4 Steps to Overcoming Your Doubts
If you’re a woman pushing your professional limits, you are familiar with self-doubt.
It’s all too easy to doubt yourself when you are doing something different from your family’s or society’s norms. Even if you have the vocal support of people important to you, you may fall back on traditional thinking.
Women pursuing higher education as non-native English speakers in the U.S., from places as different as Saudi Arabia, Nicaragua, and China with whom I work, tell me that the most difficult voice to push past is their own. They say that their internal voice of doubt can be their worst enemy. They also say that they know that most successful women learn to push beyond self doubt and focus on their dreams. Talking with these women, I’ve found there are common themes of how to handle self-doubt.
1. Reach out to women who share your ambitions.
This is often difficult starting out, but the beginning is the most crucial connecting time for your career. Go to social, professional, and academic events looking for other women like you. Set up consistent meetings, like a standing lunch date where you encourage each other and share resources. Practice including your ambitions when you introduce yourself, this will help you find people who have similar goals. It’s much easier to believe in yourself if you have a friend or two who share your enthusiasm.
2. Create your own identity.
You need a clear definition of who and what you’re trying to be. The women I work with have made choices against their culture’s grain–to for example delay having a family, to live alone in a strange country, or to study fields dominated by men. Since choices are not often supported by family members and friends, so they often struggle with doubting themselves. To protect your goals from crumbling, take time to write down how you see yourself and want you want to do with your skills. Use sentences like “I am . . . ” “I value . . . ” and “I want . . . ” Your new identity may look different than those of women around you, but if you can clearly articulate your new aspirations, you can talk back to yourself when your values are challenged. When tempted to compare your life and choices with others’ more traditional ones, have a prepared pep talk that reminds you: “I have chosen to develop myself in a different direction and I believe it will be the most rewarding for me.”
3. Redefine “failure.”
Because you’ve defined your own identity, you can start to see success and failure differently. To achieve the success you want, you will have “failure” moments. Don’t let these “failure” moments feed your self-doubt, and instead of calling it failure, call it training. Teach yourself to have this mindset about everything you try. These experiences will give you skills, perspective, or information that will help you develop. In this new training mindset, the only thing you can call “failure” is doubting and giving up on your dreams or goals.
4. Expand your comfort zone.
With your new training mindset, you are free to try things that would have intimated you before. Introduce yourself to someone you respect, speak up in your seminar class, apply for a dream job or position, enter a paper or presentation in a conference, or start a professional group within your organization. Every new activity or position is valuable. Instead of thinking “Everything depends on this,” think of new and challenging opportunities as chances to see how you fit into a new task or position. If you don’t fit, don’t start listening to doubt. You are one step closer to defining exactly what and how you want to be.
As you work on overcoming your doubts, look for other women, perhaps a year or two behind you, that you could help. If you are reading this article, you likely have connections to women who support and understand you (if only through this online community!). So, be watching for women around you who might lack that connection with like-minded peers. Take time to befriend one, or two. In a sea of criticism, even a single voice saying, “I believe in what you’re trying to do,” and, “I’ve been where you are, and you can make it,” can be all a woman needs to push past her voice of doubt.