Divinity In Doubt

Have you ever come across the word Atelophobia? It refers to the fear of imperfection, fear of never being good enough.

You and I know this phobia as self- doubt.

Before I get into the discussion, have you noticed something strange? Those who are experts- painstaking and thorough in their work- are the people with the deepest self- doubt. The clueless ones, on the other hand, are bristling with offensive self- confidence. But then…

The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.

~Robert Hughes


Jokes aside though, my experience with self- doubt, my observation of it, has been painful and perplexing. I have seen it sitting on the shoulders of people who are acknowledged experts in their fields. I have seen its marauding presence in the silent self- talk of those who seem to lead charmed lives. I have seen its muddy paws on the pristine souls of those who are sensitive, intelligent and humble.

To look at these people from where the world looks at them, they have no business suffering even a nanosecond of self- doubt. Yet, inexplicably, it is there- strident, belligerent and mocking. It tears at them so furiously that you recoil in horror.

I want to ask them, these gods and goddesses, why they suffer under the yoke of so ignoble an affliction! My sense of justice revolts against the thought; I am deeply hurt by this unfairness. To see divinity doubt itself while the inglorious beat their chest and shout with undeserved, raucous confidence seems like a sick joke. I don’t know why, but it seems like a personal affront to me. I just cannot bear to see it. This pain is the only downside to my work as a Life (Belief) coach.

Having seen self- doubt uniformly in all souls worthy of admiration and emulation, I have had to conclude that perhaps it is this undesirable darkness within them that drives them into making the effort to shine so brightly.

I can’t think of anyone I admire who isn’t fuelled by self-doubt. It’s an essential ingredient. It’s the grit in the oyster.

~Richard Eyre

Perhaps the burning sands of self- doubt for a sort of rites of passage. Perhaps you reach an oasis of wisdom only after you have proved your mettle to the universe. You have shown it that although the inhospitable desert did sometimes slow you down, though it did rob you of hope sometimes, yet there is something stronger than the beast within, which made you get up again and walk on.

By fully experiencing and going beyond an emotional block – through the layers of doubt and fear – you experience the emotion of who you truly are.

~Stephen Richards

I am still in the process of coming to terms with the self- doubt I see in people. Though I am yet to accept it, I have reached a place where the pain has dulled its edge. I have accepted its presence, though I am still to find a way to justify it. To my fastidious soul, it seems a needless waste of effort.

At the level at which I work with people, their great talent is paired with great insecurity. Self-doubt is literally the twin of self-confidence. And I have to be there for both.

~William Ivey Long

It does seem as if only an atmosphere of crippling doubt can goad you into spreading your wings and taking off. If that is so, I will embrace doubt. For truly, nothing is more exhilarating than to see a human being defy gravity.

Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.

~Kahlil Gibran

If self- belief is indeed the twin to self- doubt, there is no point questioning its existence. What you need is to learn how to handle it in such a way that it doesn’t cripple you. You need strength, not to be better than others but to fight the demon within you who stops you from being as good as you can be; as good as you ARE!

Turning pro is a mind-set. If we are struggling with fear, self-sabotage, procrastination, self-doubt, etc., the problem is, we’re thinking like amateurs. Amateurs don’t show up. Amateurs crap out. Amateurs let adversity defeat them. The pro thinks differently. He shows up, he does his work, he keeps on truckin’, no matter what.

~Steven Pressfield

The best and the greatest among us have suffered debilitating self- doubt. Yet, they showed up. Their insecurities might have laid terrible traps for them, yet they showed up. Their fears might have breathed malicious words of inadequacy into their ears, yet they showed up. Day after day, every day. That, is true courage.

Belief in oneself is incredibly infectious. It generates momentum, the collective force of which far outweighs any kernel of self-doubt that may creep in.

~Aimee Mullins

Many years ago, the book I was reading (I forget which, sorry) asked me to write down my epitaph. After days of introspection, during which my self- doubt had a wonderful time tripping me up again and again, I wrote, edited and rewrote the following:

Here lies a woman who didn’t let her own fears stop her from doing what she knew was right!

You have your own ways of making room for the inexplicable within you. You have coping strategies, as you must. You learn how to soar with your baggage strapped to your back. You do it either by whittling down the extra load or by developing a strength greater than its pull; or by a combination of both. Whatever works for you.

You must never allow your self- doubt to bully you into throwing away your wings. There are many waiting to see your flight; for your flight is to give them the courage for their own. Surely you aren’t going to let them down?!

