November 29, 2023

Coming from a very humble background in East Germany – which had just emerged from the Soviet era – and my parents going through several periods without work when I was growing up, the thought of ever going to Harvard, Yale or Oxford seemed surreal.

If this could be achieved, the possibilities would be limitless.

After successful undergraduate studies at the University of Zurich and a summer school in Oxford, I was accepted to the University of Oxford in 2013 for an MSc. I was over the moon. My dad took out a loan to help me attend. It was exciting.

By 2014 I had completed my Masters and eventually went into the NHS and quickly rose to senior management.

Why am I sharing all this? Because it all looks good on paper, right?

While that was indeed my life, the reality of living that life is a whole different story. I’ve long been plagued by a constant need for authenticity, but never had the confidence to back it up.

I feared judgment, needed approval from others, and relied on praise and shout-outs to feel like I had done a good job. The drop in my performance at Oxford after matriculation in Zurich made me feel like a failure. The huge requirement of attending Oxford and my mediocre grades gave me physical symptoms of anxiety – panic attacks, insomnia and reliance on beta blockers to stay calm.

Our exam format, where you learn – by rote – 100+ references of academic papers and try to pass them in two three-hour exams, will determine whether the £30,000 is worth it. It wasn’t my learning style at all, which didn’t help. Not fitting in at all with my classmates at Oxford made me feel like an outcast. I felt lonely and different – ​​not the good kind. I felt a lot of FOMO.

“I didn’t fit in at all with my classmates at Oxford and I felt like an outcast”

Outside of the academic world, I had body image issues, I worried about eating, exercising, I had never felt so beautiful or happy in my own skin. My amazing partner at the time was my main source of comfort as I was busy hiding from the world.

I didn’t fit in anywhere. Needless to say, all these challenges undermined my mental health; I had anxiety issues and felt depressed.

It was overwhelming to think that in order to overcome all these challenges I would have to tackle them individually at some point – “god, this is going to be so much work,” I thought. I didn’t know where to start.

I went through the motions and tried to “solve my problems” through skill building. I went to therapy, which in my case was endless, inconclusive, and involved relentlessly digging into my past with no resolution. Mentoring later in my career was helpful, but really only added to my problems.

I came across coaching; my colleague at the time was a certified coach. Six sessions, she said; and it is done. My goal at the time was to get ahead in my career. Little did I know that these sessions were an effective accelerator for me, my personal development and ultimately my self-confidence.

Until then, I had never consciously set my self-esteem up to be something I could focus on. I actually avoided it, thinking it equated to arrogance or that you might have “too much” confidence. I did not want that.

What happened next was that my now sustainable, high self-esteem helped me overcome all of the above issues at once. Right there. No more struggling with symptoms, no more “I don’t feel bad because you feel bad”, no more lack, no more wondering “why can’t I do this”. No.

A new Nadine was born and it was a day and night experience.

That was the beginning of what eventually became HopStair a few years later, a confidence building platform that helps many other people build their confidence effectively and efficiently – ideally in a lot less time than it took me.

Confidence isn’t just a pretty thing, and it’s not a byproduct of something else— and a strength you must build and foster in others.

It uniquely takes care, to a great extent, of all the following and more – anxiety; depressive symptoms; believe in yourself; appreciate yourself; Stress management; building strong relationships; FOMO; dealing with feedback; overcoming envy; desire for praise and compliments; thinking; beating yourself up and worrying about mistakes; and body image issues.

All of this stems largely from a lack of internal validation and a constant fear of judgment; what others think, what others will say, whether others will approve, while constantly chasing the expectations – real or imagined – of others.

“It’s important to remember that self-confidence does not mean being indifferent or ignorant.”

This outward focus undermines a critical focus on oneself, one’s own passions, strengths, motivators, ambitions, goals, timelines. Only when you identify them can you truly unlock personal fulfillment and happiness. But self-confidence is key.

So what does self-confidence involve?

Real inner authentic confidence consists of: self-confidence; self-esteem; self love; self-confidence; and self-efficacy. Like the root of a tree, it is your foundation; it’s what allows you to face and manage challenges, judgement, curveballs, and unapologetically be you—and live life the way you want to live it and with the things that matter to you.

After all, feedback, thoughts and suggestions from those around us are vital, but there is a level that is too little – i.e. not realizing how we really come across – and too much – i.e. letting other people’s opinions distract us, letting to be with them. they beat us or repel us, we don’t trust each other.

It is important to realize that self-confidence does not mean being indifferent or ignorant, but working constructively with other people, their opinions and judgments.

About the Author: Nadine Pfeifer is the founder and CEO of HopStair, an app that uses behavioral science to help users build their own self-esteem. It is about to begin a focused period of intensive pilot work on the latest version of the product with several UK and US universities and other providers in the education sector. Interested in piloting HopStair with your students, staff or clients? HopStair can be reached through or by emailing Pfeifer at

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