She leaned across our tiny bar table toward me; her eyes bright, blue, and earnest.
“It’s like you have this ember burning inside you,” My friend said, gesturing to her chest, “You always push forward, even if everyone tells you you can’t do something. I just… really admire that.”
I, in turn, almost choked on my tequila.
Partly because compliments in general create a strange, visceral reaction in my body (I’m working on it.)
And partly because if anyone spent any amount of time in my head, they’d be treated to the constant racket of self-criticism, frustration, and self-doubt dragons that bounce constantly off the walls inside my skull.
I tried not to cough.
I took another sip of my drink.
Just be cool, Weiss.
“Thank you,” I said, closing my mouth over the burning urge to correct her. “That might be one of the nicest things anyone’s ever said to me.”
That was true, at least.
Back at our apartment hours later, legs curled anxiously under me on the couch, I relayed the story to my partner Z.
Z, bless his patient heart, has had a front row seat to all the worst neuroses only business ownership (and maybe parenthood) can truly bring out in you.
Over our ~4 years together, he’s been there through meltdowns, the loud swearing at my inbox, the pacing back and forth as I describe the fear of failure and the vertigo that stretches like a terrifying shadow over every big goal I’ve ever had. The great clients, and the not-so-great ones. My resistance to the climb.
He’s watched the restructures, the endless launches, the events that simultaneously lift me up so high but wear me out to the point of implosion, the books, the creation of my course, the hires and fires, the miracles and the mortifying realities.
These days, he tends to under-react to my flailings on purpose.
“Aw, that was so nice of her!” he said pleasantly.
“… You did say ‘Thank you’, and didn’t try to correct her, right?”
(See, I told you I’ve been working on it.)
“I did… but I still felt weird. It feels kinda like a lie.”
He smiled — but shook his head.
“I’ve said it before — I know this stuff freaks you out sometimes, but give yourself a little more credit. Every time you freak out, you push through anyway.”
“Well, yeah,” I retorted. “But that’s because if I don’t keep going, nothing happens. It’s not heroic, it’s a matter of survival. Maybe ego too.”
“There you go,” he said. “You can be scared, you doubt yourself, but you’re always moving forward.”
“I guess. Even if I’ve gotta hold my breath, put my fingers in my ears, and close my eyes to do it,” I laughed.
(No, really. It’s happened.)
“Yep!” He pulled me a little closer and I put my head on his shoulder.
“I’m always betting on you, kid.”
In the days and weeks that followed, I turned those two conversations over in my mind.
Despite my personal self-doubt dragons constantly whispering in my ear that none of it was true, and that I’d really fail eventually… I’ve been forcing myself to listen to the nice things people say about me, especially because I listen so obsessively to the non-nice things.
Did they have a point? I wasn’t sure.
Then, new projects came in. Big ones — my biggest ever.
Right on cue, the monsters in my head began to bang their drums and start their chant.
I heard them, soft at first, then louder.
“You can’t do this.”
“It’s too much.”
“Won’t it be humiliating when you fail?”
Yep, there it was.
I knew this feeling. It was as familiar to my body as Z’s hands on my hips.
I straightened my back to breathe steadily as their claws and fangs sank deep into my chest.
They follow me everywhere, these beasts— through the day, in and out of my apartment, across the city and even across the country.
Over the years, however, I’ve developed a ritual to move past these moments — where the noise in my head gets so loud I want to chuck it all out the window and move to Fiji.
Take another deep breath. Exhale.
It’s gonna be ok.
And I whisper to the monsters — as I’ve trained myself to do:
I can do this. Yes I can.
But what if you’re wrong? What if you’ve gone to far this time — what if you’re finally in over your head?!
The words fall from my heart quietly, but I say them to myself even so.
Yes I can.
Butbutbut what if your world as I know it collapses in on itself as a result of your reaching too high, too far, for too long?
Yes I can.
