Shifting from self-doubt to “What if?”

It’s only been a couple of weeks since I wrote a post on how my superpower is self-doubt

I received several lovely comments on that post, with others saying they struggle with the same thing. Stephany‘s comment, in particular, stood out to me. What if, instead, I asked myself what would happen if something actually went well? 

A few days later, I got the weekly edition of an email newsletter to which I have subscribed for years, written by a life coach. It opened with this quote: 

What if we had an unwavering belief in ourselves? What if we always knew that there was nothing too big to stand in our way? What if we truly believed that against all odds we will always figure it out?
– Jess Ekstrom
Which, of course, got me thinking, well, what if? 
What if that manuscript that I submit is accepted (with revisions, come on, let’s not get too crazy here…)? 
What if the grant is funded? 
What if I actually manage to shift my program of research out of neutral, where it’s been stuck for a few months? 
What if, instead of running scared from the “big things” on my to do list, I actually, you know, did them? 
What if I wrote the email that I have known for weeks that I need to write? 
What if, instead of thinking that my students secretly hate me, I think that they actually value the content and insights that we share each week? 
It won’t happen overnight, but yesterday, I did have a bit of an epiphany (while cleaning the bathroom, of all things…). (And yes, I was cleaning the bathroom on Thanksgiving morning. I was alone. I usually clean on Thursdays. Why not? :>) 
My mini-epiphany: I have been avoiding the “big things” related to my work because I am convinced that I will fail. I haven’t succeeded to the degree I anticipated I would up to this point in my career… so what will change this go-round? And I realized that I was tired of thinking that way. 

I literally looked at myself in the mirror and told myself to stop. To just do it. That if I don’t do it, I’ll never know if my hypotheses actually hold up. No one else is asking these questions, so why not me? 
It’s a small step. But it’s a step. I made my to do list for today and the weekend, and it includes several of my biggest projects right at the top. 
Because what if? 

Emerging from the depths

So, yeah. I wrote that post title on Sunday. 

Just goes to show how accurately I predicted my week. As in, I was completely and totally wrong. The depths – of work, of worrying about our country and its future, of worrying about other “life things” – are still very much pulling me in, despite my best efforts to extract myself. 

When I wrote that title, I was focusing mostly on work. I thought I was past the nuttiest time of the semester, as I had finished the vast majority of my guest lectures, wrapped up one course, and only had one remaining. And then I realized just how much there still is for that one course. Not to mention my service on multiple committees and groups. So yeah, not quite done yet. 

I am thrilled with the outcome of the presidential election (might as well just put it out there). The last four years have been interminable for those of us who could not believe that a completely unqualified toddler with no experience, or even interest, in serving the country could be elected president over such a vastly better qualified and competent candidate. And yet. Here we are. Sunday, I was feeling pretty good. Today? I’m not so sure. I left a comment on Susanne’s blog that commended her for stepping away from news and social media… for I find myself doom scrolling and seeking any glimmers of hope that T*****’s attempts to steal a lawful election from the voters will fail. I know this is bad – for my mental health and for getting all that other stuff I referred to up there ^^^. I’m working on it. But it is hard. I want to believe this will all come out right in the end, but I could have done without the prolonged anxiety. Taking another deep breath this morning, willing myself to put down my phone, and focus on what I CAN do. Obsessing about Michigan a, won’t change anything, and b, just makes me anxious. 

I found this quote from John Steinbeck in an email from … last week? I think? From James Clear. His 3-2-1 newsletter is one of the best out there, if you are looking for a weekly dose of insight. It helps… to remember we have come to this point before and emerged unscathed. I have to have hope that will happen again. 

Not that I have lost any hope. All the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up. It isn’t that the evil thing wins — it never will — but that it doesn’t die. I don’t know why we should expect it to. It seems fairly obvious that two sides of a mirror are required before one has a mirror, that two forces are necessary in man before he is man. 

~John Steinbeck

Living with the uncertainties

For me, more than anything else, 2020 has reminded me that life is uncertain, that we can plan, and predict, and anticipate as much as we want, only to have the universe laugh in our faces. I imagine many people have had the same realization. 

I am a planner. Always have been. Of course, there have been major shifts along the way, and unanticipated challenges and choices. But for the most part? I like knowing what’s going to happen, in work, in life, and (I’ll even go out on a limb here) in the world. 

