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Home > Audio, Podcast > Doubting yourself and your work

Doubting yourself and your work

August 29th, 2008

Career Opportunities podcast logoDoubting yourself and your work
By Douglas E. Welch

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Doubting yourself and your work
August 29, 2008

Everyone, no matter their work, has to face their own doubts throughout their career. We may be working well, but then an unknown or difficult problem or situation can come about that makes us wonder if we are as good at our work as we once thought. In most cases, we are up to the task, but this period of doubt can cause us to struggle. If you let the doubt overwhelm you, it can harm your work and damage your career.

I can tell you from personal experience that times when you suffer under self-doubt are the hardest periods of any career. Not only do you start to doubt your work, but you begin questioning everything else about your life, from the place that you live to the company you keep. Multiple setbacks, laid on top of one another can send me into a deep funk that sometimes seems endless. Despite that, I always know, in the back of my mind that these problems will end and this doubt will pass. You need to keep those same thoughts in your mind whenever you are going through a difficult period. It might be the only thing that keeps you going some days.

So, why do you experience such deepness of doubt? Mainly it comes from lack of knowledge or lack of understanding about a particular aspect of our work. I know from personal experience that suffering through problems with no known solution or those caused by software or hardware bugs are the most troubling. Since you are blazing new trials, or looking for workarounds for known errors, it can feel quite lonely. You might search the internet again and again or discuss the problem with your colleagues endlessly, but it is up to you to solve the problem on your own. While it can be rewarding to be seen as the problem solver of last resort, it can also be stressful and trying. I have been there many times; sometimes it is energizing and at others it is depressing.

Combating self-doubt is not a matter of arrogance or bravado, as some might have you believe, but rather reaching a deep understanding of yourself. I know I frustrate my wife when I fall into self-doubt over a project. She tries to talk me out of it, but the only one who can break through is me at my own pace. It is natural to feel doubt when you are at the beginning of a project with no clear solution. “Am I up to this? Is there a solution at all? What will happen if I can’t solve it?” I would be more afraid if I didn’t doubt myself in these situations, because then I would be lying to myself in a number of ways. Feeling challenged can be a good thing, but ignoring that feeling could mean that you aren’t taking the project seriously.

Sometimes, though, your doubt can cloud your thinking and actually prevent you from finding a solution. If doubt gives way to depression or anger, it is time to take a break. In fact, you will find that stepping away from any problem is often the best way to address it. Our brains are fickle things and sometimes need a break from working on an issue in order to consolidate all the information we have gathered, Then, often at the oddest times, it will present a course of action, if not the actual solution itself. I don’t truly fall into the depths of self-doubt until I have run out of options to try. This is when I know that I have hit bottom. Stepping away from the problem nearly always provides a new plan of attack, another option and the route back up.

Don’t let self-doubt cloud your thinking and your work. Always work under the impression that there is a solution out there and you are capable of finding it. Make good use of the resources around you including the Internet, your co-workers and friends. It is very likely that merely in talking over a problem with them, you will discover new options to try and solutions to pursue. Self-doubt is natural, but don’t let it damage your ability to think and work. It isn’t the end of the world, but if you start thinking it is, you are in danger of damaging your career.

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  1. Shiv Wang
    September 17th, 2010 at 23:19 | #1

    This was such an awesome post; I have the exact same problem right now. The only difference that I want to add is that I’m actually planning to leave the company I’m working for and start my own entirely. I doubt myself, that is why I want to know where my limit is by starting out my own.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing.

    • September 17th, 2010 at 23:21 | #2

      I think doubt is something we all face, even among those we think never face it. The important thing is to do exactly what you are doing. Face the doubt and prove it wrong.

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