When to Doubt Yourself

“Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.” – Paul Tillich

Gurus of success often speak of self-doubt as if it were a damning trait. Inspirational author Wayne Dyer put it this way in his book Your Sacred Self: Making the Decision to Be Free: “Keep in mind always that doubt is produced by your ego. Doubt is not a part of your higher spiritual self. With this awareness you can learn to observe your doubt rather than choose to own it… Then observe how doubt literally forces you to act in predetermined and limited ways.”

In fact, questioning your ability to accomplish a desired goal is a healthy and intelligent way to begin any challenging objective, especially so when that objective is your career. Unbridled optimism in the face of near-impossible or impossible odds is another term for foolishness. If you want to lead a life of maximum accomplishment and minimum heartache you should adopt an approach to challenge that is one part confidence, one part caution, and one part enthusiasm.

I met a 50-something-year-old lady at a seminar recently who told me that she was going to create a million-dollar business in five years by writing and illustrating poems. If her financial target wasn’t crazy enough to give her pause, her business goal should have been. And if her business goal wasn’t bonkers enough, a modest assessment of her writing skills (she showed me one of her poems) should have cooled her down.

When I suggested that, before committing to this career change, she study the children’s book market and/or read Seven Years to Seven Figures, she looked at me as if I had slapped her. “Don’t you believe in positive thinking?” she asked.

“I believe, positively, in thinking,” I said. And I left it at that.

To give yourself the best chance of achieving the possible, the right mental mix is a clear, focused, and conscious ambition based on knowing a good deal about both yourself and the thing you are trying to do.

And that starts with asking some tough questions:

  • Is my goal realistic? Has it ever been done before? If so, how often? How often has it been tried unsuccessfully? What are the statistical odds of succeeding?
  • Do I have what it takes? Do I have the intelligence? The capacity to learn? The emotional stamina to succeed?

On this subject, Sheila, an ETR reader who also is a middle-aged lady, writes:

“I had an assignment 35 years ago to write a short story and submit the manuscript to a publisher for a grade in my Children’s Literature class. I didn’t receive favorable results and gave up my dream of writing stories for children.

“I am now retired [and] the urge to write is stronger than ever. What steps should I take to determine if I have any talent or should  leave it alone?”

Kudos for Sheila. Her career ambition, thwarted by a single negative review when she was younger, has resurfaced and she has the good sense to ask this sensible question before leaping forward.

The short answer to her question is this: Based on the little sample of writing her note provided, I believe she does have the raw talent to write short stories for children. Writing is a skill that can be learned. Writing stories for children is a special skill, the techniques of which are available in many books and programs.

To learn that skill, Sheila will need to devote between 600 and 1,000 hours to such books and programs. But before she does that, she should make a frank assessment of her chances of making any kind of decent money as an author of children’s books, and whether she is financially prepared to devote several years to this process without any financial recompense.

Finally, she must imagine herself spending four or five hours of every day sitting alone and tapping on a keyboard. If she hasn’t spent any time doing that since college, then she might want to take a week of days right now to see if the actual, quotidian experience of writing is as rewarding as she has been imagining.

Talking to professional children’s book writers is a good preliminary step to take. In a few short hours of casual conversation, Sheila can benefit from the experience of people who have done what she wants to do.

None of what I am saying right now should stop Sheila from becoming a story writer for children. All of the aforementioned advice was meant to answer her question – which was about assessing her chances of getting the skills she needs to make her dream into a career.

If Sheila’s goal is simply to become a writer of children’s stories, she should start writing them immediately. She should study the guides as she goes, but the ultimate learning will take place with the writing. And the writing can begin right now – even before she is sure she wants to make writing a career rather than just a beloved avocation.

Sheila should keep in mind the point I made in ETR #1985: You can’t become something, such as a writer, by studying to be it. You become that thing the moment you start doing it every day. If Sheila starts writing children’s stories today and keeps on writing them for a year, next year at this time she will be not only better at the writing, she will be able to call herself a writer.

[Ed. Note: Interested in writing children’s books? Check out AWAI’s program: How to Successfully Write and Publish Children’s Books.] [Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]