Yet so much of life is unpredictable, filled with the unexpected. Personally, professionally, nationally, globally. I’ve seen so many bloggers write about how they could have never anticipated a year ago that we’d be in the situation(s) we’re in right now. 

Perhaps a year of such upheaval and change serves to remind us that these little earthquakes occur with startling regularity in all of our lives. That we should never, really, take anything for granted. We have what we have right now – that is all we are guaranteed. Anything can – and will  – change in a moment. It’s reminded me, personally, that I should never pass up the opportunity to hug someone… to tell people I love them… to connect when we can. Not to get too morbid here, but the phone call or Zoom hang out that I decline today may be my last opportunity to be with someone, albeit virtually.  

Will this make me into someone who never plans? Who follows their whims of the moment? I doubt it. It has, however, reminded me of the importance of the moment, of never taking things for granted, of always hugging, and saying I love you. I hope you have taken those opportunities, too. 

“We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable. It would be  wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends and  living our lives.” —Maya Angelou

The one thing I know I excel at is self-doubt

Edited to add: I know that we are in the middle of one of the most stressful weeks of the year, and one of the most worrisome times for our country since its founding. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t focused on that, because my anxiety over the US election outcome is constant and extreme. But… I just really needed to think about something else this morning. I will likely write something about the election in the near future, but for today… well, I just wanted (and needed) to do a bit of navel-gazing. Thanks for understanding. 


I am really, really excellent at doubting myself. 

Personally, professionally, heck, even in my running. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I go into pretty much any situation thinking that I won’t measure up, or I won’t succeed.

Submitting that grant? No way it gets funded. 

Submitting a manuscript? It’ll be rejected. 

Teaching a class? They’ll probably hate the way you do it. 

Going for a run? You probably won’t make it more than a couple of miles. 

It’s become even more evident in this (continuing) time of isolation. And I do wonder how I got to be this way. Modesty and humility were characteristics that my parents instilled in me, but I do wonder, do I take it too far? (The answer is probably yes…) 

We were taught never to toot our own horns, as it were. But I think I’ve taken that and let it mutate into persistent self-doubt. 

Which can make me kind of an Eeyore in my daily life, to be honest. One time, I’d like to start a project assuming – no, knowing – that it will be successful. I’d like to start a class, or a guest lecture, and think that the students will appreciate the hard work and preparation I put in, and that they’ll enjoy the discussion and content. 

Yet I’m not sure how, exactly, one goes about changing one’s mindset on these things. I can read all the Brene Brown I want, but if I don’t internalize it, then it’s not super-helpful. Is it a matter of persistence and perseverance? Reframing? 

I wish I knew, but I am hoping to figure it out. Soon. It’s frustrating enough when others question us… It’s next level annoying when we do it to ourselves. I don’t want to look for external validation – I’d like to be confident enough, sure enough in myself and my contributions to work, society, life, that I don’t need that external validation to support my own recognition of my value. 

Lots to think about. And probably some more reading. (Any recommendations?) Some more reflection. I’ve lived with this long enough. I don’t want to live like this for the rest of my life. 

The space between

I’m not even sure what to write today. Living in a swing state in a nation on the precipice of the most consequential election of my lifetime, I feel as though I’m madly bouncing between hope and despair. 

I’m trying to hold on to the hope, but then think that I can’t be too hopeful, because 2016…

Then I get sucked into the downward spiral of panic and worry and frustration and anger… and I know that isn’t good, either. 

So I’m trying – not succeeding, mind you – but trying to find that space in between. The space where I think I need to TRY to be for the next several days – striving for calm, trying not to panic, trying not to get my hopes up. In the middle of it all, as it were. 

And yet – 

I’m so tired of being filled with rage every time I look at the headlines. 

I’m tired of the shattering of norms. 

I’m tired of the lies, the wholesale repudiation of science, knowledge, and truth. 

I’m tired of feeling like I’m fighting against a rising tide with every one of my actions. 

Even though I’m tired now, I know those who have had to deal with so much more are even more exhausted. I know the fight will not be over, whatever the outcome. 

So I seek the calm in between in order to gain strength for the ongoing fight. 

If you live in the US, I hope that you are taking care of yourself in whatever way you need to. I’ll be doing the same over here. Holding hope in one hand and worry in the other.