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Self-Doubt: A Confidence Crisis

We all face challenges, hold desires and pursue ventures throughout our lives. But as we take the first step forward, we often trip over our own self-doubt. We stumble backward, put some ice on our faces, and lament that our endeavor wasn’t worthwhile all along. Is that the happy ending we rooted for? In reality, overcoming our own doubts is less complicated than we think. But be warned, you might still need the ice along the way.

Self-doubt arises when we are faced with uncertainties, loss of control, and lack the self-confidence to tackle the challenges ahead. Will I end up broke when I follow my passion? Will I get fired if I fail to do this task? Will the girl next door reject me if I approach her? Our minds go in fight or flight mode, and often times we choose the ladder. Rather than trial and error, we give in and prefer the certainty of not improving at all than the uncertainty of failure or success.

How are we ever to reach our goals when we lack the perseverance to overcome the slightest hurdle? We jump ship and not try at all instead of facing potential defeat. As we sink into our couch, questioning our past decisions and weigh on our weaknesses, we forget our strengths and eventually never step up to the challenge. Ultimately, we are not good enough and would rather stay at home for the remainder of our lives. At least this way we won’t disappoint and fail. Besides, we spent a fortune on that couch.

Yet, we still fail. We fail at acknowledging that there’s more to lose by not trying. Even if we fail 9 out of 10 times, there’s that one time we succeed. By forfeiting any potential losses, we are also missing any changes for the better. As our minds suffer from a negativity bias, we overestimate the impacts that our failures and mistakes have on us and underestimate the advantages we gain from learning from these experiences. However hard it may be to kick our self-doubt into the stratosphere, we need to regain some traction with our self-belief, our self-confidence first.

Being confident without a successful track record is hard. Nevertheless, to avoid getting sucked into a tunnel of self-doubt, it’s worth acknowledging that it has always been like that first: You start as an innocent virgin before you can rage on and collect dates like it’s a Christmas unwrapping party. What’s in between are tons of failures, rejections, and maybe one or two margaritas in your face. And if you’re not a narcissistic asshole, you might have learned a thing or two. You grow more confident in yourself and your abilities. The road to your goal eventually will lead through the valley of doubt and insecurity before emerging on the confidence plateau.

Confidence doesn’t necessarily imply success. Just because someone is confident to be the smartest person in the room doesn’t necessitate it to be true. Having confidence indicates that we are more likely to put our skills to the test and are willing to fail. Eventually, this brings us closer to the happy ending we rooted for in the first place.

You vs. You

The odds of different outcomes are rarely laid out in front of us. The lines between failure and success are often blurry, with grey tones spread between them. Instead of acknowledging a variety of possibilities, self-doubt clouds our judgment and shoots straight to the abyss. If I don’t excel in school, no one will hire me. Ever. If I can’t keep that girl, I will be lonely until the end of time. If I fail this assignment, my boss will fire me on the spot.

As you’re drawing out your own personal apocalypse and boomerang punch yourself, it might dawn on you that self-doubt is self-imposed. It’s impossible to convince others of your abilities, let alone hire you, or date you when you’re not convinced that you’re good enough. Self-doubt is adding an extra layer to your challenges without simultaneously increasing your rewards at the end. It’s betting against you without knowing the odds in the first place.

It’s time to sit down in your corner and change perspectives. You’ve just drawn out the worst that could happen if you fail to measure up to expectations. It might escape your imagination to picture the best possible outcome, but you will be relieved to hear that likely neither of the two will occur. The likelihood that you’re just going to be okay in the end is very high. Whether you fail or succeed, no one will mourn or celebrate these moments as much as you.

Frank Abagnale (the original “Catch me if you can” guy) gave a talk at Google’s headquarter in 2017. During the Q&A a young woman asked him how he could stay confident throughout his imposter career. He responded: “If you believe you’re good at what you do and you strive to be good at what you do. You don’t need to worry about what other people think. But you need to understand that you have your own confidence. And that you can do whatever you’re required to do. And other people will see that confidence in you. The minute you start doubting yourself, other people will see that you’re doubting yourself as well. And that becomes a weakness in your personality. So you always want to be confident in everything you do, and you will find a way to get it done.”

Although Frank eventually got caught and put in a French prison, the bottom line remains. Only with his confidence was he able to take on the opportunities and pull through. It’s essential, whether you strive to be successful, or happier that you find your own confidence within you and build on that. Otherwise, you’re residing solely at the mercy of strangers complimenting you and making you aware of the possibilities ahead. You’re responsible to act on opportunities, get your life moving, and change directions if necessary. No one can pull that off but you.

Nourish your Confidence

Uncertainty, loss of control, and fear of change; The moment self-doubt arises is when self-confidence leaves the room. Instead of following your primary intentions, ambitions and sticking to the decisions you’ve made you’re suddenly looking for orientation elsewhere. As you lost your own inner compass, you start comparing your life choices with other, more confident people. Yet, as much as you strive to be more like them, to be more certain in your resolutions, it will always be a mismatch. The only way to put your self-doubt aside is to feed your self-confidence again with the inner nutrition it so desperately needs.

It’s not shameful or wrong to have some degree of self-doubt. However, it should by no means lead straight to a confidence crisis. Maybe you never were the confident type, shouting from the rooftops how good you feel about yourself. Propelled by the media and entertainment industry, confidence is depicted as extroverted and based on externalities such as athletic abilities, wealth, status, career, and other exceptional skills. Even successful athletes, writers, and business founders eventually found themselves questioning their choices and behavior.

Although it’s vital to face our self-doubts and have a chat with ourselves. It's as vital to move on and progress on our own terms. If you nourish your confidence with externalities, the earliest sign of loss and failure could uproot you in an instant. Accept yourself, the flaws and the inevitability that there will be failures along the way. You will be okay after all and should define your self-confidence by more permanent internal values.

Be more self-compassionate. Get to know your fears and insecurities before just blindly throwing punches that will boomerang right at you again. Ironically acknowledging what you lack will further your confidence instead of diminishing it. Despite failing a task, getting rejected, or turned down there will be no need to eradicate your confidence at once and start from scratch.

There are no universal fundamentals to build self-confidence. The feeling boils down to your personality traits, experiences, and individual abilities. Taken that you’re a master of none, there is still hope. Because it’s up to you what you value in yourself the most, which eventually keeps your self-doubt in check and allows you to move on.

Besides, no one actually knows what they are doing.


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