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Experiencing Doubt in Your Career


We have all experienced a feeling of doubt. Sometimes we doubt our abilities. Other times we doubt that a decision we’ve made was the right one. Still, other times doubt comes into play as we remember conversations we have had or comments we have made in a meeting.

Doubt is a daily occurrence that, for some, can be a crippling emotion.

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In James Comey’s new book, A Higher Loyalty, he talks about doubt as part of his description of ethical leadership. Comey says:

Doubt, I’ve learned, is wisdom. And the older I get, the less I know for certain. Those leaders who never think they are wrong, who never question their judgments or perspectives, are a danger to the organizations and people they lead.

In other words, perhaps we need to look at our doubts as blessings, as little calling cards that will help us become better leaders. Doubt isn’t the opposite of confidence but rather the comma in a sentence we are reading. It is a momentary opportunity to stop and examine further our decisions before we move forward.

So let’s look at doubt in the workplace and see how we can use that emotion to its fullest advantage for our career.

  • Look closer at the doubt and seek counsel. In the Forbes article 7 Steps to Dealing with Self Doubt, one of those steps is to take a closer look. “Nothing can help alleviate self-doubt better than seeking advice and coaching from others. Research has found that warmth, coaching, and positive support from others can directly reduce self-doubt. When your personal uncertainty becomes extreme, seek out professional help.”

Too often we will find that how we are perceiving the decision, conversation or emotion is totally contrary to how others view it. By asking the opinion of others, we will have a clearer, less emotional view of the moment in time that causes us doubt.

  • Past performance is a great indicator of future success. When we doubt our abilities to take on a new project, position or role, we must look back at times when we have faced a challenge. How did we view the challenge, what did we do to conquer the opportunity and what were the results?

One summer, decades ago, a friend of mine watched as her father tried to get up on water skis. As a child, her view of her father was one of a hero – he could do no wrong in her eyes. Yet on this particular sunny day, he tried, with the help of many friends and family members to stand up on the water skis. They tried from the dock, they tried from the beach, and they tried from open water and still, her father couldn’t stand up on those skis. Meanwhile, all of the other adults took their turn in the water, confidently moving from a crouching position to a confident standing position, the wind in their hair, their smiles of success visible from across the lake. Her father never did succeed.

As as you face a particular challenge, one that is giving you doubt, if you look back and remember a similar situation in which you failed over and over, well, perhaps your doubt is valid. However, those incidents are rare. In fact, water skiing was the only thing this man tried and failed. In every other aspect, business, church, community, music, writing, speaking, parenthood, marriage, friendship, finance, you name it – he was successful. It took work and perseverance, but it was only water skiing that alluded him.

However, if, because of that one water failure, he painted all other experiences with that level of doubt and fear, he’d never have been the success he was.

Acknowledge that there may be a couple things for which your doubt is valid, and then embrace the fact, that based on past experiences, the reality is, your doubt this time, is unfounded.

Whew. Long story to make a short point, but hopefully, it’s a point that hits home.

When facing doubt, try to imagine what the worst end-result might be – can you live with that? 7 Executives share their tips for overcoming doubt. Jenny Dorsey, chef and entrepreneur shares hers:

“I focus on what is the worst that can happen. It is usually either a ‘no’ from an investor or disinterest in the concept. I’ve already heard both a million times—so what do I have to lose? I also ask myself, what does failure look like? Failure to me is never failing—never pushing myself to work for something slightly out of reach. The visionaries of the world had to constantly accept failure as they paved the way to something no one had seen before, and I try to put my mindset as, ‘if you never try you never know.’”

As Comey says in the forward of his book “doubt is wisdom.” Harness that wisdom to help you move forward in your career.

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