One of the most insidious barriers to achieving the life we want to lead has to be self doubt. Can I do this? Do I have the skills, the confidence, the resilience - do I dare?
Self doubt has been my nemesis for as long as I can remember.
I have always been full of big ideas - creativity and "big picture" thinking comes naturally to me. My excitement and enthusiasm can sweep me away to the point where I can create, fund and organise a project and then - bam! - I am paralysed by self doubt. Progress from then on can be slow and painful as I am crippled by those unconscious thoughts of "not good enough" and "who do I think I am?"
Those old familial mantras from the 1960s: “People like us” don’t do great things. We should “know our place” and “let our betters” get on with running the world, writing our books, producing our plays, creating our art.
“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure
I was born into a (mostly!) decent working class family in the Home Counties. The expectation was that I would go to school, learn how to cook and sew and get married at 20. One of my earliest memories, when I lived with my grandparents (so I was under 4) was of me tracing the words in the newspaper - The News of the World, I believe, which was a broadsheet then, and defunct now - knowing that the marks meant something and desperately wanting to know what they said. I remember the girl who was to become my father’s wife laughing and saying: “I hope she isn’t going to be a blue stocking!”*
I did marry young AND, arguably, became an “intellectual and literary” woman, but I was lucky in that my dad had ambitions “above his station.”
He moved us away from the seat of the family when he was promoted at work, recognising that he needed, personally, to distance himself from the environment in which he grew up.
National Service, for my dad, was an eye-opener. It took him away geographically from the area he knew and introduced him to new places and, crucially, new people. Lumped together for army training, he learned about other ways of living, thinking and doing. It opened his mind to new possibilities and made him realise he wasn’t doomed to follow his father into the quarries. The self discipline instilled in him during his 18 months service lasted him a lifetime.
I digress. As soon as Dad realised I had a good brain, he encouraged me to study and “better myself”. Being excused from domestic duties at home didn’t make me popular with my mum and sisters, (it put me on a par with my brother who, after all, as a boy didn’t have to do much around the house bar the old bowl of washing and drying up!) It would infuriate my mum when I used to spend so much time reading as it was, in her eyes, such a “waste” of a girl’s time!
Dad was proud as punch when I became the first member of the family to go to University. It was a Polytechnic, actually, not a Russell Group University*. My inbuilt self doubt, which, by the age of 18, was firmly entrenched, meant I never dared to apply to the best, even though, secretly, I aspired to study at Oxford and Cambridge.
Consequently, I never really valued my place - it felt like second best, I worked hard to sabotage myself and dropped out after my first year (I was 44 when I finally completed a degree, with the Open University). Disappointing my father only served to underline my sense of worthlessness and self doubt.
“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.” Suzy Kassem
Fast forward 40 years and, during the dying throes of a depressive period, I decided to perform a ritual to set my intention to move on and be happy. I typed out all the traits I loathed in myself, cut them into individual strips of paper, and burned them in the garden incinerator. Self doubt was one of them.
Imagine my horror when I came down the next morning, opened the lid of the incinerator and found self doubt lying on a pile of ashes, barely even singed!
There it was, mocking me in bold red type. Believe me, I set light again to that sucker and watched it burn this time!
And yet…and yet…
I guess the opposite of self doubt is self belief, so when my belief in myself wavers, my old resilient buddy starts to whisper in my ear.
I’m at the stage with this new venture, The Midlife Movement, where my headspace has been invaded once again by the niggling voice of self doubt. When I had the idea to create a membership site for women who feel fearful when they move into the peri-menopause - as I once did - I conducted my market research and knew there was a need.
It has taken months of hard work to bring my idea to fruition and both create the content, and gather content from coaches and experts I had never met before I began. It’s been exhausting, exhilarating and scary. I am so pleased with the end result - not that there will ever be an actual end as new content is being added to the site every month!
Feedback from early adopters has been incredible and humbling. I know, from them and from interaction in the free Facebook group, that there is a need for this resource. We are creating a platform for midlife women to build their confidence, step into the lives they want to live and be happy in this exciting phase!
So where does the self doubt creep in? Not about the offering - the “product”, if you like.
No, the self doubt is rearing it’s ugly head because now I have to step out from behind the keyboard and present my beautiful, effective, shiny idea to the world. It feels like one of those dreams where you are naked in public. I’m scared.
I keep telling myself it’s not about me, it’s about my message and the thousands of women it could help. It’s about changing Western attitudes to ageing one woman at a time.
Surely that’s more important than whether I’m a bit overweight, or that some people in the online space might dislike what I say, or - perhaps worse! - that I might meet indifference. Isn’t it?
Maybe I need to burn a piece of paper with “self doubt” written on not every single day! Deep breath. Hold firm. And if you see me “out there” - whether doing a “live” on Facebook, or being interviewed, or guest blogging or any of the multitude of ordeals I am about to put myself through, please do let me know you’re watching or listening. Leave a comment, or a virtual hug. I would appreciate it more than words can say. Together, we are stronger!
© Jo Blackwell - The Midlife Movement 2019
Sources and Notes:
*bluestocking definition: an intelligent and well-educated woman who spends most of her time studying and is therefore not approved of by some men. (Cambridge English Dictionary)
The Blue Stockings Society was an informal women's social and educational movement in England in the mid-18th century. (Wikipedia)
**The Russell Group represents 24 leading UK universities which are committed to maintaining the very best research, an outstanding teaching and learning experience and unrivalled links with business and the public sector. https://russellgroup.ac.uk