A curious thing happened when I landed my first job out of university. I’d been hired as a publicist at a publishing house in Australia and much to my surprise, my boss didn’t come up to me at the end of my first day to say, “We’ve made a mistake, you really don’t know what you’re doing.” This, let’s be honest, is a pretty classic thought for graduates to have, but at the time several things kept drumming through my mind. I wondered when my boss would notice that I didn’t really know what a publicist does (insider tip: no one really does; the best publicists are so good their work is invisible). I also suspected that I wasn’t quite as well-read as I should be—queue lots of nodding and smiling—and when asked in the interview why I wanted to work in publishing, I simply thought, Isn’t it obvious that I’m 23, have a hunch that this is my thing, but can’t possibly know? Does anyone really know?
So there I was, the cheater, full of self-doubt and entirely expecting, quite reasonably, that there would come a time when I would feel like I was in the know.
Before I go on, I should clear something up. And it’s possibly one of the trickiest things to comprehend about self-doubt. I felt all of this so deeply, however if you were to ask a random sample of colleagues and friends to describe me, they would probably use words like confident, friendly, and outgoing. I’m the girl who’s happy to start talking to anyone in the room. And here’s the clincher: these are all descriptions I’d agree with. How was it, though, that no one seemed to notice me quivering on the inside? Wasn’t it obvious that I had no idea what I was doing? And could you be confident and lacking in self-worth at the same time?
So, naturally, I kept on doing things that you wouldn’t expect of someone crippled by self-doubt. In 2013, I picked up my life in Melbourne, Australia and moved it all to Amsterdam. I purchased a great little Oma bike, fell in love with the city, and began life as a freelance writer. And as you probably know, when trying new things you’re bound to have a stand off with your old pal self-doubt. I was, sadly, never the winner.
Something had to give. I was now 28 and knew from friends that I wasn’t alone in feeling like this. In fact, I think everyone goes through some form of this! So why were we all smiling and pretending like there wasn’t some really tough stuff going on beneath the light and breezy chat about work, brunch, drinks, and travel?
My answer to this was to start asking more questions of the women around me. So everyone could listen in, I set up an online magazine called Friday Best where women could have more in-depth conversations about the stuff that no one talks about—things like what we’re most afraid of and our proudest achievements. But most importantly, I wanted to show that if you’re in struggle town, it doesn’t mean you’re not doing well at life. You’re just living it the only way you know how.
Since our launch in 2014, I’ve quizzed mothers, CEOs, dancers, environmentalists, and teachers, who have all bravely told me their story and what they know to be true about life so far. Not surprisingly, self-doubt is a regular topic. In fact, our very first interviewee exclaimed to me, “I’ve felt like an imposter my whole life!” She’s a Harvard graduate and published author.
The more questions I ask, the more I see there are different ways to think about self-doubt. I’ve stopped thinking about getting rid of it entirely and instead I wonder about why it’s there in the first place, and even how to get excited about it (more on this one shortly).
Full disclosure: I’m still a self-doubting freelance writer living in Amsterdam. I’m unable to give you the secret to a confident life, however I do want to share with you the most useful insights I’ve gleaned from the women we’ve spoken to at Friday Best and my own personal experience. I hope they help you, too.
1. Frame your knowledge.
I find a lot of self-doubt is fueled by the question: What do I know? It’s a particularly hard question to avoid if you’re a junior and thankfully it doesn’t have to just be about your resume. If you feel like you don’t know enough, I strongly recommend this article on how to frame your expertise. Here’s why: When you’re clear on what you stand for and how you’ve reached the point you’re at now, you’re less likely to put your achievements down to luck and way more likely to ask your boss for the salary you deserve.
2. Get excited.
I often ask Friday Best interviewees to tell me what they’d tell their younger selves. Australian expat and founder of Young New Yorkers, Rachel Barnard, didn’t miss a beat before telling me, “Self-doubt is normal and you don’t need to pay it too much attention. Everyone is more amazing than they think.” Over time she had realized that the niggle of fear that occurs right before you take a leap into the unknown is actually a healthy sign you’re onto something good. Time to practice waving hello.
3. Push back.
My natural reaction to feeling incapable has been to seek out advice from others. In fact, you could even say I started a whole magazine so I could do just this! Co-founder of Liberio, Cat Noone, taught me that there are disadvantages to this tactic, too. “At the end of the day,” Cat says, “only you know what you’re capable of. Don’t ever allow anyone to tell you stories that prevent you from properly writing your own.” Be intentional about whose advice you seek out and don’t be afraid to reject it if it’s not right for you.
4. Choose yourself.
Okay, so this does sound a little on the corny side, but it’s something I mistakenly ignored. School has a funny way of making you a rather obedient creature, and after 20 years in the education system I treated my life a little like I was waiting to be picked for the school tennis team. I waited patiently for someone to tell me I was good enough and to tell me what I was good at. Surprise, surprise, this will never happen! Instead, I’m now trying to use my internal compass a whole lot more to make decisions about what to do next. It’s a hell of a lot more satisfying. Promise.
Do you have anything to add to this list? We’d love to hear your tips in the comment section below!
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