Doubt. An uninvited troubled guest that has too frequently overstayed its welcome in my psyche for as long as I can remember. It stealthily takes up residence in hidden chambers of my being until it finds an opening into my subconscious mind, usually around 3:00 am. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at reclaiming my thoughts as my own, yet it’s played a big role in my life-long journey of becoming. I know the feeling well when doubt gets in the way. Maybe you do, too.
As I write, I’m organizing and packing to travel to Kraków, Poland for this year’s Transformational Presence Global Leadership Gathering. As you read, I will have just returned home. This article is what comes up within me as I sit with this year’s Gathering theme:
Create a world that works
What if…the time to step up is now
The shift is in the courage
Courage has nothing to do with
our determination to be great.
It has to do with what we decide
in that moment when
we are called upon to be more.
There’s something that happens deep inside us when we care about something so much that we move into action or speak out, even when we’re afraid or we’re filled with doubt. A feeling more powerful than our doubt takes over, and we do things we never imagined we could do.
Courage is an “inside job.” So is doubt.
Yet here’s the thing. Doubt is also an inside job. It lurks in the corners and crevices of the subconscious looking for the moment to attack. Sometimes it’s subtle; other times it’s a full-on invasion. And when we haven’t learned how to meet the doubt while staying grounded and centered, it can take over. It can keep us from standing up for something that matters to us; it can even keep us from living into the callings of our hearts.
Sometimes doubt shows up to help us see something we need to pay attention to. Perhaps there’s a missing piece in our preparation, or we haven’t yet noticed a critical part of the bigger picture. It’s important to check in with the doubt to see what it’s trying to tell us.
Doubt can also show up in relationship to other people or societal systems. Trust in others or in our social structures and systems can be harder to come by in uncertain times. It’s easy to become triggered by the collective doubts and fears of the mass consciousness and wonder if you will ever find your way. Stepping away from the noise, giving yourself space, feeling your feet on the ground, and breathing into your bones can help you return to your center and grounding. Coming back to who you know yourself to be at the heart of your being and aligning with a sense of a greater good can help calm the doubt.
And then there are the full-on doubt invasions of the psyche. As I look back on my own life, I realize that most of the time the primary purpose of those invasions was to force a choice. They usually happened when I was about to enter unknown territory, whether literally or metaphorically. I was about to do something I had never done before, or I was being challenged to step up my game and do that thing on a bigger stage. The stakes felt higher, and I wasn’t sure I knew how to do what was being asked of me. Or if I would be good enough.
Yet the only way I was going to find out was to do it. And I had to do it on my own. No one else could take the step for me. I was on my own as I walked out onto that stage or stepped in front of that group. And yes, I stumbled a few times; a couple of times I even fell. Yet somehow, I found my way.
The bottom line: doubt was confronting me with myself. What would I choose?
Would I muster the courage to step up when, in Rita Dove’s words, I was being called upon to be more? Or would I retreat? Would I live into the next level of my soul mission—who I was born to be—and bring what I have to offer to the table? Or would I remain silent and fade into the background?
The calling of your heart that won’t leave you alone
It’s written in the Gospel of Thomas:
If you bring forth what is within you,
what you bring forth will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is within you,
what you do not bring forth will destroy you.
—Gospel of Thomas
We are each here for a reason—to bring a gift to the world. I call that soul mission; others may call it life purpose. It’s the calling of your heart that will not leave you alone.
Yet soul mission is also our greatest lesson. Not just a lesson-of-the-moment; it’s a life-long lesson. Living into our soul mission is the journey of becoming—the journey of living into the fullness of who we are called to be. It’s our primary path for learning, growth, and evolution—a path that will likely bring surprising opportunities and breathtaking challenges. It may even bring unexpected choices and heavy decisions. And there will be times when we doubt ourselves, our abilities, and our capacity for living into our greatest potential.
That said, doubt keeps us on our toes. It heightens our senses and keeps us humble. Those who never experience self-doubt often lack the humility needed to truly connect with others, to build relationships, to lift others up, and lead others forward.
What if confidence is overrated?
Confidence is overrated; give doubt a try.
—Anna Deavere Smith
I laughed out loud because her words rang so true. I know how debilitating doubt can be if I let it take over my thoughts. Yet I also learned from experience, especially in my early professional life, that over-confidence can quickly turn sour.
Meeting doubt with respect as well as a willingness to listen and respond seeds humility. It begins with being willing to bring doubt out into the open space of our awareness and begin a dialogue. If we keep that doubt hidden away in the depths of our beings, it will destroy us. If we work with it, it might even become a gift. The more we are grounded in quiet confidence imbued with trustworthy humility, the more we step forward with authenticity, clarity, strength, and purpose.
Two Simple Practices
In recent months, two simple practices have helped me when I feel doubt creeping in. First is breathing into the Transformational Presence mantra:
Shine your light.
Having spoken that mantra over and over for so long, it quickly brings me into alignment. My doubt softens.
The second is a piece of advice that New York Times columnist Margaret Renkl offered to graduates of the University of the South in Tennessee in her baccalaureate address back in May. She told the graduates they would be well served to remember just two things:
The world is beautiful.
People are good.
I have taken her words to heart. Every single day as I walk in the world, whether in my little community or in the bustling city or in nature, I reinforce that worldview in my heart and in my belly. It’s the power of Love. It opens possibility. And I become stronger than my doubt.
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Related Blog Posts:
- Making Space for Courage and Fear, Confidence and Doubt, Resilience and Disillusionment, All at the Same Time
- Navigating Uncertainty, Doubt, and Fear—Choosing Where You Put Your Focus
- Courage is an Inside Job
- Leaning into the Silence
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