Conquering Self-Doubt: Are you better today?

Are you better today than you were yesterday? I have the honor of calling myself Assistant Coach for my son’s junior high basketball team. It is a title that I take seriously and one that I accepted reluctantly. Although I coached baseball in the past, I had never coached basketball. More importantly, I never played competitive basketball. I expressed these concerns to Coach Csanda and he said to me, “A coach is a coach. The sport isn’t important.” He gave me the encouragement I needed. He chipped away the wall of self-doubt I built around myself which allowed me to realize the opportunity that was being offered: to learn from an outstanding educator, coach, and person. Through encouragement and a positive attitude, he instills confidence in his players and motivates them to succeed. After every game, win or lose, he asks his team: Are you better today than you were yesterday? If the answer is yes, then, regardless of the outcome of the game, it is considered success. You might ask: What does this have to do with writing? The answer is simple. It’s something that every writer needs to know. It’s something Coach Csanda understands, whether consciously or intuitively. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about writing, basketball, or life. Your biggest opponent is self-doubt.

You’re not alone. We all doubt ourselves from time to time. Some more than others. It’s debilitating and will defeat you before you ever scratch out a single word. That’s not to say it’s completely bad. If utilized effectively, your overwhelming self-doubt can become a powerful tool. In order to do so, you, first, must recognize it and acknowledge it. Then, you must determine what the source of it is– so-and-so says I’m a lousy writer; I’m boring; why would anyone want to read what I write?; etc. Finally, you have to prepare a plan for success. That plan must contain three key components: Preparation, Action, and Perseverance.

Preparation. Think of some of the things that seem second-nature: tying your shoelaces, feeding yourself with utensils, using the restroom, etc. They’re common everyday tasks that most perform with ease. Now, think about your children, nieces/ nephews, or younger siblings. Do you remember what it was like to watch them as toddlers struggling to learn these simple, mundane tasks only to give up in frustration and ask an adult for help? They had to practice and endure the constant failure until they were able to succeed. After they learned they could do it, the task became easier and easier for them to perform. Writing is like that. Basketball is like that. Everything in life is like that. In basketball, if you want to win, you have to practice. Similarly, if you want to be a writer, you have to write. Never miss an opportunity to study your craft. Educate yourself on grammar, spelling, and style. Read. If you lack the necessary resources, search for someone, a friend, a teacher, a mentor, that can give you the tools you need or show you where to find them.

Action. Action is the most difficult step when overcoming self-doubt, especially for those who fear failure. Self-doubt creates a premature sense of defeat and inaction creates a false sense of security. For those who fear failure, the idea “If I don’t try, then I can’t fail” may seem enticing. There is an inherent problem with this philosophy. Consider the converse: “If I don’t try, then I can’t succeed.” Thus, by avoiding failure, you also avoid success. In a basketball game, the prescription for success is executing the game plan (what you’ve practiced) with precision. The outcome may not always be desirable, but defeat is also a valuable tool. It teaches you what works and what doesn’t. It magnifies your deficiencies. The same is true in writing. You have to write if you want to be a writer. Push through the excuses i.e., I don’t have time, I’m not any good, I don’t know what to write about. Carve out time. Write, write, write. You don’t have to produce inspiring fiction every time you sit down. If you don’t know what to write about, pull out a short story you’ve already written and write about it. Write about something that someone else has written. Writing about writing makes us better writers. Just write.

Perseverance. What are you going to do tomorrow to be better than you were today? This is what Coach Csanda asks his players if he doesn’t think they have performed to the best of their abilities. If you’re going to succeed, you have to learn from your mistakes and move forward. He tells his players, “The past is in the past. You can’t ever get it back.” I tell you that even if you succeed as a writer, you have to learn from your mistakes and move forward. I remember when I was a child and I achieved certain successes, my parents would say, “Good for you, but just because you were the best today, doesn’t mean you’ll be the best tomorrow.” I always thought that was a bit harsh because I was too young to understand. They never allowed me to rest on my laurels and were always pushing me to be better at whatever I was doing. I resented them for it for a long time until I gained the wisdom to understand the lesson. That’s the irony of all of this. Sometimes, you don’t have the necessary tools to understand the teaching; sometimes, you have to be better just to get better. That comes with time and experience. Winston Churchill summed up both of these ideas best when he said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Prepare, act, and persevere. It is the only way you will achieve your goals as a writer and in life. Ask yourself what you’re going to do today to be better than you were yesterday and act. It’s easy to get discouraged, but you must have the courage to continue. In closing, I’d like to leave you with these words from Calvin Coolidge: Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

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