I’m Old Friends with Doubt
Like a lot of things in my life, this post almost didn’t happen.
I had a million reasons why I couldn’t write it. A lot of them are quite familiar by now: I’m a hack. No one cares what I have to say. And I can’t really write anyway. What’s the point of wasting everyone’s time?
Oh, doubt. I’m old friends with doubt. We’ve been together a long time. As much as I try to get away from it, somehow it always finds me. I never escape doubt for very long.
For years, I ran into the arms of people who were more confident than I was, hoping I’d lose those doubts. That my personal uncertainty would get drowned out next to the booming of someone else’s ego.
I thought if I could find someone self-assured enough that they could be confident enough for both of us.
It didn’t work out that way.
The confidence that had so attracted me to them was arrogance — and instead of drowning out my doubts, my lovers often echoed them. Sometimes the words were changed slightly, but even then, my lovers’ criticisms harmonized exquisitely with my insecurities, creating loud and painful chords.
In those days, my lovers had a way of reinforcing what I most feared was true about me: That I was annoying. Extra. In the way.
Read Message Notifications Are My Nemesis
Though it terrified me to strike out on my own, I went on to meet people who were much better for me. Friends, lovers, everything in between. People who weren’t arrogant but had confidence that was tempered by humility. Who genuinely respected other people and didn’t take themselves too seriously.
And slowly but surely, I felt the baseline volume of my doubts fade.
Most of the time that doubt stays at a manageable level. Most of the time.
But every now and then, I do feel those doubts creep up. Someone will invite me to a party, and instead of enthusiastically RSVP-ing, I’ll second-guess myself: Will I be good enough of a guest? Entertaining enough? Or will I end up wasting space — or worse, annoying other people? Making them uncomfortable. Will I just be in the way? I don’t want to be in the way.
At other times, I’ll see a messaging icon pop up on my phone or computer, and rather than engaging in conversation, I’ll instead hesitate. I’ll ask myself: Will I be able to say the right thing to them? Cheer them up, make them laugh, give them advice. Whatever it is that they want. Or will I screw it up? What if they want to talk for an hour, and I get called away suddenly? Will I damage our friendship beyond repair?
I’ll sit there paralyzed, staring at the icon, unable to check my messages, knowing that the chat program will inform them that I’ve read what they’ve sent. Read message notifications. Ugh. And if they see I’ve read it, but I don’t write back right away, they’ll likely assume the worst (that I’m upset with them, that I don’t care).
So I can’t even look at the message. I decide I’ll wait until I feel more confident, a time which never really comes, my chest growing tighter all the while… until I succumb to guilt and eventually read and reply.
One Absence Leads to Another
It reminds me of when I first went to college, my rough first go. I would be fine until I missed one class — and then I would be screwed. The guilt I felt about that one absence would lead to another absence, which would lead to a third, and before I knew it, I was having tense email conversations with a professor who was genuinely concerned about a student who had seemed so engaged but had abruptly disappeared.
We’d work out some arrangement for me to get (mostly) caught up. I didn’t have the courage to explain it then. And besides I was barely aware of it myself. In those days, I didn’t like taking too many long looks inside. I didn’t want to think of my childhood. My difficult family relationships. My personal failures. The heartbreaks. I had to stay on the move, away from the parts of myself I didn’t like. If I turned around and faced all that pain, I could lose my mind.
It’s Powerful to Show Up
Anyway, this post almost didn’t happen. Because I worried that I couldn’t write well enough, and I’d just disappoint you all. Just like I sometimes worry that I’ll disappoint my friends by not being witty or charming enough. And like I used to worry that I’d disappoint my professors by not being “on” on any given day.
But then I remembered something I learned a long time ago that doubt always makes me forget: Sometimes the most powerful thing you can do is just freaking show up — whether that’s going to a party, being there for a friend who needs you, or making time for a person you’re dating.
So maybe today’s not your best day. But you know what, you showed up. And even if you don’t work miracles today, thank you for showing up.