Navigating (Occasionally Crippling) Self-Doubt and Uncertainty
June 24, 2014 8:53 AM   Subscribe

How did you deal with self-doubt and uncertainty after committing to a path you are not so sure will pan out?

Hi there. I have a relatively satisfying new job coordinating marketing campaigns for an agency 20 hrs/wk, and doing software testing work 10 hrs/wk. I know I could be making more but landing a full-time job has been tough. Thankfully, I make enough to save, purchase health insurance, pay rent and bills, have a little fun, and most importantly, make room for bigger priorities in my life such as working on a portfolio of plays that I dream of getting produced someday, and slowly launching an ambitious startup with a business partner.

I'm grateful to be involved in what I consider to be meaningful endeavors. Yet there is this persistent, anxiety-inducing feeling that I have absolutely no direction and the ambitions I'm working towards, as personally rewarding every measure of progress may be, are too pie in the sky and "all over the place" to be of any actual and lasting consequence. I fear that I'm squandering what may be the perfect time to invest myself in *real* stuff like graduate school studying something useful or even just working a a stable full-time job with actual benefits.

Some days I feel content with my progress and feel fully self-assured that I'm exactly where I want to be and all I need to do is maintain focus and work hard. Some days I experience crippling self-doubt regarding the path I chose, fall into negative thinking patterns, and lament the 3.5 years I "wasted" since graduating when I could've done other things i.e. gotten a master's degree in development economics, and so on.

How did you deal with the self-doubt and uncertainty after committing to a path you are not so sure will pan out? I'm seeking some guidance, ideas, insights, experiences that yielded valuable lessons, etc. Anything helps.

Thank you for reading.
posted by tackypink to Work & Money (7 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
If it helps, many people come out of grad school feeling like they wasted their time there, too. There's always the potential self-doubt no matter what path you choose, and nothing is certain to pan out.
posted by mekily at 9:13 AM on June 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Are you reasonably content with your current circumstances? Are you mostly happy with the direction your life is headed? Are the difficulties you are facing today going to help you achieve some goal that is important to you down the road? Are you able to pay your bills and keep yourself healthy, given your present course? If your answer to any of these questions is "no", then it may be time to make a change. But there is really no point in letting yourself be consumed with doubt and regret over what might have been. No matter what path you chose, it's possible that you would be wishing for the greener grass on the other side, and who's to say you would be right? Don't look backward, look forward. If you feel you have made a mistake, use that mistake as a source of wisdom that you'll use to help you make decisions in the future.
posted by deathpanels at 9:18 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Stay flexible, and don't fall prey to the 'sunk-cost fallacy.'

It is entirely possible that in 2 years, you may want to move in a different direction. Accept that these things happen, then act on that. Don't stay in the same situation, after you've determined that it's not right for you, simply because you've already invested in it.

I have had 3 different careers in my life. I've had jobs that weren't careers too. I've dropped out of graduate programs, and obtained a graduate degree. I have 2 unfinished novels.

I have a full and rich life, and I've enjoyed it all, because I lived in the moment, and chucked out what wasn't working.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:19 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: a) We're all dust in the wind anyway. We are just dancing here for a short time. What dance do you wish to do while here?

b) There is no real security. We are all at risk. People win the lottery and suddenly have money. People making millions routinely go bankrupt. That "dance" I mentioned? That is the most important piece here. Markets change. What works, financially, today can be the dumbest thing you could have done come tomorrow. But win, lose, or draw, the only thing you can be assured is that you will have experienced something. What kind of experiences would you like to remember having had? I mean, you know, of the pieces you have some smidgeon of control over? Do you long for the experiences of grad school? Or do you just think it would look better on a resume?

c) What lasting impact do you think you are having? How many people have "lasting impact"? Define that. Do you want to be Hitler? Jesus Christ? President of the United States? Again: We are all just dust in the wind. The things we do mostly matter to us. For the most part, no one else much cares. Seriously. If you don't do this job, someone else will. No big. Do it if you have some reason to do it. That's it.

d) It helped me to watch a bunch of time travel movies. I did it to mentally model something and that was useful but the other thing it taught me was that we do not live in a Star Trek universe where, if something goes really wrong, you get learn somehow that, no, honest, the other path would have been worse! or whatever. We do not get to a/b test life. We do not ever, ever, ever get to go back to July 1st and make that other choice and see where the road not taken would have gone on that date for that person with the weather of that time, etc. If you take that same path next week instead of last week, it may go completely different because of the time of year, the weather, some random issue of whom you would run into instead, etc etc. You never, ever get to know for certain what life would look like if you had made a different choice. You just don't. So make the best choice you know how and then make your peace with it.

Those are some of the things that help me.
posted by Michele in California at 10:36 AM on June 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's not exactly right but you might find that reading up on Imposter Syndrome helps identify a little more of what you're feeling.

I know we all say therapy all the time but, therapy. You have defined the problem really well which is half the battle. You could go to a therapist and say you don't want to talk about your childhood and all that, you only want help with this one thing.

Also - a gratitude journal could make a big difference. Concentrate on the things you have and the things you love about your life. They matter. You being happy and doing what you want matters.

Lastly, Brene Brown speaks to this in a way that is really refreshing and affirming. You might try watching her TED Talks.
posted by dawkins_7 at 1:19 PM on June 24, 2014

Your question resonates: I have 'wasted' so much of my life lamenting my "wasted" past / "poor choices" as well as worrying myself sick about my future. BUT! the resulting dis-ease ultimately pushed me into focusing on what's going on "now/ these days" (like Ruthless Bunny's "in the moment" comment), what my options are for my "next step" and.. who is in my life now, which for me is a much more sane/calm state of mind and being. I have forgiven myself for past choices- I did my best with what options/ knowledge/ experience I had at that time. I can't control the future, but I can increase the odds of my desired outcomes by certain actions. I try to keep myself in check and not get overly zealous ("it's no secret ambition bites the nails of success" etc.)

But some ideas: regularly put time and energy, no matter how small, into your "bigger priorities" and watch for who or what steps into the picture to help you out, or who you can help/ collaborate with. --- Also, maybe work a different perspective on your possible "wasted past," by re-establishing/ maintaining your relationships from those times- you never know about quid-pro-quo situations etc.
posted by mrmarley at 2:35 PM on June 24, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you for all your wonderful comments and insights. :)
posted by tackypink at 7:49 AM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

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