How I Deal with Self-Doubt
Self-doubt is like the Debbie Downer of feelings. Instead of sweet nothings, it whispers negative affirmations in my ear. It asks for a French fry when I break my diet—instead of encouraging me to stay on track. It cuddles up next to me while I binge watch House of Cards instead of forcing me to get back to work. Self-doubt isn’t quite an enabler but it settles in during my most vulnerable moments. And while my guard is down, it leads me to believe that I’ll never move beyond where I am right now.
My greatest battle with self-doubt raged on for the first 6 months of 2016.
My Self-Doubt Story
After 11 years of managing big box retail, I reached my breaking point and decided to retire my folding board. These hands weren’t meant to run clothes from the fitting room. They were meant to craft stories. I’d known this all along. At one point in my retail journey, I almost abandoned my job to temp for GQ. But fearing the loss of my 401K and monthly bonus, I was duped into staying. Every time I felt the itch to leave, there was another promotion and pay raise. Every time, it felt like hush money; it was just enough to silence my dreams again.
Of that 11 years, 10.5 were spent working for the same company. During my last months in retail, I attempted to reinvent myself and work for a startup. Bad idea. If you ever want to escape an industry you hate, don’t take a job that requires you to work harder than you ever have in your life. My time in the startup world lasted for what felt like 5 minutes. When I left that job, I knew I was done with retail for good.
I also knew that writing was the only answer. But I couldn’t admit it. If I decided to write, it meant I had to start from scratch. Goodbye guaranteed biweekly salary, health insurance, and vacation days. What if I couldn’t make enough money to match my old salary? What if I couldn’t book a single job? (Spoiler alert: I did.) What if I wasn’t as talented a writer as I believed?
That was self-doubt nuzzling up against me. I was stuck there, teetering between a career that felt like a dead end and one that seemed incredibly risky. After two months of inner turmoil, I declared myself a writer. Though another month passed before I started booking work. In that time, my psyche was battered and bruised from going rounds with self-doubt. I was determined to come out the other side victorious. But some days, I started submitting resumes for retail management jobs—just in case.
Fast forward a year and half. I’m freelancing full-time, and I’ve found definitive answers to all those questions I had about my new career. That’s not to say my self-doubt has been eradicated. There are days, weeks even, where we still go at it. But I found a way to tame the beast.
What Causes Self-Doubt
The reasons for self-doubt vary from person to person. However, Psychology Today writer Karyl McBride ties it back to our early stages of growth. “As you went through each childhood stage of growth and development with your reality tested by negative messages, you learned at an early age to question yourself,” she writes. It’s the doubt of others during childhood that manifests itself as self-doubt in adulthood.
When I think of my fear of branching out professionally and chasing my dreams, a lot of my self-doubt stemmed from my father. He always pushed me toward math and science when I was in school. A career in the arts seemed foolish but his face would light up at the thought of his only son becoming a doctor. I knew that I wouldn’t find support from him if I chose a career rooted in creativity. This feud only intensified when I decided to attend a private liberal arts college and study journalism. And it grew stronger when I opted to move to New York. With each move, he questioned my decisions and shared worst-case scenarios. I eventually proved him wrong but he subconsciously instilled self-doubt in me.
By the time I decided to write full-time, I could’ve cared less about what he thought. But the remnants of his doubt still lingered within.
How I Pushed Forward
Steven Pressfield, author of several essential guides to creativity, once wrote, “The enemy is our chattering brain, which, if we give it so much as a nanosecond, will start producing excuses, alibis, transparent self-justifications, and a million reasons why we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do what we know we need to do.” And he’s so right. So, I stopped giving self-doubt even a nanosecond of my time.
I started expressing gratitude for at least three things every morning. When I hit a wall, I confided in someone I trusted instead of wallowing in defeat. I started journaling again so I could get those feelings out of my head as soon as they appeared. And, I recognized when I needed to recharge. So often, my self-doubt came from burnout. Taking care of myself led to a more positive outlook.
As an entrepreneur, a creative, a husband, a friend, and a son, I realized I had a responsibility to overcome self-doubt to be successful. I needed to show myself compassion and foster my own morale boost.
Though self-doubt comes around for a chat every now and then, I shrug it off and keep moving. I’ve lost enough time to those thoughts. I’m not willing to lose anymore.