Self doubt – recognise, accept, and grow

I have been wracked with self doubt all my life.  It’s the monkey on my back.

However, it was only recently I discovered I am not the only person who feels this way, and in fact, I have come to realise it is something all of us grapple with from time to time – even our aspirational heroes.

The question is, how can we accept the feeling of self doubt positively, without allowing it to cripple us?  

How do we recognise self doubt and sit with it comfortably, without it holding us back from achieving what we are truly capable of?

Recently I have received much comfort in reading about some of my personal heroes – in business, in the world, and in my own personal life, who too have been challenged by self doubt.

Great leaders, who are imperfect and human, carrying all the foibles, faults and fears like the rest of us – regardless of how magnificent their achievements throughout life’s journey may be.

The difference is, despite the self doubt these leaders feel, somehow they have ‘felt the fear and done it anyway’.

In other words, they have recognised and accepted self doubt for what it is, and forged ahead anyway, ultimately rising above it to bigger and brighter accomplishments.

If left unchecked to run rampant in our mind, self doubt can prevent us from taking risks.

Photo: Andrew McAlpine - The Leader's Digest

Photo: Andrew McAlpine.
Self doubt can keep us imprisoned within a shell.

What would have happened if Columbus had listened to self doubt more than the other voices in his heart and in his mind?  The voice that said, “what if?” 

What if there is another civilisation?

What if my instincts and my intuition about discovery are right?

The world would have looked very different indeed!

As a modern day example, what if Steve Jobs had let self doubt prevent him from starting Apple Inc. with Steve Wozniak in his parents’ shed?”

Self doubt is an uncomfortable companion, but it is a companion of mine nevertheless, and one I believe we all need to befriend – despite how prickly it may feel.

In many instances in our lives, self doubt has served us well.  It prevents us from being exposed, from making a fool of ourselves, of not standing out in a crowd, and of being ahead of the bell curve.  It keeps us safe.

But, here’s the rub. 

Self doubt can also stop us from being who we can potentially be.  It prevents us from taking the sometimes unpopular and lonely road which leads us to what we want, as opposed to what other peoples’ expectations of us are.

Self doubt can hold us back from reaching our full potential, and becoming who we REALLY want to be.

I used to think self doubt was all about fear of failure.  But I am coming to realise that self doubt is more often about fear of success (whatever we define that to be).

I am learning that my uncomfortable companion is a good one, and I’m OK with that.

If there is one valuable lesson I have learned, it is the decision to no longer be enslaved by my self doubt.

And I am flying.


  1. […] that’s OK – after all, we’re only human. Self-doubt is always lurking just beneath the surface. And it can appear just as quickly as any […]

  2. Emma Dean (née Traynor) on December 20, 2012 at 2:37 am

    Excellent suze, as per xxx

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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