Work in Progress: Dealing with Self Doubt & Fear
In case you guys missed it, I've been talking about my big leap into a full-time, small business owner and my struggles on saying "no". It's been very encouraging to hear everyone's response and to know that I'm not the only person dealing with these problems. This time, I'm writing about something we all openly or secretly struggle with. Call it self doubt, lack of confidence, low self esteem, or whatever you want.
I'm not going to pretend I ALWAYS feel positive and view everything with a "glass half-full" perspective. On the contrary, I always have a small annoying voice inside of me who gladly spews a narrative describing what I did wrong, what I missed, what I can do better, etc. Most of the time, it's just passive comments which can be easily ignored. Other times, I'll get hooked and spend too much time on this myopic, downward spiral, comparing how slow my business growth is or feeding myself horror stories on how I won't book another client.
On this blog, I'm going to talk about the a couple of common myths people believe about self doubt, the truth about where this lack of confidence comes from, and finally what I do to keep these thoughts under control.
1. Once you've reached a certain achievement, there's no reason to doubt yourself anymore.
This "achievement" can be anything from acceptance to your dream university, your dream career, becoming a small business owner, or reaching a certain tax bracket. Once you've achieved your goal, you should have all the confidence in world right? I desperately wish that could happen to you, but that's not what happen for me. I've mentioned my goals for Seniman Calligraphy's first year which I managed to fulfill (because I set them low enough, of course). It felt amazing, don't get me wrong! There's been many dinner celebrations with my husband which included some sushi and lots of honey mee ice cream. But once the celebration is over, you set yourself up with a new goal and start the whole anxiety wheel over again.
2. It's all in your head.
There's usually some trigger from the outside that brings all these self-doubts to surface. So, reasoning isn't completely imaginary. This can be anything from rejection emails, seeing your peer posting a project photo that could have been yours, or less than expected performance on your website/sales/or social media post. Sometimes it's really quick and doesn't bother me at all, other times I'll be spending hours obsessing over it.
3. You just need to have more "positive thoughts".
I'm pretty sure you've heard, received, and even gave advice along these lines. Anywhere from "visualize your success" to something as vague as "everything will turn out okay". It usually works but more as a short term fix. Kinda like that extra shot of espresso after you pull an all-nighter. I felt good after I receive those encouragements, but we all know this definitely doesn't help when you're anxiety is through the roof! Some self-help books even go as far as talking to yourself in the mirror, repeating positive affirmations to help boost your confidence with the old adage "fake it 'til you make it" approach. If this works for you, fantastic! If not, keep reading...
1. It happens ALL. THE. TIME.
My biggest achievement thus far is being able to pursue my passion fully. I was so worried if I could manage this full time and had a lot of self-doubt before taking the leap. The only doubt that stopped after I finally had the courage to do this full time was the doubt about being a full time calligrapher. Now I'm worried about everything else! And thanks to social media (no matter how much I love Instagram) makes it way too easy for me to go down the rabbit hole of self validation!
I have doubt about my Instagram posts, "What if I post at the worst time and got horrible interactions?". I have second thoughts about proposals I've sent and projects I've lost, "Did I price myself too high? How is that logo/invite/wedding/shoot turning out after they decided not to hire me?". I'm worried nobody will read my blogs after all the time and effort I've put into them (which is why I'm so happy when I hear feedback about my blogs!). I'm scared that nobody will buy my merchandise or that students will have to cancel attending my class. And when I don't have enough to worry about, I conjure up from airy nothing that I may or may not screw up my order! Do I need to go on?
2. It the brain's way of keeping you on your toes.
Something that's not surprising for everyone with self-doubt is that our brain is really good at convincing us on the worst case scenario. Although, there's a reason for that. If you have to think about the last time you had self doubt, lack of confidence, second guessing your decision, or even a tad of jealousy toward others; they all have one thing in common and it's fear. Fear of missing out, fear of disappointing performance, fear to be outdone/out-shined, fear of rejection, along with so many other fears.
This might sound crazy, but this is something you have to be thankful for. I know, the endless anxieties and cold sweats do not sound appealing. But when channeled correctly, all of that "negativity" can lead you to make better business decisions, push you to excel, over prepare for the task, do thorough research, and makes sure you're always on the top of your game by keeping a watchful eye on market trends and competition. Remember, in small doses though...
3. You can't get rid of them by more "positive thoughts".
This whole repeating "positive affirmations" in the mirror doesn't work for me. Personally, it achieves the adverse effect because I feel like I'm lying to myself. I always feel like I'm not good enough, lack the experience or expertise, and there's so many other people who do better work, have better experience, and way better social skills. It doesn't matter how many "positive thoughts" that I have; I still have butterflies in my stomach. My heart's still racing way too fast. Cold sweats appear before I teach my class, meet a new client, or when handing out my business cards to stores. That being said, I cannot let these physical responses of being uncomfortable stop me. I list my steps on how to overcome these below.
Instead of the short fixes, there are a few steps you can take to control and weirdly, utilize your self doubts/fear/lack of confidence.
