You don’t have to overcome self-doubt, make self-doubt your ally
It is safe to say that self-doubt has gotten a bad reputation in our society. When it comes to pointing out the things that hold us back in our lives and careers, we are very eager to point at self-doubt as an obstacle.
In this article I would like to argue that we don’t always have to fix our self-doubt. Rather, I think it is time that we start to learn to see self-doubt for what it is: a normal human experience, that actually serves a purpose.
Self-doubt, a normal human experience
As a career coach I see a lot of women who, despite their achievements, feel unqualified in their careers. In the 1970s this experience was labeled as the ‘Impostor Phenomenon’. Over the years, the Impostor Phenomenon became better known as the Impostor Syndrome.
Labeling this experience of self-doubt as a syndrome is exemplary for the way we look at self-doubt. We often see self-doubt as the ‘villain’ in our story that we have to ‘beat’ or ‘overcome’. The problem with this narrative is that it leads to a skewed relationship with a normal human experience.
Self-doubt is not always the villain in our story
While self-doubt can indeed get in your way of reaching your goals, for example because self-doubt can make you undervalue your abilities and contributions and as a result prevent you from realizing your full potential, it is not always self-doubt that gets in our way of reaching our gaols.
Being overly confident can do that too. Overly-confident people can overestimate their abilities, falling for a cognitive bias called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which can be just as harmful as doubting yourself, yet we don’t call confidence a syndrome.
It is okay to feel unsure of yourself sometimes: make self-doubt your ally
What would happen if we changed the narrative around our self-doubt? What if you considered self-doubt as an ally on your journey? Questioning yourself from time to time also serves its purposes.
Discover opportunities for growth
For example, self-doubt enables us to check-in with ourselves and consider our own limitations. Pondering your own abilities allows you to self-reflect and see your opportunities for growth.
Fueling preparation and decisionmaking
Moreover, when we take the time to question ourselves, we create space for adequate preparation. Doubting yourself encourages you to ask yourself important questions when you’re about to make big decisions. In a way our self-doubt serves as a protective mechanism to keep us from risks and making mistakes.
Drive learning and growth
Lastly, self-doubt can also drive your learning. It drives us to question results and, humbling as self-doubt can be, it keeps you open to feedback. This way, we are more likely to be open to experiment with new strategies or to alternate ways to solve problems.
How to make self-doubt an ally?
The first step is to acknowledge that feeling unsure about yourself is a safety mechanism of your system to keep you away from danger. Although sometimes flawed, it comes with the best intentions. Instead of directly trying to override your thoughts and feelings with ‘positive affirmations’, try acknowledging yourself for your experience and thanking your ally for trying to keep you safe.
From there you can investigate the train of thoughts running through your head. Which thoughts are facts and which are made up scenarios or assumptions?
What can be helpful is to share your thoughts with a trusted peer to get a more balanced view of yourself and see that while you may not be the expert in your field (yet), you do have valuable insights to bring to the table.
Opening up to someone else about your self-doubt does not only help you to gain a new perspective, it also helps you to know that you are not alone because it may not appear this way but no one is immune to doubting themselves from time to time.
Unfortunately, we are not very fond of expressing our self-doubt to the public. We are often afraid to disclose our insecurities because they feel vulnerable and possibly weak. So, I am well aware that you may not feel comfortable with sharing your self-doubt with just any person. Therefore, ask yourself: who in your trusted community do you feel comfortable sharing your insecurities with? Who can be the go-to person whenever you need someone to talk to about your insecurities?
Take the step forward and take self-doubt with you
If I could leave you with one core message, it would be that ‘Managing’ self-doubt is not about never experiencing negative emotions or doubt. It is about learning that, even when you’re experiencing these feelings of self-doubt, you can still take steps forward. Self-doubt does not have to keep you from making progress in your career or from doing things you want to do that align with your dreams and ambitions.
And to keep it real and to practice what I preach, while writing this article, I had my fair share of moments of self-doubt as well. The question, “Am I good enough?” reigned in my mind, followed by, “Who cares about what I have to say?”. But if you are reading the article, know that self-doubt sat with me while I clicked on publish but it did not stop me from pushing the send button.
A career transitions often feels like a rollercoaster of emotions and thoughts. How to make sense of (career) transitions?
How can adopting a growth mindset benefit you when you are learning to cope with the Impostor Syndrome? In this article I share three insights with you.
Hi, I’m Lian Angelino, certified Career & Leadership coach who is passionate about helping women move through their career and daily life with more ease and meaning.
As a Career & Leadership coach, I combine my background in Work Psychology, (Mental)Health Sciences and Leadership development to help you get clear about what makes you tick and gain clarity around difficult career choices.
In this online space, I share work centered around embracing our full humanity in everything we do and the choices that we make in our daily lives.
Learn more about me here
Work With Me