Let Your Doubt Play Out
This may seem controversial, but self-doubt should not be completely ignored. We are often told that self doubt is the enemy of creativity, and that the only reasonable thing to do is to ignore it, to blast through it.
But here’s a thought. Self-doubt is a voice, a necessary part of our inner dialogue. Self-doubt balances us out, protects us from overconfidence. It can be like a good friend who always tells us like it is. Sometimes that friend goes overboard and should learn to bite their tongue once in a while. But when it comes to growing and improving, we rely on such a friend to give it to us straight, to not sugar coat the truth.
We can only grow when we ask hard questions, when we admit our weaknesses. We can’t target our weak areas to grow stronger without this awareness.
Self doubt becomes debilitating when it becomes the only voice. Then it is not a dialogue, but a one sided monologue. Self-doubt becomes dangerous when it drowns out the our confidence completely.
If I didn’t allow my doubts play out, if I didn’t at least consider whether they were possibly true, I wouldn’t truly believe anything.
So how do we let our doubt play out without dragging us too far out to sea? How do we listen to it without being completely shattered? What does it look like to do this?
When a doubt surfaces, we must at least acknowledge it. If all we do is ever push doubts down, they will build up, and eventually we will explode from the pressure.
As a person of faith, I have doubts about it all the time. My name is Thomas for a reason. But St. Thomas is not only remembered for his doubt, but for his belief. He was the most skeptical, not taking anyone’s word for it. He needed empirical proof. And when he got it, he believed more strongly than ever. Doubt is not in itself the enemy. It’s when we let it have the final say that it becomes dangerous.
If I didn’t allow my doubts play out, if I didn’t at least consider whether they were possibly true, I wouldn’t truly believe anything. I would always know deep down inside that I’ve never put anything to the test, and therefore, I’ve never truly proven my beliefs. This could result in over-compensating, perhaps believing in something so hard that I block out any actual ability to grow or change.
I’m talking about creativity. Our doubts might be telling us that something about us needs improvement. Maybe it’s wrong, or maybe it’s right. Maybe it’s a little bit of both. Give it a second and hear it out. If it’s only preventing you from moving forward, then you know it’s gone too far. In such a case, you do have to push it aside and do something to prove it wrong, or at least to affirm something you absolutely know is true. What can you know beyond all doubt? For starters, you know what you love. Start there. Next, ask what you can do to do more of that. Always approach creativity from this place. Sometimes you’ll feel bad when creating, and that’s just how it is sometimes. But when you start feeling bad all the time, that’s when you know it’s time to step back and question your doubts, and maybe set them aside for a while while you reconnect with why you love creativity in the first place.
A shorter version of this piece was originally posted on Instagram. This is the original, slightly longer essay.