Enlisting Self-Doubt as an Ally


If we’re honest, each of us can admit that we’ve asked the question, “Am I good enough?” at some point in our lives.

Looming thoughts of being an impostor likely haunt you from time to time, regardless of your role as a professional, friend, or partner.

An unmentionable truth in today’s society is that each of us struggles, to varying degree, with self-doubt.

Simply put, self-doubt can be described as the state of doubting oneself.  It can also be described as a feeling of not having confidence in oneself or one’s abilities.  Now if you look carefully at both definitions, you’ll notice that at its core, self-doubt is directly connected to our emotions (feelings) and can fluctuate, depending on the circumstances we encounter (state).  

If, in fact, self-doubt can manifest in the face of temporary situations, then why are we opposed to experiencing fleeting moments riddled with a bit of self-doubt?  

Sylvia Plath’s quote comes to mind: “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”  And, yes, research suggests that unhealthy doses of self-doubt can certainly impede one’s capacity for expression, including creativity, as well as negatively impact one’s overall self-esteem (Wichman & Hermann, 2010).

But what about healthy doses of self-doubt?  

I would argue that they can actually be a good thing. 

  • First, self-doubt places us in a help-seeking posture.  Just the other day, as I considered sharing this article, I had a moment of self-doubt.  The question, “Am I good enough?” reigned in my mind, followed by, “Who cares about what I have to say?”  Despite my academic and professional acumen, I was immediately humbled by my thoughts and sought input from a fellow colleague and friend.  As I poured out my list of doubts, she challenged me to reflect upon my capacity.  This, in turn, propelled me to “get back in the [proverbial] saddle” and continue with my writing plan.  In effect, help saved the day!
  • Second, self-doubt enables us to check-in with ourselves and consider our own limitations.  Yes, we all have them!  Pondering my abilities allowed me to self-reflect for a bit and truly wrestle with my personal and professional strengths, as well as opportunities for growth.  In a society that encourages us to think so highly of ourselves (in my opinion, too highly, sometimes), isn’t a dash of self-reflection and humility refreshing?  I think so!
  • Third, self-doubt shifts the focus from self (me, myself, and I) as perfect to self as perfectly flawed.  I’m convinced that at the end of the day, others want to know that they are not the only ones who are flawed in this world.  And don’t each of us want to know that about ourselves too?  Once we accept ourselves as imperfect beings, pressure is released, and we are free to soar in all areas of our lives.  Don’t we all crave this sort of freedom?  
  • Finally, self-doubt enables us to receive support and affirmation from others.  When we function in a self-focused and doubt-filled silo, we limit other’s ability to offer constructive feedback.  More specifically, we deny others the opportunity to affirm us.  Wrestling with the question, “Am I good enough?” forces us to move beyond ourselves and invite much needed declarations about who and where we are along life’s journey.  Isn’t this what we all enjoy, if we’re really honest with ourselves?  

So, in effect, perhaps it’s time to lessen the stigma associated with self-doubt and instead, embrace it (in healthy doses, of course).  

What would it look like to allow for a margin of self-doubt in your day-to-day experience?  

You may be pleasantly surprised that it produces humility, increased self-acceptance, and connection with others.  

Ultimately, you might discover that your creativity and productivity are actually heightened!

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