I stand in my own way often. I can find something to be incredibly passionate about – such as starting a new blog – and put in hours upon hours of work to build my passion from the ground up. And then I get it up and running, I receive great feedback, and then boom! Self-doubt hits me. Hard.
And I am stopped dead in my tracks.
It happens often. More than I’d care to admit. Some days it will send me into a tailspin – to use a word that I promised a friend I would never use again, I spiral. I feel the panic settle into my soul, the grip of fear tightening around my chest. It’s difficult to breathe. And that mean, old, nasty voice comes creeping back in:
You’re no good.
Why are you even trying?
No one cares.
You’re wasting your time.
Most days this leads me to hide away under the covers. If I’m lucky, I’ll pass out and be able to sleep the creep away. Some days, sleep eludes me, and I work myself into a blubbering mass of tears, snot, and nonsense.
I’m on that brink right now. I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember. There are at least ten journals within arms reach anywhere in my home. I keep one in the car, two in my work bag, and notes in my phone. I started a blog years ago when N was born – Snacks for Sophie, and loved it. I built it myself, networked, worked my ass off. I never made money off of it, but that wasn’t the purpose; my focus was building my writing portfolio. And it worked – I wrote a few articles for an online women’s magazine and was actually paid for my work.
Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, my tutoring business was growing at a rate that was difficult to keep up with, and I had to refocus my attention on the business that was paying the bills.
So I stepped away from my writing. It took me years to get myself back to this moment …
A moment where I can convince myself of two things: (1) I can make it as a writer. I can live a life where I don’t have to submit to the daily grind in a job I am not passionate about, and (2) I should quit while I’m ahead. It’s impossible to fail if I don’t try.
It’s impossible to succeed if you don’t try.
Years ago, I had dinner with an old friend in NYC. He was in the process of transitioning his video business from a man with a camera creating short advertisements and skate videos to a firm of highly skilled professionals who have since taken over – and subsequently redesigned – the advertising industry. While he has experienced hardship, heartbreak, and failure, he never loses focus on his dream and works his ass off until he accomplishes the goals he sets out for himself. During this dinner, I fawned over his motivation and determination and was moved by his passion. It was at the moment that I was gushing over his resilience and perseverance:
“If you could guarantee a positive outcome for absolutely anything you chose to do, if there was no chance of failure, what would you do?”
“Write,” I said. Immediately. No hesitation. No thought. “I would write.”
“Then do it,” he responded, looking me dead in the eyes, almost daring me to say no.
It’s impossible to succeed if you don’t try.
So how do I overcome these moments? How do I work through these moments of significant self-doubt and push through until I find success?
4 Steps to Overcome Self-Doubt
- Take a break.
It seems counter-intuitive, but at moments when I am tearing myself apart bit by bit, I take a break. Whether that means I go for a walk, snuggle up with Tyler, or zone out in front of the television – I take a break from writing. I take a break from designing the blog, from networking, from researching affiliate and sponsored networks. I put my pen down, close the screen on my laptop, and walk away.
Taking a break gives my brain the chance to rest. And while I am not actively thinking about my next move or how to overcome my writer’s block, subconsciously, the gears are turning. Somewhere deep in my soul, ideas are forming and only after time away do these ideas bubble to the surface.
2. Stop writing stories.
Not the story you are literally trying to write. Rewrite the story you are telling yourself. Two of my favorite speakers, Brené Brown and Michelle Chalfant, spend a significant amount of time talking about “shitty first drafts” and “facts and truths,” respectively. And their messages couldn’t hold more truth. When we are standing in our own way, we are typically telling ourselves a story. I’ve become accustomed to asking myself Brown’s question: “What is your shitty first draft?” Sometimes I will write it out in my journal – in fact, my journal is filled primarily with “shitty first drafts”. Then, when I am done writing out the story in my head, I refer to Chalfant’s “facts and truths.” “What is true in this moment?” I’ll ask myself, and I list out what are true facts.
The story dissipates and I can feel my body relax. I am not a failure – I am only getting started. And if I do fail, it isn’t the end of the world. It just means I need to find a new approach.
3. Seek help.
Sometimes this is from a friend or family member, and other times, it means to find an expert to help build your know-how. At times, seeking help means finding a buddy who will take you out of your head for a while, giving you something new to focus on (see “take a break”) and other times, it means doing more research – watching more videos, reading more articles, or taking a class.
4. Revisit my “WHY”.
Several years ago, late in my teaching career, a new head-of-school was hired. During his first meeting with the faculty, he asked us to answer the question, “WHY?” – Why am I a teacher? Why do I want to be a teacher? – just WHY. And I sat and stared at this blank page for days. For days, that blank paper with the words “My WHY” written in large, bold, black letters haunted me. I didn’t have a why – at least not a why that I wanted to write down. Because all I could come up with was, “I’m good at it,” and “Because I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was 3.” And those two reasons were not good reasons.
It was in that moment that I knew I needed to make a change. I needed to take a chance on myself, and I needed to know my WHY.
Today, my WHY – the reason why I want to write – is passion. I feel the desire deep in my bones, down to my toes. There is joy in my writing. I enjoy sharing my stories, and I want to help people. And so when I am feeling defeated and as though I have nothing left to give, I revisit those reasons. I remind myself why I am doing this, why this is important to me, and why I need to keep forging my own path.
It isn’t easy to overcome those moments of complete paralysis, and when I am doing something new – especially something as meaningful as pursuing my dreams – these moments rear their ugly head often. But with each passing moment of self-doubt, I grow a little stronger, a little more resilient.
It’s moments like these that remind me that I am only human, that I am going to make mistakes, and there will be setbacks. I may have to right my course, revise my goals, or start again. But I also know that I have the determination, the motivation, and the passion, to get me where I am trying to go.
Because with determination, motivation, and passion, there is no chance for failure.