that is how that mindset shift happens. You hear no and you don’t care anymore because you realize that in order to grow and evolve, rejection is part and parcel of that evolution.

There have been a couple of opportunities I applied for for which I had no qualification but I was accepted, and I later found out that no one else had applied. So, sometimes you might be in that position, and if you’re like me, you will be grateful enough for the experience and connections you’ll come by that you won’t care that you were the de facto pick. It pays to raise your hand!

4 . Track how far you’ve come. It’s so eye opening to look back at where I was even just three years ago and to see how much growth I’ve endured. But without taking time out of a busy life to sit down and do that kind of reflection, it’s easy to miss. I keep a list of small and big wins in the notepad in my phone and when I need a confidence boost I will look back at that list and realize that even when it may not feel like change is happening, it truly is.

5 . Become a mentor. No matter where you are in life or career, there is someone aspiring to be where you are now and could benefit from your wisdom. Mentorship has afforded me the chance to pass along what I know, and in doing so, to acknowledge that I am a valuable contributor and I have much to impart to help others along their own path.

Conversely, how can one stop the negative stream of self-criticism that often accompanies us as we try to grow?

There are two ways you can look at mistakes and failure. You can decide that messing up or doing something less than perfectly means that you are less-than. Or, you can decide that mistakes and failures are data that can help you achieve your goals because they show you what doesn’t work. I try to think about everything I take on as a big block of marble. Every action I take, whether it propels me forward or doesn’t work out the way I wanted, helps to chip away at that big block so that I can finally see the sculpture taking shape.

Even failures and mistakes are evidence that I am moving in the right direction. They’re not possible without having taken action.

When that self-criticism creeps in, it can be very helpful to remind yourself that you’re doing the thing. You’re growing, You’re taking action. You’re changing. You’re building. You’re creating.

Are there any misconceptions about self-confidence and believing in oneself that you would like to dispel?

Yes! That self-confidence is something you can achieve by doing things perfectly. I’ve spent time around some very powerful and successful people, and they’re plagued with self-doubt and imposter syndrome just like the rest of us. To achieve great things, you have to have a tolerance for self-doubt and taking action even when you lack confidence.

You’ll never achieve some perfect state where you always believe in yourself and you’re confident 100% of the time. And in my mind, if you feel completely self-assured, it means you aren’t growing. You aren’t taking action. When I’ve begun to feel I am great at a job I am doing, I take that as a sign that I need to move on. I don’t want to feel comfortable and confident, because then I’m living below the threshold of my capacity. When I’m uncomfortable, I’m going to have to change to rise to the occasion, and that benefits me. It probably doesn’t feel like it in the short term, but it more than certainly does in the long-term.

What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with imposter syndrome?

It’s to turn to that feeling and use it as fuel. It’s a socially-imposed illusion that there are people who are fit to do something and other who aren’t. Personally, when I think about that, it makes me angry. Who is anyone else to tell me what I’m capable of? Only I am in charge of that. And so if I’m letting those messages in and I’m internalizing those limiting ideas about what I can and can’t do and achieve, that’s ultimately on me. I try to turn that on it’s head and use it as fuel.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

What I’m most passionate about right now is overhauling the education system, which is built on the blood, sweat, and tears of teachers. When teachers, who are some of the most selfless people in the world, and who teach because they want to make a difference for kids, are leaving en masse, something is really, really wrong. They’re being exploited, and this has been going on for decades now, but it’s reached a point where it’s almost farcical. Come in at 6 am, leave at 7 pm, make sure you accommodate 120 different learners, answer harassing emails from parents at all hours, go through active shooter training because that’s your job, too. But we won’t pay you. And we won’t provide any cover from abusive stakeholders. And we will blame you for everything that goes wrong in the world, even when we all know it’s really poverty that gets in kids’ way as they try to learn. You can’t teach kids who are starving or kids who are traumatized. But this is the nature of teaching in so many settings today.

When I’ve had to field the question, well, if you coach teachers to leave the profession, aren’t you undermining education? I can’t help but think that truly, I hope I do. I think vast and radical change is overdue. If we could restructure the institution to support the teachers that are its most valuable resource, think of the innumerable student lives that could be affected. What’s in place now is hundreds of years old, and it just isn’t working anymore. The world is too different.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

Kriti Bansal of Owl Ventures. I’m aligned with her vision for impactful education companies and sustainable development and Owl really needs a teacher-focused education technology tool in their portfolio. I’m in the early stages of developing an AI-powered platform to help teachers move into the next phase of their career after education while leveraging education skills and experience.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Please join the conversation over at What’s Next Teacher and @whatsnextteacher across social media.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.