We all suffer from it; It doesn’t matter if you’re the next Hemmingway, Picasso reincarnate, or Joe Blogs with a
passion for beer and porn. Self-doubt is one of those weird, uninvited emotions that strides in, jacks itself into your senses, and then sits back sniggering at you… you can’t get the words out, the paint won’t flow or, well, you know what happens to dangly bits if too much booze is in the bloodstream, right? Not a lot.
It can be crippling and debilitating.
But, self-doubt doesn’t have to be the evil floppy monster who whispers nasty comments in your ear. When you really think about it— when you chop out all the noise and nonsense— self-doubt is more like an untimely bout of wind than a demon weighing on your shoulder.
We’ve all been there…
You knock on the door of someone you’ve briefly met. Someone you view as important. Someone you want to impress; then, just as the door opens, when you hear the latch being turned, your lower intestine rumbles, and out pops a trouser-trump.
No matter how long it took you to prepare, how well-rehearsed you thought you were, self-doubt strikes: was it a simple gust of nothing… or something else? A silent-but-deadly, or the beginnings of a pyroclastic flow of disappointment and humiliation?
That’s the moment—the critical space between possibilities— the one that you’ve magically decided will path your entire fate from here on out.
A) Crack on, in the knowledge that everyone farts and poops?
B) Escape to a monastery, shave your hair, change your name to Hugo and indulge in some self-flagellation?
It’s easy: You hold your head high, smile, and blame the whiff-of-woe on the dog.
Why blame the innocent, randomly placed dog? Because, unlike us, dogs don’t give a monkey’s balls how others perceive them. So… be like a dog.
Stripped down, self-doubt is nothing more than a fear of stinking to high heaven when you’ve tried to path your footsteps with perfume and charm. It’s the loss of control; the worry of how others will see us. It’s voluntarily standing in a courtroom dock, to be judged by a panel of jurors, when no one has even accused you of a crime.
Sure, we might make mistakes: turn out a bit of work that garners all the response of a sneeze; agree to run Rhymetime at work, knowing our voice resembles a wailing cat in heat (just ask the preschoolers I spend every Friday morning singing to); or we might make the wrong decision to get drunk on our wife’s birthday (I’m talking to you, Mr. Fitzpatrick).
Does it really matter? Will you spontaneously combust or be cast from society if people think your musings, voices, and poorly timed drinking habits suck?
No. They might laugh, they might cringe, they might even block their ears with pieces of flesh they’ve stripped from their bones in response, but you know what? Who cares? Really… WHO CARES?
Who am I kidding… I’m a self-doubt junkie. There’s always a little voice in my head that tells me I’m a fraud, a faker and delusional candlestick-maker (I’m not really a candle-stick maker, it just rhymed). We can’t help but care what others think, or worry how others see us, and our work. But, there’s a good, logical reason why. And knowing why is half the battle to defeating that mutated monster.
Okay, I’m no philosophic genius (no matter how much I try to convince my children otherwise) but I believe self-doubt is born out of primitive instinct; the one no longer needed in modern society: to either stand our ground and fight or get the hell away from the scary thing.
Those instincts served us well when we were toting spears and hunting woolly mammoths; but, like an appendix (the organ, not the table in the back of a book) and wisdom teeth, they seem to have become completely surplus to requirements in today’s modern, processed-food munching world (well, at least until the zombie apocalypse happens). Self-doubt is our brain's way of assessing risk and coming up with a response that’s as useful as a chocolate fireplace.
Fear of failing to impress people is a far cry from the fear of getting your arse served up to some apex predator because you forgot your sharp pointy stick on a trip out hunting to feed your family.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times when doubt can serve you… self-doubt might be a warning sign to step back and reassess a situation. But. I would use this instinctual reaction with lashings of caution and calm. If something doesn’t feel right, take a break and walk away to gain perspective. Don’t think about it. Meditate. Read a book. Watch a film. Find a willing partner to have some vertical fun with. Do whatever it takes to get your mind into something else. Whatever you do, don’t obsess about doubts. Then, when you come back to it, with fresh eyes and a happy disposition, you’ll likely see the doubt for what it is: primitive, misplaced flight response.
When this fails, when I can’t see clearly—when the fog of gloom won’t dispel—I try to beat it back with a bit of introspection; so, I ask myself two very important questions. Questions, I’d like to share with you…
1) Am I responsible for the nuclear armament of a psychotic maniac who wants to cleanse the earth of the parasitic human race so he/she may breed his/her pet iguanas to take over the earth?
2) Have I bet all my life savings, along with the savings of my parents and grandparents, on a horse named ‘lungless-Joe’ in the hope that the wizard I met last weekend really does have super-powers, and he’ll keep his promise to fix the race at the final furlong using his wizarding skills?
If you answered no too, great! You’re not a turnip either; you can carry on and do what you do. Self-doubt, like any thought, is there to keep you grounded and humble, but don’t let it turn you into a tool of the hapless and hopeless.
Am I doubting the content of this blog (including my terrible abuse of punctuation and grammar)? Of course I am. Will it stop me publishing it? No way. When I turned thirty I made the decision to have a full-sleeve tattoo; a few well-intention people commented about my possible future regret. How will you get a job? What will you do when you get old and wrinkly…? You know the sort of thing. Well, in answer to those concerns… I managed to find a job (that I love). And when I’m old, if my colourful wrinkles are the only worry to plague me, then I’ll be one lucky O.A.P.!
We will make mistakes and we will fail. And then… we will probably fail again. Why is that so scary? We are neither immortal or infallible. The next time self-doubt haunts you, remember: we are made from the dust of stars, living on a tiny planet, in the midst of an infinite universe. So why not throw caution to the wind, put your ideas out there, and damn-well enjoy your time with all the wondrous things this life has to offer?