We always think that self-doubt is a bad thing. It holds us back. It prevents us from taking risks. It silences us. It cripples us. We wish we were more confident. We wish we had the courage to do more, more quickly, and more boldly.
Sylvia Plath said ‘the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt’.
Was Sylvia Plath right? Is self-doubt really such a bad thing?
I believe that self-doubt can be really powerful and in a positive way. Here’s why:
1. It motivates preparation.
Let’s say I have a pitch to some senior directors at work. I have an idea – I think it has potential. It is my self-doubt that makes me spend time preparing my pitch. What are my objectives? What are key points? What questions am I likely to be asked? How would I answer?
Blind self-confidence would send me into that meeting without having prepared, happy to wing it, happy to fly by the seat of my pants only to be shot down in flames by a director who knows more, who invariably will know more because he or she is more senior and has more experience, who has considered his or her position, who has done some research and who therefore has the ability and knowledge to question. Self-doubt doesn’t have to paralyse us. Self-doubt can motivate us to perform better.
2. It opens the mind.
We all know people who think they know everything, who believe that their opinion is right, who believe that they are more intelligent and superior to others. Over confidence means that we can be blind to the alternatives. We don’t ask questions. If we don’t ask questions, we don’t get any answers.
The more we question, the greater our chance of finding the right answer and of seeing the alternative. Self-doubt doesn’t have to shut us down. Self-doubt encourages us to look for answers outside of ourselves. Self-doubt can open our minds.
3. It helps us to listen.
Self-doubt means that we seek reassurance, we seek validation and we seek the opinions of others, positive or negative. We listen to them.
I doubt myself. I want to know what others have to say. I want their opinion. I want your opinion. I have asked for it and now I am going to listen and take on board what you have said.
Those who are entirely confident in their own opinion rarely do this. Those who don’t have an element of self-doubt are not open to other views, other suggestions, other options. They don’t listen and they don’t learn.
4. It helps us to build relationships.
Self-doubt can help you to open your mind, to ask for help and to listen to others, and as a result it helps you to build relationships. No-one wants to have a relationship, any kind of relationship, with someone who doesn’t listen. It is demoralising, depressing, destroying. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of courage, confidence and self-awareness. Self-doubt helps us to invite others in, to build relationships.
I have self-doubt. Sometimes to be honest, I have self-doubt by the bucket load. I need a wheel-barrow to wheel my self-doubt around with me. My self-doubt comes in waves, it can submerge me, unpredictably.
But I know that self-doubt, if used correctly, is a good thing. Not that crippling self-doubt that prevents us from ever taking a risk, or from ever trying something new, but that self-doubt that makes us stop to think a bit longer, to work a bit harder, to develop skills in a new area, to explore other options, to ask for advice, to seek assistance.
So, next time you feel self-doubt…
Listen to it.
Don’t push it away.
Don’t hide it in a corner.
Don’t be scared of it.
Build upon it.
DON’T LET SYLVIA PLATH BE RIGHT.
LET SELF-DOUBT BE THE FUEL TO YOUR CREATIVITY NOT THE ENEMY TO YOUR CREATIVITY.