7 ways I overcome paralyzing self-doubt
In precisely 12 days, I will be moving to Brooklyn. Again. The last time I did this, I was 24 and equipped with undying optimism. I remember telling anyone who asked that I was going to New York to work in publishing, to bring great literature into the world. Well, things didn’t exactly work out like that. After weeks and weeks of searching for a job, I finally found one working for a literary agency. What we were bringing into the world, however, was not exactly great literature. I was dejected. How had my personal narrative tracked so closely to that “move to the big city to ultimately have your dreams crushed” cliché?
So, I did what many people who feel professionally unfulfilled would do: I went back to school.
Now I’m 30, equipped with a degree (shout out to all you MFAs out there) that I’m sure nearly 50% of other job seekers in the New York job market have, and a little less naiveté (I hope) than last time. And yet, on the eve of the big move, I’m feeling more unsure of myself than ever. With each passing day, my anxiety over moving back to Brooklyn spirals ever further. What if I can’t find a job? What if I’m really not that good at anything? What if I simply end up back in my old life?
Luckily, it isn’t really like me to dwell for too long in my own self-pity. Instead, I figured out a strategy for channeling my anxious energy into productive energy. And it has (mostly) been working. This is what I’ve been doing.
Time management is crucial
Here’s what happened: I went from a demanding graduate program (taking classes, teaching classes, producing a thesis) to having a period of six weeks of free time between graduation and moving. It felt like sprinting off of a cliff, momentum-wise. I’d been going at such a fast pace for so long, that suddenly not having any structure to my days was really difficult for me.
So, I structured my own days, splitting them into three-hour chunks of productive time, with breaks in between. Most days I get nine to twelve hours of work done: writing, pitching, reading, researching, etc. Imposing this structure has been essential in giving me a much-needed sense of accomplishment each day.
Lists, lists, lists
Speaking of a sense of accomplishment, nothing feels as good as checking something off of a to-do list. So, even though I’m feeling underemployed, I’m also actively deciding not to worry about that, and instead focusing that energy into projects that interest me. Then, I split these projects into tasks that I need to accomplish to complete the projects. It sounds basic, I know, but when you are feeling an enormous amount of self-doubt, it is easy to let that negativity overtake you. Lists are one small way I avoid that.
Finding goals outside of the thing I’m nervous about
I’m feeling professionally stalled, sure. But my profession isn’t the only thing that defines me. I have an amazing husband and great friends. I love to work out and read. I have the cutest dog and cat on the planet. So, while finding the right career for me is still very much top of mind, and at the top of my goals list, it isn’t the only thing that I’m focusing on. I love to challenge myself in all segments of my life, and sometimes when one part is suffering, attending more to the other things that I care about really helps.
Remembering things don’t have to go perfectly to go well
One thing that spreading out my focus and establishing goals in all areas of my life does, is it makes me realize that I have a lot to be grateful for. When I’m feeling anxious, which usually manifests itself as a narrative that spins around in my brain on a constant loop—I’m never going to be good enough, I just pressed pause on my life for three years for absolutely no reason, I’m going to end up doing the same thing I was doing before I ever left Brooklyn when all of my friends have completely passed me by, repeat—I have a hard time recognizing that not everything in my life is terrible. One way to make this stream of negativity stop is to just take a breath and say: Fine, if I end up doing something not totally amazing for the first month or year or however long, I’m still going to be okay. I don’t have to land my dream job immediately, and I need to be OK with that.
Talking it all out
One of the best ways to overcome self-doubt for me is to articulate how I’m feeling and why I’m feeling that way. Something about verbalizing this to another human being that you trust is really helpful. For one, it helps me realize that maybe the thing I’m worrying about isn’t actually worth my energy. Recently, I was so bummed about not getting a job. But after talking to my husband, I realized that job wasn’t what I wanted to do anyway. It is so easy to get stuck in your own head and usually really instructive when you start talking it out with someone.
Stopping all the naysayers in my head
There are times when that negative narrative in my head makes it out into the world. Being self-deprecating is one of my worst qualities, and I know that. I have a hard time accepting compliments or accolades of any kind. I have a tendency to downplay everything good that happens to me. This is NOT useful! It is actually really destructive, especially if you’re already feeling an enormous amount of self-doubt. One approach to stop being self-deprecating is to simply say “thank you” more often when you receive a compliment.
Exercise is actually really good
As I mentioned earlier, I have a dog, which makes walking a necessity. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed by self-doubt and anxiety, I take him out and we walk until I can work through it. Fresh air, silence, the literal physical act of moving forward, these things help in overcoming self-doubt and arriving at place of productivity and hopefully peace.
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