What’s going to happen when everyone finds out you’re a fraud, and every project that’s done well is a fluke — and you’re just not cut out for this? What if you can’t?
Yes I can.
And as the seconds drag on for what feels like hours, as the cool air inflates and rushes out of my lungs, the claws and fangs of the Doubt Dragons begin to retract.
Millimeter by millimeter, the monsters slowly retreat. And I keep breathing.
They quiet down.
And I get back to work.
That’s when it hit me:
Holy shit. I’ve accidentally developed a powerful habit on this wild, windy journey through the unknown.
This is the habit of self-belief.
In retrospect, it seems obvious, right? Why didn’t I notice that about my monster-calming ritual before?
There’s the old adage you’ve seen on countless inspiring statues and high school senior quotes:
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”
Similarly, self-belief is not the absence of self-doubt.
My self doubt is my grey ghost, the monkey on my back. It is excruciatingly painful, and it comes complete with limitless energy and an unstoppable will to slow me down so it can eventually tear me apart, piece by piece.
I had no choice but to find a way to stand against it — or I’d surely perish.
But it didn’t feel heroic to me. It didn’t feel strong. Some days it feels like hanging from a penthouse balcony by my fingertips.
And yet, there I was. Finding my way through.
It’s like standing under the hot desert sun with a small shade structure and a glass of ice cold water right next to you.
If someone asked you how you’re doing in that moment, you’d say something like:
“Dude, it’s 1,000 degrees out here.”
And yet, the shade and cold water that will keep you from melting stand dutifully by, despite the fact you don’t mention them, or even notice them when you’re so distracted by the heat.
You could say:
“Dude, it’s 1,000 degrees out here… but I’ve got my shade and water. I’ll be ok.”
But you don’t — not at first. You’re focused on the discomfort instead of the means of survival, because discomfort can be all-consuming. (And you’re only human.)
For similar reasons, the fight against self-doubt is rarely one that can be won. It can only be weathered.
There is no final scene of you vs. your monsters, toe to toe in the Colosseum of your spirit.
The habit of self-belief is one small breath against the raging fire, a glass of cold water in the scorching desert.
And yet… How is Everest climbed?
One small step at a time.
Try it. I dare you.
The shadows, the monsters, the dragons will come. And to them you will take a deep breath, and say:
Yes I can.
Speak it as quietly as you want to. Mean it as hard as you have to.
Yes I can.
Repeat it. And every time you say it, you will light a brightly blazing match against the chaos and the dark.
Yes I can.
It might feel so small in the moment — a whisper, a single match. And yet, even with the smallest brave light, you become a beacon for those stumbling through their own blackness, fleeing their monsters, silent and afraid.
Yes I can.
Say it again.
Yes I can.
Yes. You. Can.
Self-belief is a precious habit, rooted in persistence and made concrete by perseverance. It’s a muscle. A survival mantra.
Begin to use it. Warm up. Flex. Grow stronger.
Trust yourself and the value of your worth and your goals. Make them your engines, your weapons against the doubt.
Of course, no one can get in your way like you can — but similarly, no one else can send you across that finish line, either.
Which would you rather claim responsibility for?
Every step forward is a step in the right direction.
Yes I can.
Make the habit second nature. Build the muscle. Every day, every minute if you have to.
Yes you can.
Of course you can.
Damn right you can.
You can do this.
And I’ll be betting on you, kid.
Photo via Unsplash
2 thoughts on “The persistent, precious habit of self-belief”
You. Are. A. Gem.
I can never stop reading what you write and smiling as I read it, and that’s the truth. I feel like someone with that power can move mountains. You fling stories like bartenders fling cocktail mixes. Is that the word, fling? See, I don’t even know, you would know, and that is what I love you. I’ll probably follow you if you ever said, Hey, let’s go right into the sun, wouldn’t it be fun! And that’s saying something.
Never. Stop. Writing.
Thank you Hillary!! This is EXACTLY what I need right now! G x