Will you let your divinity languish in doubt?

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43 thoughts on “Divinity In Doubt”

  1. Yet again, words fail me. And this time it isn’t self-doubt. I actually don’t know what to say. Except a big fat thank you for helping me realise that I did have the “muddy paws of self-doubt on my soul”. Though I wouldn’t go as far as to claim to be one amongst those divine souls that you speak proudly of, your powerful words resonate loudly within me, and it’s high time, I learn to believe in myself. And stop letting others drag me down πŸ™‚ And yes, this definitely calls for *hugs* (since you dislike the thank you part!)

    1. Sid, you can go as far as to count yourself among the divine souls I write so passionately about. Didn’t I tell you so yesterday?

      Thank you for the hugs. Hugs back to you and a loving pat on that cute head of yours. Don’t you let your own questions take away you will to fly, now!

      I am so happy my words resonated with you. It makes my labor worthwhile. Thank you. πŸ™‚

  2. As long as a pinch of self-doubt helps you to remain humble and helps you to improve, it is desirable. Anymore than that, can be detrimental.
    A pleasure to read you, as always.
    You are so affectionate and caring Dagny. I am touched by the pat on Sid’s cute head.:) I want one too, not a pat, but a hug. A tight warm bear hug.

    1. As you said Alka, in moderation, self- doubt can impel you to improve yourself. But in excess it may take away your courage to move forward.

      A big BIG bear hug to you! Your comment made me grin delightedly. You really know how to make people feel good. πŸ˜€

  3. Alka left me with nothing to say. I rather thought that those people became the divinities they are because self-doubt goaded them into becoming better by the day. But, yes, in excess it can serve to cripple rather than improve. (Being an ordinary mortal is a much happier thing to be. Thank God that I am as ordinary as they come. I seek only to be happy, not to shine πŸ™‚ )

    1. Being as ordinary as the best of a doubting god, you might have aimed only at finding happiness… but you end up shinning anyway.

      Seriously Suresh, enough with your modesty. πŸ™‚

  4. For years I simply could not understand what to do with my life. Self-doubt had me shackled. I still do have but, I know when I can overcome it and how. It has always made me surpass my own expectations. From time to time I do need validation that I am on the right path…I say I am surprised myself πŸ™‚

    1. I thank the moment you decided to blog. I might never have met you otherwise!

      I wonder how you’ll be ten years from now. Can you imagine? πŸ˜€

      Thanks for reading Janu…

  5. Dagny,
    Years ago I was reading a book called “war reporting for cowards”. I forget the author. It was from a journalist who unwittingly became a war reporter in the thick of the iraq war. It was a darkly humorous account of that. In that book was a sentence of description. The author was describing one of his teachers who was also a writer. He said, “Like many journalists, Cole was an odd mixture of self-confidence and insecurity. Both traits, I later learned, are necessary in a good writer. Without the former, you would never believe your thoughts worthy of publication; without the latter, your thoughts would never be worthy of publication.”
    It makes complete sense to me. It makes complete sense to my wife also because she is totally exasperated by having to set at rest my numerous and persistent doubts about my ability and my products πŸ™‚

    1. Avinash,

      I know you will believe me when I tell you this- I thought of you as I wrote this. I also remembered you telling me how the patient Kakoli has dealt with your self- doubt. And I remembered my own exasperation with you constantly questioning yourself.

      I also thought of some other amazing men and women I have ‘met’ in the past few years. Such wealth of talent, such deep perception and wisdom and yet, or maybe because of it, they doubt themselves. It truly is surprising.

      So very, very pleased to see you here. πŸ™‚

  6. Self-doubt is our biggest enemy isn’t it?

    Thank you for writing this πŸ™‚
    Over the years now, I have learnt to be kinder to myself.. and coming here, I realized that I am my best friend.

    Just enough self-doubt to keep ourselves from turning into sanctimonious pricks is required.

    As the saying goes – “Empty vessels make more noise”!

    Hugs Dagny!

    1. Self- doubt, when in excess, is certainly an enemy Pixie. And how do you know if you have an excess of it? If it stops you from moving forward, if it freezes you, it is in excess. I’ve found that to be a good enough benchmark.

      Hugs back girl! πŸ™‚

  7. This post was really good food for thought. Yes, while that inkling of self doubt was what made geniuses like Sachin Tendulkar constantly keep perfecting his art, the absence of it made peers like Vinod Kambli shine for a brief period of time and then fade away without anybody noticing him since.

