Not sure if it’s the expectations placed on us as children, experiences with failure and embarrassment, an aspect of a guilty conscience or some combination of all three, but I have been plagued by self-doubt my entire life. It is slowly diminishing, coming to crawl, it seeps into my soul slowly now so I can see it no matter what its disguise. Nonetheless, it’s still there. Still gnawing at me like a petulant fly, an annoying little asshole hedging its bets on my disappointment. I sound either schizophrenic or like a sufferer of D.I.D. (formerly Multiple Personality Disorder), but I know I’m not alone in what-ifing so many of my decisions and pursuits. It’s a difficult cycle to break but not impossible, and certainly worth it.
We learn in psychology, and in the game of life, that as children we’re given mental and physical tasks and then our intelligence and skill level is gauged based on that. Loving school and homework and baseball and other sports made it easy for me to slip comfortably to the top of mediocrity. I’m not trying to diminish my small accomplishments as a child, but seriously, I earned straight A’s at a public school in Florida. I recognize now I merely climbed to the top of a hill, I didn’t conquer a damn mountain. What hindsight and years dedicated to false forms of happiness has led to is that it doesn’t matter anyway. The most interesting and genuinely intelligent people I know were smart enough to be bored in traditional schools, not consumed by winning a meaningless game against themselves. I’ve let go of that now. Naturally, when you’re interested in something, when it sparks your passion and drive, you will excel because you want to and because you’re following your intuition, your heart, your bliss, and not the dreams of anyone else.
There’s a reason I went through most of my life with a pervasive, underlying blah in my feelings toward myself and life. I was desperate to showcase greatness, exhibit my mental and physical prowess. My goodness was lost and my heart was muted. I wasn’t equipped then to pull myself out of it, to pursue genuine passions over simply following strengths, or to know why this gnawing in my gut was there in the first place. Something in me must have known that all this contrived happiness and achievement were just that, contrived, phony, bullshit, nothing. That’s not to say I’m not impressed by my friends who’ve shown great perseverance and success in their respective fields, whether it be graduating medical or law school, actually climbing a mountain, playing their sport at an elite level or showcasing their art for the world to see. I am just aware now how little love I put into what I did. I did it because exhibiting excellence gave me bursts of confidence. Bursts being the operative word, soon that good report card passed and it was onto the next.
So, with the exception of boys, close friends, eating, family and an interest in winning (thanks for ruining that word, Charlie Sheen. Or thanks for making it awesome again? who cares.) I had little passion or I suppose I felt a lack of satisfaction in how I spent my days, where I devoted my energy. I would’ve loved to consider myself an artist but again, adults love to label children, and once I put brush to canvas and realized what an appallingly bad drawer and painter I was, I assumed all art was lost on me. I was an athlete, a student-athlete, the greatest oxy-moron there is. Sports taught me how to lose but it didn’t help me conquer my fear of failure. I remember going through slumps, in pitching or hitting or any activity surrounding a ball, and the fear would consume me. I’d want to quit. Luckily my parents taught me to stick things out. Despite continuing, I’d still grapple with the doubt, question everything from my capabilities to my reasons for playing.
This nagging “what are you doing and why” stayed with me until a minute ago when I decided to drop it forever. Up until then, it parlayed from sports into academics and ultimately my career. Since I was a teenager I wanted to host my own show. I feel slightly embarrassed to even admit that, but that’s just my self-criticism getting the best of me. My initial major in college was Radio/Television because that seemed a practical path to my silly dream. I was bored to tears in the short list of classes I took, soon opting to pursue the study of Psychology instead. There’s one for an overly analytical person to dive into, analysis! I know my changing majors was partially due to my lack of interest but also majorly caused by self-doubt. I saw all those hot people ready to throw themselves in front of hurricane and I questioned my commitment, my abilities, my attractiveness. I was still very attached and very consumed by my opinions, my cynicism and the years of descriptors that were placed on me from birth.
I toiled with pursuing grad school, law school, and a number of careers I deemed impressive enough to suit me, but none of them inspired me. Something in me despised mediocrity and traditional measures of success and then something else relegated me to that same normality I rejected. Rock in a hard place. Afraid to move forward, glued by fear and doubt in my place, but yearning desperately to expect more out of myself and life. I needed to let go of all previous expectations I placed on myself and any imagined standards set by others and just listen to my damn heart.
I felt so proud to be logical, pragmatic, fact based, detail oriented, organized and disciplined. I had no clue I was using these tools incorrectly and neglecting a huge fraction of existence by limiting myself to those strengths. Where in there can I find space for creativity? For originality? For wonder? For joy? For Love? For fun? Why couldn’t I just expect to be happy and nothing else? I was in a perpetual state of competition with myself. The experience of loss or failure not only validated the doubtful tapes I’d been playing in my mind but left me with little inspiration to try again or god forbid attempt something new.
Luckily, I’ve always been self-aware, introspective. I’d lie awake with my thoughts, frustrated with myself, asking for guidance, answers. It was Yoga and the pursuit of teaching that not only held up a mirror that made me grasp the damage I was inflicting upon myself, but that also provided insight in how to get over myself and start living a real life. The most fundamental lesson Yoga has taught me is to dis-identify from my thoughts. It’s not only about giving my brain a break from the incessant churning and volume of my inner monologue, but severing the tie between me and my mind. Again, I sound schizophrenic, but if you give yourself this gift, you’ll understand. We are all able to watch our thoughts and simply bringing awareness to this, turning on that lightbulb that says “hey, dummy. you are not your thoughts. you are the observing presence behind them.” Slowly, I’ve become detached. I laugh at my weird little mind now but I do not take my thoughts seriously. Anything I do well comes from something much smarter than my memories or my conditioned mental patterns. It comes from being fully attuned to this moment, from following my intuition and my heart, and from being open to all that flows my way.
Doubt implies a lack of trust. Doubt tells me I cannot handle the consequences of my actions, in particular if they are not rewarding. Doubt tells me I am undeserving of joy, happiness, love and success. Doubt is healthy when absorbing new information or following a gut instinct, but the doubt that lives and grows inside our psyche serves only one purpose: to keep us from living.
I will never be good at everything. Many will not like or love me. And regardless how I allow that to play into my life, that will always be the case. So what the fuck does it matter? The beauty in life is seizing it, being unafraid to enjoy it, and loving what you do over fixating on results. Paying my bills is not satisfaction enough. I need that fire in my belly and the drum of my heart to keep me on the right path, to keep creating, to stay original, to keep evolving, to be grateful to be alive each day. Letting go of the importance placed on my opinions opened me to new experiences, new people, new career paths, new lessons. I now feel I’m sincerely hosting my own show instead of sitting idly by in the audience, wishing so badly to run on stage. My dream is continuing to progress each day and I feel like a participant in watching it unfold. Each day is new, exciting, fulfilling and wondrous. I no longer doubt my awesomeness, for no other reason than I have a loving heart and an interesting soul.
You can take that same energy you’re giving to misplaced goals, unfair expectations, disappointment, doubt, discontent and any fear based emotion and redirect it toward something positive. What is it you need to ignite your soul? Do it. I’ve made a million excuses and talked myself out of so many things. I’m done. Get fed up with yourself and that is the beginning of the end for your ego. The begending. Let your essence and your goodness lead the way, your greatness is sure to follow.