These 4 Not-So-Secret Weapons Win the Battle with Self-Doubt
Do you want more?
We can be content with what we have but not complacent. Grateful, but not passive. Since healthy human beings grow, this desire for more is inevitable and necessary for our thriving.
Despite our drive to keep growing, we often stagnate into complacency. As a result, we miss out on the impact we could have. Our sphere of influence shrinks because we stop taking risks and chasing the life we desire. We tell ourselves we are satisfied, but our lives are hollow, and we know it’s a lie. Before long, we find ourselves shrinking from challenges habitually. We become small, self-doubting, and, in our minds at least, inconsequential.
A life of playing it safe begins as a flame and ends as a flicker. No one remembers it, and few mourn its passing.
“Only those who dare to fail greatly, can ever achieve greatly.”
— Robert F. Kennedy 
No one wants to look back on a life of mediocrity, but this is the default state of the human race. No one is exempt. Passivity always produces mediocrity and self-doubt that locks us in place. But the battle is winnable. We can push past apathy and defeat self-doubt with four not-so-secret weapons.
No one succeeds alone. Everyone needs a relational context to understand themselves. Friends help us see our strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for growth. Relationships are messy but vital to our thriving. Sometimes, they teach us things about ourselves we would rather not know. In that case, they spur us on to growth and allow us to become better versions of ourselves. Other times, they open new opportunities as we see where our gifts overlap with the needs of others we know intimately.
Surrounded by those who share our values, we are refined by conflict with others, encouraged by their successes, and spurred to excel by healthy comparison. There can be no substitute for truth-telling friendship. Without friends, we are stunted, less than ourselves, and adrift.
In a community, we learn to see ourselves how others see us. But no one other than ourselves can see our inner person. We must understand our values, our personality, and aspirations.
Our core values motivate us to take risks, push through uncertainty and doubt, and attempt to make an impact. But we cannot act on them unless we know them. It takes time to reflect on past experiences and see the common threads that identify our deepest values. If we don’t invest the time, the resulting confusion produces self-doubt.
Few things could be more disastrous than an extroverted relational person isolating themselves and focusing on technical tasks. But many of us attempt to achieve our dreams with methods that are out of sync with our personalities. In this case, our work is out of alignment with our design, and we get tired, discouraged, and doubtful.
Adulthood does not begin until we can answer with confidence when asked, “What do you want?” Perhaps this definition of adulthood is too narrow. But it seems that clarity of purpose is a prerequisite for real impact. We expect children to spend considerable time in reactive mode. After all, they are still being shaped and formed by their experiences. When that forming is complete, they will have opinions, desires, and expectations for themselves and their surroundings.
It is possible to reach middle age without knowing what we want. If life is a game of cards, sometimes it deals us a bogus hand. It can take years to see that no matter what others have done, we are responsible for the cards we hold. Then we face our doubts, own our lives, and begin to thrive by naming our aspirations.
Live the life you desire, not one someone else designs for you. Remember, only you know the real hidden you. Others may have opinions about our choices, but they do not have to live with them.
When you know your personality, values, and strengths, you can align them with your lifestyle and pursue the impact that accords with your design.
This morning I was at the beach watching the sun come up. A brisk wind was blowing off the Gulf of Mexico, and the birds loved it. They could satisfy their curiosity about me by hovering overhead against the wind for a few seconds and moving on with a flap of their wings. Perhaps because of the crashing waves nearby, the absurd picture of a fish trying to soar overhead came to mind. I cracked a wry smile; it’s funny to imagine a fish flying. But it is tragic to realize that many of us who should be soaring like birds are barely treading water trying to swim.
Consistent, repeated practices move you toward your aspirations. Waiting, hoping, and praying to God can allow us to dodge responsibility. I believe in prayer. But pious passivity is still worthless. Be sure that waiting on God is not an excuse to avoid what you know you must do. Remember, the Apostle James said, “Faith without works is dead.”
You may find, as I do, that when you clarify what you want, the vision pulls you into action. There are two ways to get things done: push yourself or get carried away. I’ll take the latter any day. It takes immense self-discipline to do what we dread. But with a clear purpose in mind, once dreaded tasks can become a joy. A small amount of inner work can turn things on their head and free us from drudgery.
How to Give and Get More
If you’re still with me, something likely resonates in this message, and it’s time to take action. You know you want to risk more than you’ve already attempted. Perhaps you can begin with an assessment.
How well do you know yourself? It is time to choose friends who support your aspirations and free you to grow without finger-pointing and shame. If you are unsure of your unique makeup, a quick search online will reveal personality tests and books that will help you go deeper. Above all, reflect and answer the big question, “What do you want?” Then align your life with your answer.
The time is now, and it is short. Your choices are yours alone. I hope you take a risk, even a small one. When you’ve been complacent, even one small step can be your way to “dare to fail greatly.”
This quote comes from a speech Robert F. Kennedy gave in South Africa. It is interesting because of its oblique references to apartheid, but also because of some statements about a future where communications and technology would foster equality. It seems he was at least partially wrong about the equalizing power of technology.
“Everywhere new technology and communications bring men and nations closer together, the concerns of one inevitably become the concerns of all. And our new closeness is stripping away the false masks, the illusion of differences which is at the root of injustice and hate and war. Only earthbound man still clings to the dark and poisoning superstition that his world is bounded by the nearest hill, his universe ends at river’s shore, his common humanity is enclosed in the tight circle of those who share his town or his views and the color of his skin.”
DAY OF AFFIRMATION ADDRESS, UNIVERSITY OF CAPETOWN, CAPETOWN, SOUTH AFRICA, JUNE 6, 1966 ↩︎