Self-Doubt: The Taboo Topic (and how to beat it!)
There is so much societal pressure on being perfect, or appearing to be perfect, that we all become alienated from the reality of being human. If you don’t have a strong figure to teach you about these things early in life, then you end up coming to the same conclusions that I came to: something is wrong with me.
As a man, I am expected to never talk about my feelings, with two exceptions. The first exception is anger, which can be displayed openly, and the second exception is an occasional admission of love for my wife, and once a year for my mom on Mother’s Day, both of which are done in private. Other than that, stoic is the word.
My dad was a rock, as were most of the adult men in my life when I was a kid. I had no idea that he ever felt anything other than rage, because that’s the only emotion I ever saw him display. So, I grew up with the understanding that a man doesn’t experience doubt, or self-esteem problems, or fear, or social anxiety, or the black hole of negativity, or any of that stuff. The problem was that I experienced all of those things. I compared my insides to my dad’s outsides, and there was only one possible conclusion, since we never talked about this stuff: something is wrong with me.
Today I want to talk about feelings
I want to take this opportunity to tell someone out there who feels the same way I used to feel (and sometimes still do), that it’s okay to feel different on the inside than other people look on the outside. It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, young or old. You’re not perfect, but neither is anyone else. If someone looks perfect, it’s because you don’t know them very well. Even confident, successful people are less together inside than you think they are. They might not be a mess, but they have their issues.
The big difference between successful people and everyone else is that successful people don’t let their emotional hang-ups keep them down. People who run big companies have just as many doubts about whether they are good enough to handle the responsibility as anyone else. They know, however, that they don’t have to be perfect. They know what their weak areas are, and they build a team of people who are good at different things to compensate for those weak areas.
How does that help someone who doesn’t have a team, you ask?
Immensely! The key part of their success isn’t in building a great team, it’s in knowing what their weaknesses are, and working on the ones they can fix. Self-awareness is the most important thing that there is. Self-awareness is the most common trait among great people, and the least common among the masses.
If you perform an honest self-evaluation, and answer the following questions, then you can grow into whoever it is that you want to become:
- What are my 10 best qualities? (Character traits, not skills)
- What are my 10 worst character flaws?
- What emotional instability is at the core of each of my flaws?
- What specific action am I going to take each day to turn my flaws into qualities?
- What are things about me that I can’t change, but that I need to always be conscious of in my decisions and activities?
Here are some of my answers to these things, just to give you some insight into how I approach this.
I get angry when people criticize my work or ideas, or suggest other ideas rather than accepting mine.
Low self-esteem. When someone criticizes my work, I take it as a criticism of me, as if they are saying I’m not good enough, and I get hostile and defensive. This is because sometimes I secretly believe that I’m not good enough, and when something seems to confirm that, it really hurts, and so I attack back.
I want to turn this flaw into an openness to other ideas, so that I can grow and become better. So, when someone criticizes something, I will acknowledge that the hurt and anger I feel is a false reaction to the situation. Then I will listen to the reasoning, and give it a fair shot. I will remind myself that no one is attacking me, as many times as is necessary during the conversation. I will also remind myself that other people have good ideas too, and that it’s in my best interest to be accepting when they are willing to share them with me. I will remember that the contributions of others helps me become better at what I do.
Something that I can’t change about myself that’s important to know:
I am an empath. I pick up on the emotions of people around me, and they get magnified in my head, which can be overwhelming. This means that in a conflict, or serious argument, I am going to be extremely uncomfortable, and I’m likely to go off the deep end if I get involved. Even if I am not involved, and just happen to be near others who are arguing, I get very uncomfortable, and feel the urge to leave immediately.
This is the self-awareness that I have now that helps me find success. Before I knew these things about myself, I lived my life reacting to things blindly (and badly!). Now I know how to coach myself through things so I can respond appropriately, and I also know what environments are going to be bad for me. For example, a high-stress workplace where people yell at each other is not a place that I will be successful. I also know that being in a crowd of emotionally-charged people is a bad place for me, even if they are excited and happy, because the emotional surge will drown me. That doesn’t mean something’s wrong with me, it just means I have to be smart about where I go.
You might have more than ten flaws on your list to work on, and that’s okay. I had twenty-eight on my list when I started! By the time I worked my way through the emotional aspect of all of them, I realized that most of them were based on my insecurity issue, which was a huge relief. That meant I really just had to work on improving my sense of self, and that would fix a lot of my flaws.
I’m far from finished with that problem, but I would rate my self-confidence at a 3 out of 10 when I started this process eight years ago, and now I would give myself a 6.5, and that’s a huge improvement! I hope that this will help you understand two things:
1) that’s it’s okay to have flaws, even big ones
2) that you can do something about them, and be successful in life at whatever it is that you want to do
I know, because I did it, and if I can do it, so can you!
J. Boyd Long is an author, blogger, website developer, and the CFO of Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic. In his spare time (ha!) he likes to paint, read, canoe, and hike in the wilderness. You can subscribe to this blog in the big blue block, and future blogs will be delivered to your email. Warning: Subscribing may increase your awesomeness quotient. Please feel free to comment, and share this blog on your favorite social media page! To learn more, please visit JBoydLong.com