1. Understand why you don't feel confident.
If you remember those times when you felt a lack of confidence and began to second guess yourself, it's usually because you're lacking the expertise, the experience, or both. If you're lacking the expertise, you know that you need more practice and research. As for the lack of experience, everything is scary the first time but it always gets progressively easier the second, third, or fourth time! Especially if you have the expertise to fall back on, something you feel completely comfortable with.
Case and point, my fear of public speaking and teaching calligraphy classes. I was so scared at first; from thinking that nobody will buy the ticket to all the jitters before having to speak in front of everyone. But things were easier as soon as we passed the lecture and we actually started working on the actual calligraphy. I'm very comfortable showing everyone how to do my dip pen calligraphy, it's my expertise after my many hours of practice. The second and third class were much easier too! The jitters were still there, but it didn't scare me as much anymore.
2. Be over-prepared.
Because my default is imagining how I will fail, I usually spend most efforts on being prepared. Yes, you'll still have the jitters and the knot in your stomach, but not preparing to the fullest is pretty much a self-fulfilling prophecy. Personally, I took the saying "pray for best, prepare for the worst" to heart.
Back to my workshop for example. My worst fear that prevented me from teaching my first class was selling zero tickets. It's still my biggest fear every time I put up new dates. When I first got the opportunity from West Elm Santa Monica, Aysha mentioned they usually schedule the date 1-2 months before the class. So, I started marketing mine 3 months before. I marketed them like mad too! Lots of Instagram posts, Facebook ads, begging everyone to share it in their feeds, email blast to everyone I know and created a professional-quality photographs literally the day after we scheduled our date. I already had all the extra plans if I didn't hit my sales quota. My fallback plan ranged from making flyers to hang in the local Starbucks or Paper Source to even asking my friends and family to take a day off in order to attend my class. Thankfully, I don't have to do the last two, but I had that plan!
3. Find measurable progress and thoroughly assess the data.
Sometimes, it's hard to know if I'm being overly negative or if it's a useful criticism. Before I became a full-time calligrapher, the finances of this business scared me enough to make me keep working at my day job. That being said, I just really really wanted to do this full time. So, I chose some metrics to measure if there's enough interest for my product. For me, it's Instagram followers and interaction rate, styled shoot publications, and obviously, my website analytics. Knowing that there's a market for me makes my decision much easier.
This also works the other way around. As part of my business, I tried to branch out and have more than simply custom products. Some products came with very little risk; like my vow books. It's a product that can be purchased in small amounts and sells out most of the time. But other than that, there are so many other ready-made or semi-custom items that I create. Some with great success and some.... not so much. I can be stubborn and try to spend more time, more effort, and more money. Or I can indulge my negative thoughts, see the stats, and make the calculated decision to discontinue the items and mark down the price.
4. Be at peace with my worse case scenario.
I've mentioned most of my "what ifs" and I've talked about one of my tips for participating in styled shoots. The key is to be at peace with the worst case scenario. For shoots, it's to have fun, build bridges and trust with other vendors. Also, to push yourself artistically. But you can also apply this when the stakes are higher.
Personally, I always face the paralyzing fear of spending the money to create new products. Of course, the worst case scenario is I'm spending all my hard earned money on products that nobody wants to buy. It's the worst kind of rejection ever. The easiest way out is to not invest any money on future products. I don't have to have the potential rejections and take comfort in a cushier rainy-day fund. But then, I understand that I'm limiting my growth. Instead, I try to find consolation prizes. For example... If nobody were to my greeting cards, I can send them to everyone on my Christmas list. If nobody will buy my workshop tickets; I at least build a great relationship with the host and spread the word about my business. And if everything doesn't go according to plan, at the very least I learn what not to do in the future! And I try to be okay with that.
5. Take action.
To put it simply, the riskiest thing to do is to NOT take risks. It's a for sure way to gain nothing. That being said, I know how uncomfortable making all those "risky" decisions can be and the potential disappointment in store for you. So I'm not going to tell you to go big or go home. Instead, I want to encourage you to start small, no matter how small it is. If your fear is the financial implication like me, figure out the least amount of money you're willing to part with for this new "lesson".
For me, one of my goals is to spin up some pop up stores and I'm currently still trying to get there. If all I think about is the huge expense to create all those products, all the time I have to dedicate, and how little money I will make; I probably won't come up with anything. Instead, I found it easier to break it down into smaller steps. From building the connections, figuring out how many products I need to have, and constantly working and investing to achieve the goal. This helps me create bite size tasks, more manageable than thinking the big picture.
At the end of the day, you're missing 100% of the shots you don't take. So let me know what your fear is that makes you doubt yourself. And because I've read that making public announcement increase the chance to achieve your goal, what do you wish to achieve if you don't have to worry about the risk?
Photography: Luna de Mare Photography | Wedding Dress: Sweet Caroline | Ring: Susie Saltzman | Hair and Make Up: Chiali Meng | Calligraphy: Seniman Calligraphy | Venue: Private loft | Agency: Osbrink Models | Creative Direction Luna de Mare Photography | Floral Designs, Creative Directions and Designs: Jenn Sanchez Design | Model: Theresa Murphy | Ribbon+Runner: Silk and Willow