    I guess all of us need to be extremely careful about how the twins – self doubt and self belief make their appearance and presence felt in our lives, as we obviously need both of them in optimum quantities to ensure that all of us reach the maximum of our potential.

    Lovely post Dagny, spoke to me at so many many levels.

    1. Jairam, I am very happy the post could connect with you. A modicum of self- doubt is okay… even desirable. When it is absent, you become like the clueless ones whose self- assurance can only be called misplaced- and brash.

      Thanks for coming by.. πŸ™‚

  8. Excellent post–if i could write like you i could have been more expressive.
    Self doubt is only required like a pinch of salt in a dish.I have seen beautiful persons waste their possibilities away because of a surfeit of this element.A chasm seems to separate them from their other self.

    1. Indu, you are very expressive. Your phrase ‘like a pinch of salt in a dish’ eloquently communicated all that needed to be said. It truly pains me to see people throw away their opportunities because they don’t think they are good enough to fly with it. Such a tragedy!

      Thank you for your visit. πŸ™‚

  9. Once again a post from you that makes me introspect and nod my head in agreement. I agree, both self doubt and self confidence go hand in hand but for me self doubt has always tilted the balance in its favour. Your post makes me want to change that, I sure hope I can….

    1. Seeta, As I’ve said in the post, I have a personal vendetta against the kind of self- doubt that holds people back from the life they were meant to live. If you ever need to talk to someone about this, you know where to find me. πŸ™‚

      Here’s wishing you a world that is yours, waiting for you to claim it. Hugs!

  10. “Those who are experts- painstaking and thorough in their work- are the people with the deepest self- doubt. The clueless ones, on the other hand, are bristling with offensive self- confidence.” – Now, I see the irony here. Like you, I too want to scratch my head and wonder ‘why?’, but only at the latter ones. πŸ˜€
    You know how we humans are. Call it ‘wanting more’ or call it ‘aspiring’, even the “expert” remains in the race to better/achieve/attain the next rung of success till he breathes his last. And so, no matter how good he is in his skin, before he takes the plunge from cloud 1 to cloud 2, he will have a dreg of ‘self-doubt’ – either because he is jumping into newness or because he is leaving the old behind. Change is important, but so scary too. I too have my moments of self-doubt, but you are right, many must be waiting to see my flight too. Just like a part of me awaits it. πŸ™‚
    Beautiful post!

    1. Honestly Sakshi, my perception of this is a little skewered. Let me explain.

      You say that people have self- doubt in order to improve themselves… to expand their expertise. It is true in some cases. But in the majority of cases I have been fortunate enough to meet many beautiful people- and I mean that most sincerely, these people are wonderful, sensitive BEAUTIFUL human beings. Their gentle goodness and kindness is like warm sunshine. Their clarity of thought, their agility of intellect hold you spell bound. They are wonderful in every way that a human being can be excellent.
      To see such gods question their own worth is unbearable to me. I truly, truly can’t bear it. It seems such a terrible, futile waste! For such people to doubt their light seems almost sacrilegious! It is as if they are rubbing mud on the face of their own divinity. It hurts me to see it. It hurts with a pain that is deeper than any physical pain.
      This post was written for all of those people. I wish they would just see themselves as I see them. They’d never suffer a single moment of doubt then. And how spectacular would that be?! πŸ˜€
      Thank you for coming by. You add value every single time… πŸ™‚

  11. Ah Dagny, another lovely introspective post from you. Who hasn’t experienced self-doubt? In a way, I see it as a major motivator for someone like me who has always only seen herself as her biggest benchmark. So, yes self-doubt makes me honestly critical of my own work and also gives me the sense of humor to take the mundane from my own work along with the excellent in my stride. My self-doubt is not of the belittling type but something that keeps me grounded and human. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think of myself as a genius but I enjoy what I do and whatever it has given me. You won me with your last few lines. Self-doubt if extended beyond a point can be seriously curbing and stifling. Yes, many more are willing to see you take off and succeed. And you owe it to them as well as to yourself to try out the untested, to follow your heart! Love you for your posts that make us think and reiterate for ourselves our belief in what is good and right!

    1. Rachna,

      Let me ask you something. Who is a genius?

      For me genius is a person who strives constantly to improve, to become the best he can to the limits of his ability.

      If you accept that definition of a genius, then you are as much a genius as those who have 300 patents to their name. They are doing what they do best, and you are doing what you do best. They elevate the entire human race a few notches, and so do you. Their way might be a little more spectacular where yours is not. So what? The principle is the same.

