“Have you had any experience with doubt? Like people doubting your business could ever be successful?”
That was the vulnerably put, honest-to-the core question that was on my message board Monday. I wanted to wrap this person in my arms and protect them from the critical comments they went on to tell me someone close to them said.
Several feelings flooded into my mind at once.
One. Yes, I do deeply know what that feels like. I’ve experienced so much doubt and criticism from people (family, friends, strangers, – you name it) that I don’t even know where to begin. Just last week, my nuclear family member called this very blog you are reading “psycho babble” and called me “delusional” for the way that I think. Those were the exact words. I’m not paraphrasing. And, unfortunately, another family member, in the not-so-distant past, told me my first EP “sucked.” Again, exact words. I’m not paraphrasing.
Three. I’m so happy that this person feels safe to ask me this question because I know it’s not an easy one to serve up. I, myself, have been mortified of asking this question.
Those feelings aside, what I’ve been mulling over since Monday morning is this… if the opposite of fear is love, and the opposite of criticism is encouragement, then what is the opposite of doubt? – Self doubt specifically, because the key here isn’t to figure out a way to stop people from saying what they are going to say… that’s impossible. The key is figuring out how to prevent their doubt from becoming your own.
So is the opposite of self doubt, self confidence? And if so, how do we cultivate that? Where does it come from? In my experience, self confidence isn’t something we just wake up with one magical morning… No, from my understanding, it’s based on a lifetime of considering how we are seen in other people’s eyes.
And BAM, there it is: so often our self confidence is based on how we think we’re seen by others. Damn, that’s bad. But I do it, too. Think about it: self confidence is an inside job – it’s something only you can carry – no one else can carry it for you. Yet, so many of us, myself included, allow the outer world to dictate the level of our inner confidence. This is asinine!
So what do we do about it? How do we cultivate and consistently carry our own self confidence – or at least enough of it to prevent the doubters doubt from becoming our own?
I don’t have all the answers, and I’m not going to pretend that I do. However, what I do have is experience in this area, and I’m going to share with you what has helped me in case it may be of value to you.
- Do not react. Doubters usually want a reaction. If you refuse to swing when they throw you the ball, then you aren’t participating in their game. If you choose to swing, you are insinuating that their doubt matters to you. In my experience, when doubters feel like their words matter to you, they keep speaking.
- Do not give your power away. Ask yourself what kind of weight you want to place on their opinion. What I mean is: Are they reliable? Do they have integrity? Do they really know you? Like reeeeally know you beyond the surface? Are they living a life you think you would enjoy living? Do they treat others in a way you aspire to? Do they seem happy and fulfilled in their own lives? Do you think they are coming from a place that has your best interest at heart? If not, then the weight you place on whatever they say to you can effectively be a big fat ZERO. What Brené Brown says, and I am paraphrasing this, is “if you aren’t in the arena getting bloodied and daring greatly with me, then who are you to criticize or have any opinion at all on what I’m doing?”
- Your opinion matters most. So often, we minimize the incredible and brave things we do and maximize the opinions of others. This is backward. Cry your hot tears, get angry if you need to, run a marathon, write in red in all caps in your journal and burn it – do whatever you need to do after doubt or hate or criticism or negativity has been sent your way. Don’t hold it in. Don’t run from it. But don’t you dare allow it to minimize the value of what you bring to the table. Let me ask you this… When you are 90 and looking back over your life, do you think your 90 year old self will want to say “oh yes, I’m glad I allowed that person’s doubt to completely thwart my efforts and stop me in my tracks?” Or do you think your 90 year old self will want to say “dang, I battled on even when the odds were against me and I had no visible support”…? Ladies and Gents, don’t wait for the world to get behind you. Not everyone will love what you are doing. Some will even adamantly let you know they disapprove. Let’s take a lesson from Jesus on this. He says “love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s one of the most profound and beautiful statements in the world, yet people still take issue with it. There are people who aren’t going to like you. There are people who may even hate you. But here’ the thing: you aren’t other people, so do you want to base your life’s decisions on someone who will never walk in your shoes, or do you want to live the life you feel you were meant to live in your own f-ing shoes? Your opinion on who you are matters most. Who’s? YOURS.
These three things aren’t necessarily a cure all, but they have helped me. A lot. And you know what else has helped me? Let’s take it back to Jesus’ words and go a step further… loving my neighbor as myself, yes, but actually. actively. loving. myself. Part of the break down in society is that people are in serious pain. They have no idea what self love looks or feels like or how it could be a vessel for making their lives better. Hurting people, hurt people. They hurt others because they are in so much pain and in that moment they find temporary relief knowing that others are in pain with them. How are we supposed to love a neighbor like we would ourselves if we have no idea how to love ourselves?
Because, maybe the opposite of self doubt isn’t self confidence, since self confidence seems to be situational and unreliable and based so often on the opinions of others, maybe the opposite of self doubt is self love.
Let’s cultivate that, dear one. As I’m typing this, I’m realizing that chasing self confidence is a rabbit whole because I think the source of true self confidence comes from self love. I seriously believe that if you focus on how to love yourself better and more consistently, then the self confidence will naturally follow. Their words will sting less, their opinions will matter less, and your resolve will be a firm line in the sand that says “say what you will, but you will not stop me.”
Lastly, I have a message for those slinging doubt and criticism and negativity our way:
Do you know what it feels like to be brave? To pour yourself into something and then put it out into the world in all its human-ness? Do you know what it feels like to feel that vulnerable – to start something not knowing how it will turn out but deciding to do it anyway? Do you know what it feels like to march on despite criticism? Do you know what it sounds like to carry on even when those closest to you doubt that you are capable?
Your words, your thoughts, your arrogance in thinking you know a path better for me than I do, may momentarily cut me like a dagger to my heart, but you will not deter me. I cannot so easily be thrown off track. I would gently encourage you, doubter, to take the energy of that doubt you are hurling at me, and direct it inward. What is it that I am doing that is affecting you so much? Am I reminding you that there is a big world out there and that it really is ours to choose what we make of it? Is my brave decision making you feel bad because you aren’t willing to make a brave decision of your own?
Despite the fact that you are hurting me, I want to remind you that you, too, can make brave decisions. The only thing stopping you is fear. Everything else is figure-out-able.
So the next time you want to throw daggers at my dream, I would challenge you to think about what that might feel like if someone threw daggers at your own. I would challenge you to consider what it would feel like to so bravely put a work out into the world only to have it met by the seething doubt of someone who hasn’t made brave decisions of their own. I’m all for constructive criticism from those I respect, but before you assume you are in that esteemed category of people I accept advice from, I want you to ask yourself these questions: what is your intent in telling me this? Is it to make my work better? To elevate my ideas? To encourage me to be bigger and better and braver? Or, is it to cut me down so you don’t feel quite as small?
If it’s the latter, then I kindly ask you to hold your words. They will be wasted on me and I will choose not to give them any weight. In fact, you will be squandering your own breath because I will carry on bravely like the warrior I am with or without you.
(feel free to copy, paste, sign and send this letter via snail mail, email, text, social media, smoke signals, etc. to whomever needs to see it… rinse and repeat as needed)
May we love ourselves enough to be truly capable of loving our neighbors.
May we never let their doubt become our own.
May we refuse to treat others, even our doubters, in the ways our doubters have treated us.
And may we march forward, igniting this flame of bravery in others.
LIGHT, LOVE, & PEACE,
J A C L Y N S T E E L E
Photo provided by the incredibly talented Adrienne Mary, who happens to also be my neighbor. 🙂