Getting Comfortable With Doubt

Jane Horan
4 min readApr 27, 2021

When we least expect it

Gerd Altman/Pixabay

I work with many people transitioning into new roles, which are also new beginnings and possibilities. Somewhere along the way, some doubt often creeps in.

Sounds odd, but doubt bubbles up when we least expect it.

When taking on a new role, you may recognize some doubt. Maybe you’ve had years of experience with big global firms, and after reviewing your core values and strengths, you decide to be an entrepreneur and launch your own company. You put a strong business plan together, tell friends and family who lend their support, pitch for funding and have enough cash to get through the initial hump. Things seem to be under control, yet you ask yourself ‘Am I really sure I can do this?’

Be comfortable confronting doubt head-on. It’s a force for good, a prompt to address your inner critic, face the uncertainties and then gain clarity.

Doubt is universal, the talk of philosophers for eons. Indeed, Rene Descartes said ‘Doubt is the origin of wisdom.’ If you were to follow Descartes’ notion to doubt everything in search of truth, you’d never get out of bed.

Stuck in the trap of stay or go?

Camille was an experienced accountant with a professional service firm who attended one of our career-purpose workshops. During the session she stated to everyone that she didn’t like accounting and never really wanted to be an accountant. She was detailed and good with numbers and was told accounting was a secure career path. At a pivotal point in her career; she could either move towards partnership or move on. But moving on was uncertain with “what’s next?” and the prospect of failing. She remained at the crossroads of ‘to stay or go’ for quite a while, which is normal when peering into the unknown. A few months later, after considerable soul searching, she started tutoring in finance, and then moved into a full-time teaching role with a local college and professional association.

Doubt is not insecurity, nor a lack of confidence. It’s your inner compass to help guide you in making the right move, aligned with values, strengths, and capabilities. Research suggests under some conditions doubt decreases uncertainty, and actually increases confidence. Individuals high in self-doubt spent more time thinking about their level of confidence, others too much time dwelling on their shortcoming, yet others found time to focus on strengths, which had the opposite effect. I’d call this, healthy doubt.

We all need to find the source of that doubt or be frozen by one’s inner critic, unable to move productively. Sometimes we let doubt hold sway over our actions — to our detriment.

Earlier this year, I coached Gayle, an extremely talented software engineer and by her own admission, a bit of a perfectionist. She admitted to being hyper-sensitive to criticism to the point of constantly worrying about her own performance and consequences of failure.

Looking back on her career, she had many successes. She was well respected by her colleagues and boss. But perfectionism had become both a straitjacket and excuse for not furthering her career when opportunities presented themselves. In Annie Lamont’s book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, she describes perfectionism as the ‘voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.’

In analyzing Gayle’s long-standing values, three stood out: perseverance, excellence, and achievement. Her value of excellence (which is excellent in itself) turned into perfectionism. This value preserved a sense of self-worth and ability to manage the expectations of others. But when opportunity arose, she reverted to old beliefs and became her own worst critic. Imprisoned by perfectionism, doubt provided Gayle a cover for inaction. When she took a step back to examine strengths and looked at past achievements, Gayle recognized how doubting became a crutch. By exploring the beliefs which hindered growth, looking back at past her experiences, she broke this cycle and moved her career in a direction aligned with strengths and core values.

Vulnerability ignites doubt. Rather than silencing doubt, get comfortable and acknowledge its benefits. Consider yourself fortunate if you have some intense self-doubt. Don’t push it aside. Slow down, dig around inside and explore. Whose voice do you hear? Yours? Your colleagues or boss? Family?

In my book, Now It’s Clear the Career You Own, I have a chapter on ‘’getting comfortable with doubt”, here’s two short exercises from that chapter:

  1. Unlearn: our doubts and fears are learned behaviors so we have to unlearn them. One way is to write. Use stream of consciousness writing to uncover the feelings of doubt. Try adapting gameful mindset to challenge your fears. Consider, ‘’what is this fear trying to teach me?” Or select a lingering doubt which, if you can overcome, would liberate. And, become motivated by the challenge.
  2. Move from self-doubt to self-truth: reframe your thinking from doubt and fear to challenge and opportunity. List every reason and positive outcome for taking on a challenge. That doesn’t eliminate doubt, but redefines it, to help rather than hinder.



Jane Horan

Author. Helping people find meaningful work. I write monthly on inclusion, political savvy and careers and how these interconnect.