Lurking around the corner of every attempt to set ambitious life goals is doubt, undermining our plans and shadowing our dreams. We want to be rid of its incessant nagging, but we are too often afraid it speaks the truth. How do we achieve our goals, business and personal, with this uninvited companion dogging our every step and threatening to shout at every point that the emperor has no clothes? We are not likely to be rid of doubt completely, so the plan is to make it an ally and to put doubt in its proper place. Doubt actually serves some vital functions important to our well-being. When you recognize doubt for what it is, a cautionary function, it becomes far less powerful in the face of your desire to grow and manifest a greater reality for yourself.
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Doubt takes on many forms. In our interior life, doubt is often fear of change. Its arguments are that the status quo is good enough and that any attempt to move beyond where you are now is likely to be met with failure. In other cases, doubt comes at us from the exterior, in the form of both friends and critics who project their own fears, jealousy and lack of confidence onto your ambitions. Whatever shape doubt takes, it is seldom welcome and, unfortunately, often persuasive.
The secret to dealing with doubt is to ascertain its true nature. When concerns are real and have merit, it is worth pausing, stepping back and examining how to best deal with legitimate problems and risks. Call your higher judgment and intellectual faculties into play and hold your more emotional self to the side as you analyze the real merit of any doubt. Growth, whether business or personal, is about taking calculated risks, not gambling with one’s well being or rushing in where angels fear to tread. Your goals and ambitions for yourself deserve a solid analysis and a well-thought plan. Give them the attention they merit and you are more likely to banish your doubts and accomplish what you set out to do.
When your plans become the subject of an outside critic, again pause for a moment to listen to the source carefully. Advice comes cheaply and the easiest thing in the world to advise is “No” or “Don’t.” Moving beyond where you are at any given time carries some inherent risk and often threatens others around you. When criticism and doubt approach you from an outside source, learn to recognize legitimate concern and wise counsel from attempts to hold you in check.
In the final analysis, you have to make a decision to move forward or to stay put. The moment you quit your dreams and goals, however, you may be alive, but you are not living fully. We grow by trying, failing, picking ourselves up and trying again. Six times down, seven times up. Sometimes you win just by showing up one more time.
Regular readers of this column know I have a few heroes who help me get through each day. Here’s what one of them had to say on this topic. I’m certain you have read it before, but it bears frequent visitation.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.Theodore Roosevelt-Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, France
April 23, 1910