It starts off as a nag at the back of your mind. But it develops. It’s greedy. It grows and grows, until before you know it, it’s overwhelmed you, devouring any logic on your mind. Eating away any shred of confidence you have in your actions.
We don’t recognise the doubts that creep into our thoughts and are ever-present in our everyday choices until much later. For me, now looking back, the ignorance of the world around us that comes with a young age - when nothing seems too extreme - is a blessing; I was ignorant, but blissfully so.
Everything was full of possibilities - everything I wanted seemed to be within my reach; there were no boundaries separating my wants from my actions.
It all becomes too real too suddenly. I grew up in a community where the best things you could achieve were good grades and to go to good schools. So naturally as the candles on my birthday cake grew in number, so did the number of things shoved onto me. Things I never asked for and didn’t know how to handle. Expectations, opinions, standards, from people I never knew were stakeholders in my own life. Everything I did was judged.
I knew what everyone wanted - a perfect person with good grades and no problems - and I felt compelled to live up to the standard. When the grades on my report cards and test results failed to live up to what was expected of me, it was as though I had let everyone down. I started obsessing over my grades, believing them to be not good enough. There was always something to be improved, something that was lacking and something I had failed at doing. People’s expectations fuelled my own, and soon enough no matter what I did, I could not live up to anyone’s standards, much less mine.
Before I had even realised, my definition of success had turned to not what I wanted, but what others wanted of me. But I was scared of not reaching this success. Not reaching it meant (or so I believed) I was a failure.
Were my grades good enough for someone of my ‘promise’? Did my actions reflect on my upbringing positively? What would others think if I chose to do this?
I don’t deny the fact that these limitations on someone’s actions can be positive. We all need regulations to keep ourselves in check, and doubts are what fuels us to make better, realistic decisions on behalf of themselves. But sometimes, these self-doubts get overwhelming, and that’s where my problem started.
Am I doing the right thing by taking this step?
I found myself asking that question before I made any decisions. I don’t know when it started, but before I even knew it, I was doubting every first thought I had upon anything. This not only applied to major things, like going for student council, signing up for MUN after a disastrous first conference, but for simple, trivial things too, like whether I was wearing proper clothes for a visit to a mum’s friend’s house. I still had a strong desire to get involved - that didn’t vanish. However, I expected failures from my actions. I was convinced that somehow, somewhere, I would mess up in the process, and thus fail to live up to expectations.
It limited me. I failed to grasp opportunities when they arose because of this irrational fear that I was doing something wrong by taking the decision. I missed so many chances that could have opened up a path to even more opportunities.
It took me a ridiculously long time - and countless missed chances - but I gradually became aware of how I couldn’t keep this up. Because it all came down to one thing that became more and more obvious every time I succumbed to this insurmountable feeling of self-doubt:
Self-doubt did not have a definite finish line from which it ceased to exist. It was not a ‘phase’ to just get through, but rather a mindset I had to learn to work around. For my own sake. I owed it to myself to fulfill my own potential and grow as a person.
So, I started to choose to see things in a different light.
I started off by nurturing existing and new social interactions with the people around me. The mere prospect of opening up, I know, is incredibly daunting. Yet, when I became more aware of the people around me, and their very own inner monologues, it allowed me to see a new side of thinking of things. Whereas I had always been obsessive over the thought that people would ‘judge’ my failures, I soon came to realise that no one actually cared as half as much as I thought they did. It sounds simple, but for me, this revelation of the simple fact that no one dwells on your own failures as much as you do, really did change everything. You know what? Everything becomes so much easier to do when you stop caring about how other people will take it.
As I learnt this over and over and grew in my friends’ support, I also realised how crucial it was to have positive people around me. Now that I look back, I’m eternally grateful for the sheer amount of support I had from my own friends. They often had more faith in me more than my own self did. They persuaded me to reach for things I had never dared to reach for, and as cheesy as this sounds, I cannot imagine where I would be right now without them, but it’s safe to say that I would not have reached this far in the process of overcoming self-doubt. It felt liberating to know that there were people around me who understood me and did not threaten me with the burden of their expectations.
And though I struggle with this still, I am also learning to be patient and forgiving of my mistakes. Mistakes and failures suck, but what I’ve come to realise is that they are a part of you. Do not be afraid of failures. You grow by making mistakes, not by succeeding all the time, and honestly, I am appreciative of the person I have become through all that.
Rather than choosing to conform to the standards and limitations others have placed, I now choose to be my own self. I choose my own goals, what I want to do, who I want to be as a person. I dictate what my successes and limits are, and they are not merely others’ expectations. The most important thing I have learnt from my progress so far, however, is that you should never let doubts, whether it be your own or other people’s, prevent you from doing something you really love.
So next time you think ‘am I doing the right thing by taking this step?’, ask yourself instead: ‘is this what I want to do?’. I promise you, whatever it is, it will be worth it.