      I am more than pleased to know that my posts resonate with a woman of your discerning intellect. A word of praise from you means a lot more than odes from someone who had no idea what I was about. πŸ™‚

      What a lucky chance that I met you! πŸ™‚

      1. Just this morning I was thinking about Women’s Day, and my thoughts instantly went to how you picked up a post of mind done on a Corporate blog the very same day last year and connected with it. That is when I hopped over to your space and was hooked by this feisty lady with a Rampuri who could write like a dream. Oh I am so glad we met, Dagny! The love, respect and appreciation is mutual. Your posts, your comments, your interactions with me enrich my writing and life, truly!

        Oh yes, I see it when you explain genius.

        And yes, it is frustrating to see some brilliant souls being so insecure and wracked with self doubt. What I wouldn’t give to shake them and make them realize their beautiful reality!

        1. Your comment made me grin. It was indeed a Wome’s Day post, wasn’t it? Has it been only a year? I seem to have known you since forever! I seriously think we should get together and shake a few people up vigorously. Shake their diffidence out… along with a few teeth. πŸ˜€

  12. Interesting and highly relevant. Actually fiction was something that helped me in managing self doubt. We never know what is running inside the minds of real people. But in stories, you can see people perceived as great heroes by the rest of the world plagued by the demons within their own mind. That kind of gives confidence that self doubt is a natural malady that most people have to live with.

    1. Wow! It never occurred to me to look at fiction that way. It sounds like a very effective strategy TF. That’s one more reason why one should read. πŸ™‚

      Thanks for coming by…

  13. [You have your own ways of making room for the inexplicable within you. You have coping strategies, as you must. You learn how to soar with your baggage strapped to your back. You do it either by whittling down the extra load or by developing a strength greater than its pull; or by a combination of both. Whatever works for you.] I can come back here and read these words again and agaian and again. Thank you for this post Dagny. That is all I want to say !

    1. Ruchira, Your words have validated my work. I am sure you know how deeply I value a validation from you. Thank you. Your comment has enriched me. <3

  14. Goddesses who have self-doubt, huh? As you have pointed out self-doubt is good, it forces us to keep polishing ourselves, as long as we don’t succumb to the doubt and give up on ourselves. Which is sometimes the case. As I see it, we all see something in the horizon and reach out. But sometimes settle for the first or second thing in our clasp. I find it very disheartening to watch people believe in themselves too quickly. The unsettled keep searching till they reach where the sky meets the earth or so I would like to believe. But yes, as you point out, trick is to not give up, sit, stop looking at the horizon. And again, sometimes, even if we give up, the sky doesn’t. Sometimes dreams are our masters.

    1. The sky doesn’t. Nor does the sun. But when one is too tangled in a web of doubts, one is not able to notice that the sky awaits us with open arms. As long as one doesn’t lose sight of one’s dreams, or lose faith in one’s capacity to make them come true, or doubt the RIGHTNESS of that dream, one is okay. As one of the commentors said, self- doubt should be as much as salt in a dish. Too much and create something inedible.
      May your dreams own you Bhavana!

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  16. Glad I read this post of yours from 2 years ago. Self-doubt, or any doubt for that matter is the obverse of faith (in self, in another, anything, higher power, universal force, whatever). And I really like how you describe that doubt perhaps arises from a place of darkness. It may serve an important purpose, for the time being, as a push to move further, but only in a negative way. The challenge is to replace doubt with faith. Not easy to do. But what’s the alternative, really?

    1. The alternative is even more unacceptable. Doubt has a way of draining away your life.

      What saddens me is that our entire social fabric fosters doubt. It constantly compels us to pull ourselves down. It is so terribly critical that it pushes us deep into doubt constantly. I wish we’d stop doing this to each other. Surely there should be better ways to interact than by belittling and ridiculing each other?

  17. The dividing line between self-doubt and modesty is thin. Self-doubt arises as our existence seem to rest on how others evaluate us. When our strengths go unnoticed or even ridiculed it make one wretched. It is alright to take admonition for the weakness, but to be damned is dreadful….

    1. Then I would counter thus:

      When the premise is ‘self-doubt’, why is the evidence- on the basis of which the doubt rests- not SELF evaluation? Why must anyone doubt self on the basis of how they are evaluated by others?

      To be damned is dreadful you say. Yes it is. But only when the one damning you is important to you… when their opinion and respect matters deeply to you. Also, such people can only be a few.

      If the world at large damns, why should you care?

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