Dealing with Self Doubt: a Taste of My Own Medicine

I’m definitely my least favorite person to negotiate with – I’m fickle, harsh, and can sometimes be downright mean. Don’t get me wrong, I’m lovely to negotiate with when there are other people involved. It’s when I’m negotiating with myself that I can get nasty.

When it comes to productivity, it’s a constant struggle. I’ll force myself to stay shackled to my laptop for hours, even though I know I’ll be more effective after a break. That inner monologue has me going round and round about whether I should take a stretch or send one more email. (So fickle.)

Just a few weeks ago, I gave a keynote that included studies on how even a 15-minute break allows our brains to make creative connections between ideas that we wouldn’t be able to make otherwise – I’m guessing this is why all my best ideas come while washing my hair. Even though I teach these techniques, I can find myself glued to my computer anyway.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

For me, much of it is about my identity. I want to be someone who’s committed to what they do, who’s a hard worker. I find that when I’m deciding whether or not to keep my butt in my desk chair, my inner critic will tell me I’m lazy or lack discipline if I get up. (Seriously harsh.) Since I regularly talk with clients about recognizing and honoring the feelings that come up – and that negotiation we’re having with ourselves – it seems only fair that I do the same.

An Example

The last month has been absolutely amazing for me both personally and professionally:  

  • I’ve been giving speeches and leading retreats all over the country, from Seattle to Aspen to Dallas.
  • I’ve developed a series of e-courses that I’m tremendously proud of and excited to share. (More on that below).  
  • I’ve gotten a contract to become a regular contributor to a major publication and have written my first piece for them. (More on that soon).
  • I learned late last night that I’m about to receive an award for this work. (More on that next month).

I’ve also cried. I’ve been push, push, pushing myself. In airports, hotels, and my own kitchen, I’ve been plagued with a feeling like I’m not doing enough, while simultaneously doing ALL THE THINGS. Exhausted by travel and juggling many different projects, I’d continue to beat myself up for not being farther along on the next presentation, e-course, or article. (Like I said, kinda mean.)

In part because I know it’s the healthiest strategy, and in part because I don’t want to be a total hypocrite and need to take my own medicine, I’ve strived to sit with it – to notice and accept feelings of apprehension and self doubt rather than ignoring them. I’ve followed Kathryn Childers advice to do it scared.

At a recent rehearsal dinner, several good friends I hadn’t seen in a year told me, “My god, it looks like you’re doing so well! How are you?”  In each instance, I replied with excitement, appreciation, and vulnerability.

As I shared the stresses of writing for a new publication, one friend told me how he spent 9 months on a screenplay that no one picked up, and now he’s starting over on a new piece. (At this, my 700 words seemed far less daunting.)  

Another friend and I discussed the challenges of feeling sad or negative when we’re both almost comically optimistic people. He shared how it felt foreign for him to be so discouraged after months of an unsuccessful job search. I talked about how it can be uncomfortable to accept when I’m just feeling grumpy and stressed.

That “fake it ‘til you make it” thing doesn’t usually work for me, and having these conversations left me feeling more connected to the people I love but don’t often get to see.

Negotiating with Myself and Feeling All the Feelings

Since getting home after 10 days of travel, I’ve been working hard to follow my own advice. I’ve been taking breaks, naming the wide range of emotions that’ve come up (oh hello, self doubt), and proceeding even though it’s scary. As I negotiate with myself about when to push and when to relax, I’ve reminded myself that these moments of self doubt are a normal part of the process.

As I’ve said whenever I’ve talked about failure, when we see “success” in others, that’s only part of the picture. Same goes for my own success. Some really ah-mazing things are happening in my life. That doesn’t mean I should expect everything to always be peachy-keen in my brain. Negotiating with myself usually means dealing with the feelings as they come up. Whether they’re irrational little monsters or perfectly rational concerns doesn’t particularly matter. What matters is when they come up I’m dealing with them.

For me, part of dealing with them means sharing them. When I talked with friends at the rehearsal dinner, hearing my friends’ vulnerabilities and sharing my own helped me recalibrate and get perspective.

As the business continues to grow, I’ll continue to celebrate the changes and share the growing pains in the hopes that they help you recalibrate and perhaps be a little more gentle with yourself in your own negotiations.

PS Another one of my strategies for self care is a childlike exuberance for holidays. More than one break has been dedicated to decorating my house, costume and festivity planning, and making a silly fun flyer.