When you think about stepping into your full potential, do you ever wonder “Who am I to think I could do that”?
The fear that stands between us and our full potential is often a fear of worthiness. Am I worthy of living my dream? Am I worthy of having a big impact? Am I worthy of taking on a promotion, standing on stages, daring to innovate, or cultivating my talent for the greater good?
Recently I gave a talk and these very voices of self-doubt sprang up. During the days prior to my event, I began to wonder how I got the crazy idea that I could make a positive contribution to the audience. “Who am I to speak on this subject?” I asked myself. I spent a lot of energy reining in these wild notions, trying to keep them from throwing me off track. I just barely managed to negotiate a deal with myself that sounded something like, “Okay, I will do this, but if I survive, I will never put myself on a stage again, ever!”
Comparing the doubts I had prior with the feedback I received afterwards, I was amazed at the discrepancy. The participants reported a positive impact and a job well done. How can the doubt be so negative while the outcome is so positive? How can self-doubt be so real and so wrong?
Even scarier: how often do we listen to those doubts, throw in the towel and stay home?
It’s tempting to think that if we were really meant to take on a challenge, we would feel less doubt about it. It’s tempting to watch the people we admire and assume that they feel more confident or that they are just better built for ambitious undertakings.
On the contrary, I believe that many leaders suffer from self-doubt, but say yes and go forward anyways. Sheryl Sandberg, a former VP at Google and now COO of Facebook was asked in one interview about what led to her success. She named the support of her family and mentors, her hard work and good luck, and then mentioned another crucial factor: an early decision to say yes to challenges even when she does not feel confident about taking them on.
While she was at college, Sandberg recounts, she heard a talk by Dr. Peggy McIntosh about self-doubt among high achievers. The idea that those doubts do not accurately reflect one’s potential had a tremendous impact on her.
From then on, she would live by this mantra: “Ok, I don’t have to feel so confident, but I have to take my seat at the table anyway.”
Reflecting on that learning years later, Sandberg said “I believe that had I not heard that speech, I would not have the job that I have.”
That’s how real those doubts are – they can literally send your life’s work in a completely different direction… if you let them.
A few days after my event, I noticed myself thinking, “That was so fun, I can’t wait to do it again.” What?!
I remember being warned that living your purpose requires hard work and determination, but I’m not sure anyone mentioned that it’s also an emotional roller coaster. Even so, it’s definitely worth the ride.