I’m standing at the local bookstore staring at the best-sellers in the personal growth section overcome by self-doubt.
Last year, I decided to ditch my traditional consulting career and launch a business empowering women to be uncompromising. I’d seen one too many brilliant female clients not pursue her dreams and watched too many friends give up huge parts of themselves to their marriages and families only to wake up feeling lost, numb, and on the brink of divorce. So, I started supporting women to launch lives and careers that made them feel awake, on purpose, and on fire again.
While yesterday I felt empowered and successful, today I feel suddenly insecure in the face of these authors. Every one of them is funnier, snarkier, smarter, bad-ass-ier than the next. Looking down at my faded yoga pants and worn out flip-flops, I feel less badass than I have in weeks. I leave the personal growth aisle, grab a trashy novel, stop at the grocery store for a pint of ice cream, and head home. The rest of the night doesn’t get better. I’m on a serious self-doubt spiral.
The self-doubt trap.
I grew up full of self-doubt, and no matter how successful I became, the critical voice in my head kept growing louder and louder. Eventually it became so harsh I had to find a way to quiet it. By the time I hit my 30s I was a self-proclaimed expert on eradicating self-doubt, teaching thousands of women and girls how to turn down the volume on their negative self-talk.
And yet, even I, an experienced pro, sat on my couch in a full-blown doubt crisis. Luckily, I live by two no-fail rules that keep me from being swallowed up by my own critic: I notice when my thoughts turn away from reality and into repetitive self-doubt, and I reach out for help right away.
Following my own rules, I throw a lifeline out to my best girlfriends, Julie and Kaia. I send them a text, "Hard night. Feeling irresponsible for not following a predictable career path. What was I thinking when I started this venture? Am I crazy? What in the world am I doing? :("
I got back some of the best advice a girl could hope for from two women who have every reason to feel confident and yet have each struggled but found ways to overcome their own self-doubt. (Julie’s a Columbia School of Journalism graduate and wildly successful photographer. Kaia’s about to release her powerful new book The Joy Plan to rave reviews.)
Carry my tribe's advice with you for the next time you find yourself staring down your own inner critic:
1. It's OK but don't stay there all day.
In this world of personal growth, it can feel like we’re never allowed to mope. Sometimes a girl needs a minute to feel sorry for herself and that's OK! Just don’t spend all day there.
Once you get going in the spiral of doubt your brain clenches up and locks you in. Taking deep breaths gets oxygen into your brain and literally lets new ideas in and self-doubt out!
3. What's the silver lining?
Make a list of five positive aspects of having this doubt. Even if it feels like a crazy stretch, give it a try. What’s the upside of this doubt? What’s it teaching you? What good could come of it? (My list looks like: 1. Excuse to eat ice cream, 2. Excuse to read trashy novel, 3. Connected with my girlfriends, 4. Connected with what many of my clients are feeling, 5. Wrote this piece.)
4. Keep telling the truth.
We all feel self-doubt, and telling the truth about it is a gift to everyone. In the social media, reality-TV world it’s easy to think everyone’s lives are perfectly full of glittery hustle and Instagram-worthy days. Hearing someone’s imperfect vulnerability reminds us that we’re all struggling together.
5. Focus on what you're in service of.
Doubt is usually about you. Supporting others can shift your energy off yourself and onto others. Devote 30 minutes to being of service. Write a love note to someone who needs it. Tell a teacher what a great job they are doing. Pay a compliment to a stranger. Call an older relative.
I came out of this doubt spiral without too many pints of ice cream consumed. The thing about doubt is that as soon as it passes you really don’t want to think about it ever again. But this time, as soon as I felt a little more myself, I decided to plan ahead. I was eternally grateful for Julie's and Kaia’s advice but I know they won’t always be available right when I need them.
So I typed up all their tips, titled it "MY DOUBT PLAN," and taped it inside my journal (and freezer, next to the ice cream). When I feel self-doubt creeping in, I find my plan right where I left it and take these steps to find my way back to my brazen self.
Want to use your newfound knowledge to help a loved one out of a rut? Here's everything you need to know about supporting a friend who's going through a hard time.