Self-doubt doesn’t play nice, and it doesn’t call ahead of time to give you a heads up about when it will be dropping by.
For me, it started to show up and float around in my head after I decided to forego getting a “real” job after graduating college and instead try my hand at growing an eBay store (I also freelance for a local newspaper). I had been selling on eBay for several months before graduating from college and thought it was a good opportunity to make money and a nice alternative to a normal job.
But after a little while I started getting hit with thoughts I’d never really dealt with before, and then one night, stress hit me hard enough that I took some time to go into the bedroom of our one-room apartment and lay down, staring off into space a bit. I didn’t crawl under the covers, but laid on my side across the foot of the still-made bed.
Sometimes my eBay store can be fun. Finding stuff to sell (which some might call “sourcing” or “picking”) is an unpredictable venture, so you can run into big finds at any time. There are also days when I have a stack of items to package and ship—not always the most entertaining part of my job as an online re-seller.
I don’t consider myself to be plagued with self-doubt from day to day, and projects don’t always start out with nagging doubts. Perhaps when it shows up it is after the excitement of setting goals and starting a new project fades and things become more difficult or a little more mundane.
Self-employment can be challenging and lead to silent questions you ask to no one but you. Though since I am married, I have someone I can say the words to: Self-doubt. Lack of confidence.
Did I make the right choice in pursuing this self-employment thing? Or should I have stuck with a more . . . normal job?
After all, someone I knew had pointed me in the direction of a full-time secretary position that could have paid me the highest hourly wage I’d earned in my life. A curly haired friend of mine had told me about still another secretary position at an insurance company she worked for. Maybe I missed out on a chance to have a desk near hers, spending my days earning by the hour and laughing at funny things she had to say or odd questions we received from clients.
But instead, I was on a much less stable income, laying at the foot of my bed where stress had driven me. I roamed thrift stores looking for inventory and worked on my business and life, doubts sometimes floating around in my head.
There are plenty of people who choose more traditional ways of paying the bills, so maybe that is part of what contributes to the self-doubt that self-employed folks deal with. When everyone else gets a regular paycheck, it might be challenging to remember why you decided to face the stress of self-employment. Perhaps this is especially true when you have other viable options that could immediately start paying you much more than starting a business from scratch. If you can make $11-15 or even more an hour, why work for a fraction of that a week, part of which might need to be reinvested in growing your business? Or why risk not making anything for a little while? The prospect could be a bit unsettling to some, I imagine even more so for those who have others depending on their income to ensure their food and shelter.
Should you listen to the doubts? Do you push through them? Or is there some middle path you can take? Maybe part of the middle path is lying down on your still-made bed for a bit, letting yourself calm down or think before acting.
Because I have the support and love of my husband, I have a cheerleader in my moments of self-doubt. That can be helpful, though outside forces probably shouldn’t be my main source of positivity and confidence. Plus, he may be one of my biggest fans, but that doesn’t mean I can always convince myself to join his team and start believing in myself. Sometimes I remain unconvinced.
Doubt is skilled at dimming the memory of successes. Sometimes when I fall short, past failings get pushed to my mind’s center stage. It can be difficult to remember the excitement of earlier days (or hours). I instead remember that I’ve messed up before, and I might be tempted to define “me” by those mess ups. But since I don’t take into account all the successes I’ve had, the definition I’m tempted to place on myself would be off-balanced and untrue.
My self-doubt is not confined to what makes me money, but it also attacks my feelings about my writing abilities. Perhaps there are times when I have felt confident as a writer. I’ve presented my work at conferences. I’ve won awards. I have been accepted and invited to exclusive writing retreats. I’ve received praise for my work in journalism and covered a major party’s convention this last July. But when faced with the idea of starting this blog, there have been moments when I would read the work of others and lose confidence in my own abilities. I also found that I had to follow my husband’s very nice piece that debuted our blog, which may have added a bit of pressure as well.
My writing is not perfect. And if I could get writers I admire to talk openly, they might feel the same about their published work. They might have times they question how good they really are. Perhaps self-doubt is a chronic illness some of us deal with. But being a writer who has room to grow is no reason to lose confidence when faced with someone else’s accomplishments.
What are the benefits of being self-employed? A different kind of freedom, satisfaction knowing every step my little business takes is because of me, confidence in my accomplishments.
What are the benefits of writing? A chance for exploration and learning, a way to make something beautiful, and again, that sense of pride in your finished work.
I know that getting over self-doubt will not be simple. Writing about how this doubt isn’t worth my time or energy isn’t going to stop it from creeping in. Completely evicting these feelings will take some time—maybe a lifetime.
And let’s face it, the self-doubt I felt as I lay on the covers of my bed did not last. I got up and kept running my business, and I started to feel better again. This month is the best month my eBay business has had. Last month I made 17 sales. This month, I’ve already made 19, and I still have half the month left. Some people might not think that is a lot, but it is growth and there is more to come.
Perhaps part of the key to overcoming self-doubt is to simply not let it stop us. It might slow us down for a time, but if we keep going, the thoughts will eventually pass. And even if they come back later, maybe we will have accomplished more and grown more by the time the doubts return. We’ll have a longer list of things to convince us that the feelings are unfounded and that there is something even greater ahead.
Comment below, and tell us how you overcome self-doubt.