The Case for Self-Doubt as Self-Fulfillment

I spend 75% of my day under the impression that I feel too much and think too much. The other 25% of the day, I’m sleeping.

Many people have likely discovered that success—or at least the absence of complete madness—is often due in large part to our ability to compartmentalize. We are different people at home than we are at work. We do not act the same with our friends as we do our family. We can (if we so choose) focus on work while we are at work, and personal life when we are not at work. Because aspects of our lives that require certain skills do not necessarily need to transfer to other domains of our lives, we are able to experience a wholeness without needing to be whole in every place, all of the time. We can be sane because we can put away the darkness when need be, and bring to light when we wish.

When I say that I think and feel “too much,” I do not mean the day-to-day weighing of options, contemplating life’s purpose, or over-analyzing a colleague’s email to me—though I do think about those things often. Rather, what I am talking about is a much more existentially frustrated, gnawing self-doubt or over self-confidence in my abilities to help solve the problems in the world that I have come to view as most pressing.

It is interesting the way that the unpredictable and unforeseen forces of life have the power to not only shape the concerns we will ultimately embody, but drive the actions we will take to play our part in ameliorating those concerns. In other words, our purpose is shaped just as much by our conviction as it is by our environment.

Chance and choice have played complementary roles in leading me towards the causes I felt I could best serve. My junior year in college, I was convinced that Corporate Social Responsibility was my calling. The summer going into my senior year, and the first months of that year, I thought that Psychology research was it. The latter part of first semester of that year, Teach for America reached out to me and asked me to consider applying. After an arduous application and multi-interview process (of which I almost withdrew twice), I was admitted and assigned to Chicago—and I accepted. Educational inequity was my next battle.

Of one thing I am certain: thus far in my life, everyone else has always seemed to be more certain of their next or current adventure than I. This is something I have thought about on a personal and professional level at nearly every stage of my life; while I have succeeded—moderately, at the least—in most everything I have attempted (we won’t count my foray into band in 5th grade), I have never been able to self-confirm my own “readiness,” my own knowledge about, or even my own buy-in to each stage of my life. I’ve never been fully convinced that I made the right decision. I’ve never been sold on the idea that my life was “meant” to fold out in the way that it has. Other options were always options. In the social aspects of college, in Philosophy, in Psychology, in Division I softball, in Teach for America, and in teaching—in my eyes, every other person seems so sure that this was or is where they belong, that this is what they are most knowledgeable about, most convinced they belong to, and most willing and ready to dedicate all of their energy to. That has not been the case for me. I have never felt that I either know best or do best in the particular realm that I find myself in.

It has never been the content of what I am doing that has driven me in life, but rather a more general sense of calling. I both admire and envy those who have identified the content and the calling that most moves them. (Calling, here, as devoid of God). What I mean, is that I have yet to find the thing that I want to spend the rest of my life dedicating myself to. I believe that the primary reason for this, is that every single system we choose to participate in, believe in, or operate by, has both seen and unseen consequences. Asking ourselves to weigh the ethics of each of those systems is daunting at minimal. Impossible at most.

It is a paralyzing question: What do I choose to participate in, on a professional, personal, spiritual, daily, and lifelong level? Am I participating in a system that adheres to my values and beliefs—or better yet—do I even know what my values and beliefs are? Could I ever? Whom or what is suffering at my hands? Whom or what is benefitting?

I have often been left “faking it til I make it” and both listening and responding to a perpetual internal dialogue of “…what am I actually doing here?” I have never been ready to close myself off to other options in order to fully immerse myself in what I am doing at the moment. Living in the moment is something I so often preach, so often think, yet hardly ever actually embody. I struggle with the very idea of just “being,” because to me, “just being” invokes a certain static nature, a presence immune to seeing, thinking, questioning, analyzing, and moving forward. Whether I am right or I am wrong, I have always doubted simply “being” where I am. And I believe it is this doubt that has allowed me to make much more objective, ethical choices than I would have otherwise.

I have always told myself that I never want to “leave” a stage of my life feeling as though it, and my capabilities in it, are unfinished. I have not yet determined how to figure out whether something is finished or not—perhaps I never will. Perhaps this is good. For if I feel forever unfinished, I will consistently be on to the next—not in haste, not in caution, but in hope that whatever comes next will paint a better picture of the world as I wish to see it.

For those ridden with self-doubt, the question has never been: shall I fight? Rather, it has always been: which fight shall I fight? Opting in was never the choice, but staying always will be.

Photo courtesy of Ben Smith, Flickr Creative Commons


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