Confession: I am a self-doubter.
In fact, from my earliest memories as a boy, I felt a strong measure of self-doubt. Insecurity and inferiority were my constant companions.
Small-ish for my age group, I was literally the last one picked for the playground teams. And, in retrospect, I guess I can’t blame the other kids. I was clearly not Olympics-material.
On the self-confidence scale, I generally registered -3. Some of you know what that’s like.
Eventually, I grew up, and began to achieve (especially academically). I started discovering a couple areas of strength as I went through high school, and into college. In fact, in some things, I excelled.
But, I never stopped doubting.
To some extent, that insecurity fueled me. I had something to prove to myself and others. And I did all the things you’re supposed to do in your 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s – work hard, grow a family, buy a house, create a network, even start my own business.
Nonetheless, it was difficult to enjoy any achievements – because deep down, the gnawing feelings of unworthiness and self-loathing would eat away at any sense of accomplishment. The facade of competence I projected was a coping mechanism to deal with a seemingly-unshakeable sense of failure.
In some twisted part of my soul, I was a loser no matter what. I was Charlie Brown with a slightly less round head – but with just about as much skill at kicking the football.
Some of those issues required biochemical adjustment and therapy (depression), but overall, I’d say there is one main thing that has enabled me to steadily push back the reign of self-doubt.
Finding my purpose and unique abilities, and making stuff happen in my sweet spot.
Confidence finally grew as I found my strengths, stopped trying to become what I wasn’t <–(the massive root of my inferiority complex), and began to have an impact on others.
Over decades, I steadily succeeded in my career arc, and learned through experience what I was (and wasn’t) good at, closing in on my core strengths and purpose. And that can be a long process, right?
It’s not everything, but successful performance goes a long way toward defeating self-doubt. Confidence grows when others affirm that you are hitting doubles, triples, and home runs in your calling. Even when your inner voice continues to call you a loser, the outward evidence tells another tale. The work of your hands contradicts the echoes of the schoolyard bullies.
One manager, who only had a tenure of one year, had the most impact on me here. At a crucial time when the company culture was marked by negativity, he actively affirmed the unique strengths of some key players (including me), and I thrived because his belief became stronger than my self-doubt. It wasn’t hard for me to find my weaknesses – at that, I was an expert! He identified my strengths. And brought much-needed encouragement.
Funny thing is, now in my 50’s, as I run in a path that is clearly in line with my life purpose, I still have to fight back those demons from days of youth. Those channels of unworthiness and negativity were cut deep. And I’m still swatting the gnats of self-doubt, to this day.
We need more than therapy to gain freedom from self-doubt. We need to achieve. We feast on tangible success, and in balance, that’s not a bad thing – when we see our giftedness and make a difference in the lives of others, it pushes aside self-doubt. And when others affirm that we’re “in the zone,” it builds confidence in a huge way. (We also need love, and lots of it – but that’s not the focus of this rambling post…).
I talk to many outwardly (seemingly) successful people who experience a measure of self-doubt. Sometimes, the biggest cure is pointing out how great they really are at something – and then cheering them forward to execute on it.
Yes, success can go to your head in a bad way. But it can also go to your heart in a good way. It can enable you, like an Olympian, to race down the track and hurdle your doubts.
I don’t think there’s a 10-step program for those of us confessing that we’re self-doubters. There are many steps. But a good place to start is figuring out our superpower; knowing which race is ours and then running it.
(if you’ve ever wondered why I’m so passionate about people and businesses “discovering their fit” – well, here’s a peek behind the psychological curtain!)