What is it about self doubt?
It takes on familiar voices, faces and attacks the very fibers of your self esteem, grinding away until it’s all threadbare and full of holes. They talk when we need to hear our own thoughts and stomp on any small confidence we might have. Now, if you’re a really healthy, self contained unit when it comes to this stuff, I admire you. I’m of the other variety – where my confidence is fragile and my ego is so delicate it almost doesn’t exist.
I did say ALMOST…..
I was playing Words With Friends against my cousin the other night, and found myself caught in a rough spot. Since Words With Friends is more Scrabble and less SAT, there are times where I find myself pulling my hair out sometimes, because the all important triple word square is NOT where I need it to be. It makes the game a pretty good equalizer: I write, my cousin has her Master’s degree and teaches. My aunt, who never went to college, regularly kicks my ASS at the game and I don’t think twice about it.
This time, though, my mother’s voice cut through my strategizing and plotting at tile placement.
“Well, Lorraine IS a teacher..”
My desire to play completely disappeared. After all, how could I even think I’d be able to beat a teacher at a stupid word game? I’m not educated or smart enough to do that well enough to WIN. All the books I’ve read, all the writing I’ve done, none of that could prepare me for the simple challenge of a friendly game. Every respect to those who have made a life of educating the future leaders of this country, too. I know how hard you’ve all worked but this is a GAME.
Seven letters, finding the right placement for maximum points. That’s it.
This isn’t rocket science and suddenly, the game might as well have been sending a manned mission to Mars. Maybe even harder.
And, so, with five words from the doubt in my head that sounded just like my mother, I was screwed.
While I was sitting there, marinating in my well deserved inadequacy , a recent, real life conversation with my mother came to mind. I was talking to her about a possible career move, one that would change the direction of my professional life in an upwardly mobile way while letting me actually enjoy the work. When I was done, without missing a beat, my mother said, “That would be a good job for (another cousin’s name), that’s what SHE does…”. It didn’t matter that the cousin she mentioned a) wasn’t interested in a job here, b) would actually be stepping DOWN on the ladder to take that job even if she was interested, and c) that by saying that, my own mother was effectively telling me that I fell short and didn’t really deserve to even try.
At the time, I considered defending myself. I mean, I have planned gorgeous events for lots of people and they went beautifully. I could do the job on a larger scale. I was a completely qualified candidate. Something stopped me though.
Maybe, my mother was right.
Maybe, it was an overreach on my part.
Maybe, I wasn’t capable, competent or the right person for the job.
Maybe, I even had some nerve thinking I had the right to put myself out there in the first place.
Who did I think I was, anyway?
Did you ever notice that the negative voices in your head never sound like the people that have encouraged you and cheered you on? There are experts that have dedicated books and books on this subject. I’ve never read any of those books, so I’m sure there’s a reason that is more valid, educated and worthwhile than the opinion I’m about to offer here now.
But, I’m offering it anyway.
That naysaying voice matters and impacts us so much (or me) because it’s the one that we (or I) believe. The negative must be true, not the positive. You can’t try because you’ll fail. You’ll be failing because you aren’t enough of something: pretty, thin, talented, educated, rich, connected, smart, modest, industrious, humble or conscientious, whatever it is. Because you are NOT these things, you will fail. Because you are not these things, you don’t deserve the life you want to have, no matter how hard you try. Failing hurts. If you listen to the negative voice in your head, that hurts too, but it reaffirms that we’re not good enough to even think about it in the first place. So, don’t try, you can’t fail and you won’t be hurt, and you don’t deserve and aren’t worth more than that. Makes sense, right?
The thing is, you can listen to the negative voice. You can let it run you and live rent free in your head. You won’t take any risks and you won’t grow past the point you’ve already reached. There’s nothing wrong with looking around at your life and saying, ‘yeah, this is good. I’m great where I am.” if it IS great where you are. If you’ve accomplished the goals you set out to achieve, and your life is full of every thing that makes you happy, fantastic.
Chances are, if your life is like that, you’re not reading my blog, anyway.
I heard a motivational speaker say that in order for someone to actually push past a point of ‘not enough’ in their lives, they needed to take stock of what they had first in a grateful way, so their brain could register abundance rather than lack. Once your brain absorbs that it has enough, it can then focus on abundance. If you’re starving for anything, the smallest amount of what you’re dying for will do. It takes time to recognize that you have more until you’ve accepted that you finally have enough. That translated to me as seeing the positive, rather than the negative.
Which means you need to snap out of the spell that crabby little voice in your head can weave around you.
The first rule of any project, after measure twice, cut once is to take inventory and gather what you need to get done before you start. Listening for the positive voice is kind of like that. It’s a bit of pain, because it’s quieter than the negative voice, you know, especially if you’re the kind of person that doesn’t ‘toot their own horn’. After you get the positives out there, they become a refrain and a psalm against the negatives.
This is what I mean:
Negative: “She’s a teacher…”
Positive: “I helped her write her Master’s thesis and I never finished college.”
Negative: “That’s not really what you DO, though…”
Positive: “I’m not Martha Stewart or anything, but, the three hundred people that attended the last big event I organized were pretty excited and happy about what I did.”
Negative: “What makes you think they would hire you?”
Positive: “Why wouldn’t they? I’m hard working, enthusiastic and I know how to treat clients professionally and like family.”
Negative: “What could you have to say that any one wants to read it? (or buy your photography…etc.) Don’t you think that’s a bit presumptuous?”
Positive: “I have a blog with 142 (give or take – and thank you, all of you!) regular readers. That doesn’t count the unsubscribed that follow links to read what I have to say. Seems like people might be a little interested in what I have to say.”
Negative: “You’re going to fail.”
Positive: “Nobody rebuilds from total failure like I do. That’s gotta count for something. Besides, if I don’t put myself out there, I’m failing anyway.”
I’m not talking about being Pollyanna about this. Reality is important, because if you lose your grip on what your strengths really are, that false sense of confidence is just as bad as an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. Knowing your strengths is half the battle. Your strengths are the tools you need to defeat self-doubt, so always keep track of them. You might be surprised at yourself.
One of mine is that I don’t give up, even when it seems like anyone with sense would walk away to wash their hands. EVER. I might step back for a bit, reassess, but then I’m back with a vengeance. I’ve always been like that. I don’t act in spite of negative self talk…it’s always there. I act because if I don’t, the outcome is out of my hands completely, and I hate feeling that way. That stubborn streak has gotten me into trouble more times than I can even say, but tenacity isn’t a bad thing.
It also caught me up to my master’s degree holding, teaching cousin in our Game of Words with Friends.
Take that, little negative voice.