I remember when I first started out in my corporate career that I was experiencing a wide mix of different emotions at the time.
There was a sense of excitement of finally diving into the world of work and building on my knowledge and expertise. There was enthusiasm about connecting with new people and building new relationships.
And there was a massive feeling of self-doubt.
Was I ready? Would my best efforts match the expected standards? And what if they would find out that I wasn’t good enough?
Fast-forward 6 years and all of the above still applies.
I still start my days with a feeling of excitement of working with my team on common goals.
Of serving others with my skills and expertise.
And there is still a constant nagging at the back of my head doubting every step I take. So how come so little has changed over the years? Why do I still need to constantly check-in and re-assure myself that I am doing a good job and won’t get fired if I make a mistake?
The trap we fall into
As it turns out, I am not the only one who is feeling this way.
By having coached managers, mums, musicians and mathematicians over recent years I can say one thing is for sure: no matter how senior, experienced or skilled we may appear, we all suffer from self-doubt.
And that is ok. It is the human condition.
Think of your mind as a driving instructor.
When we start learning how to drive our instructor will teach us to take a cautious approach when engaging in traffic. They will tell us to go slowly and be on high alert at all times.
With time, we get more confident in our ability to drive and may be tempted to go a bit faster and take more risk. After all, it is fun to go out there and show off our new skills right?!
But our driving instructor will be quick to remind us that we must play it safe so that we don’t harm ourselves and others.
They will frequently question our decision-making:
“Did you see that car that you just cut off?”
“I said turn right, so why did you turn left at that last crossing?”
“You are going waaaay too fast, slow down.”
As good as their intentions may be, the outcome of those nagging questions is that we start questioning our ability to ever get it right. Those early experiences of making mistakes and potentially getting something wrong can haunt us years later. Overly cautious, we go from one situation to another doubting whether we can pull it off without messing up.
Now with driving a car we really have very limited room for error. With life we don’t. We can always learn, make mistakes, refine our processes and make more mistakes. And eventually we do get it right. But then why are we still trapped in time and driving through life with our handbrake applied?
The human condition
From an early age our parents taught us to be careful. Our teachers told us to behave. We were told we wouldn’t amount to much if we didn’t play by the rules.
Don’t take risks!
We carry those lessons with us through adulthood and they continue to show up although we now are meant to be independent and full of confidence. So if self-doubt is part of the human condition then why can’t we accept it for what it is?
Instead we attach meaning to it. We create stories and beliefs about ourselves that show up at the most inconvenient of times. We get nervous before going into a meeting or interview. We blush and stutter when asked to present to our peers. We stay quiet when we actually know the answers.
And our self-doubt keeps on playing out some version of the following:
“Better play it safe.”
“I will never be good enough.”
“I better not speak up, what if I’m wrong?”
Understand that every single one of us experiences self-doubt in one form or another.
How you can play this to your advantage
Anticipate that self-doubt will come up. It always does. Start drawing attention to the situations where self-doubt usually comes up. Is it a social interaction? A paper you need to produce for your manager? A presentation to your peers?
When we start to understand what situations usually trigger our self-doubt we can take its potency away when it ultimately shows up. When you are experiencing self-doubt, ask yourself: what is the best outcome I could generate by taking action despite the concerns I may be experiencing?
By becoming really present to the sensations we are experiencing and the outcomes we could be creating we can normalise the situation we are facing. Instead of being paralysed by it, we can use self-doubt as a trigger for positive action.
After all, everyone around you is battling their own form of self-doubt. So why not give it your best shot and show up powerfully despite the doubts you may be facing. Because, what is the consequence if we let self-doubt take the upper hand?
A life lived with the handbrake constantly applied.