Leaders need to exude confidence regardless of the occasional and perfectly normal feelings of self-doubt. Fear plays a big role in self-doubt. Whenever you step out of your comfort zone, you are in risky territory. As William Jennings Bryan said, “The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear and get a record of successful experiences behind you.” When you keep taking risks, based on your knowledge and passions, you will have some failures, but you will have so many successes people will quickly forget the ones that didn’t work.
Sometimes the doubt comes in the form of Imposter Syndrome. It’s when you begin second-guessing yourself and the voices inside your head say you are not up to a particular challenge. Or you are not that good. Even very successful people suffer from this on occasion.
We have a tendency to see what others do that we cannot. Maybe you are using Twitter in a limited away, but you see so many librarians leading Twitter chats and showing all they accomplish. How can you think you are a tech integrator when you don’t know how to do these things? We don’t see the things we do that others cannot. We assume everyone is doing that. You know, the other thing that we can’t do and what we can do is nothing special.
Recognition is key when you are suffering from Imposter Syndrome. Once you notice it, you can have a good talk with yourself and work to redirect your thoughts. Make sure you remind yourself of what you have achieved so far which is a good indicator that you can take this new path as well.
Even if you have done something before, the new iteration will bring a challenge which can cause a flare-up of self-doubt. I’m experiencing it myself. I just signed a contract with ALA Editions for a book entitled Classroom Management for School Librarians. The manuscript is due mid-February, and it needs to be about 60,000 words. I look at the task before me and wonder if I can get this done. I know what I am covering in each chapter, but do I have enough to say about the topic to meet the targeted number of words? Sure, I have written many books and met both deadlines and word counts, but at the beginning of the project, looking at the road ahead, I can feel the self-doubt creeping in.
I handle it by recognizing its presence and plunge ahead. One step at a time. I set internal targets for completing the chapters and the word count for each. I know I will never hit them exactly, but this gives me a framework and keeps me from being paralyzed by the size of the task.
Lolly Daskal provides her own solution for dealing with self-doubt in What to Do When You Doubt Yourself as a Leader. Her eight suggestions are:
Know you’re not alone – When you are mired in self-doubt, it’s easy to believe no one has ever felt that way. I guarantee just about everyone with whom you come in contact has those moments, days, weeks. I doubt there’s a single leader who hasn’t experienced it.
Remember that breakdowns can lead to breakthroughs – If you focus on how to get through this time, you may discover you have come up with an alternative that is better than your initial plan. Daskal notes the breakdown may “mean you’re on the edge of a terrific period of growth and discovery.” It may not feel that way in the moment, but if you keep moving forward you’ll get to that breakthrough.
Ride the wave – It’s what I am doing now. Focus on why you want to tackle the project. What is the reason you are allowing self-doubt to creep in? I find beginnings are hard. There is such a long road ahead. But I am working on reminding myself, the journey has its own rewards. I will be learning as I go—and that’s a good thing.
Treat your struggle as the beginning of a success story – If you are a regular reader of my blog and/or have been to my presentations, you know I draw on my personal experiences. I include failures and successes because that’s life. Everything you do adds to the richness of it. As a Chinese proverb states, “Pearls don’t lie on the seashore. If you want one, you must dive for it.”
Don’t try to go through it alone – A very wise suggestion. We tend to hide our self-doubts as though it were a shameful secret. Who are the people who always believe in you? If you have a mentor, that’s great. If not, this may be a good time to get one. These are the people who can give you the positive self-talk you can’t seem to give yourself.
If you can’t change the situation, you have to change yourself – Realistically, do you need to learn something to accomplish the task? If so, take the time to build the needed skill. At the same time, focus on your strengths to build your self-confidence. Together the learning and the knowing will help propel you forward.
Get outside help – This is much like “don’t try to go through it alone.” When you need someone to talk you “off the ledge” go to your PLNs whether this is your local AASL chapter, on Facebook or other places. You will find the support you need.
Lead from within – Regain your faith in yourself by being a quiet leader. Support others on their journey. Be the one to help someone else with self-doubt. You will be amazed at how this will help cure your own.
Confidence is not a permanent condition. Life will always bring challenges to chip away at it. Be prepared to deal with it. You are a leader, a confidence-builder in others. Remember to do this for yourself as well.