Knowing you’re capable of doing something, yet putting it off because you don’t believe in yourself. I imagine many of you have been in this position before, just as I have, too. You doubt your abilities, and you never feel you’re ready to pursue your dreams. You beat yourself up for what you haven’t accomplished. You’re confused about your career or relationship and sit around waiting for a change. Or maybe you don’t even have a career or a relationship and want one badly. Sound familiar? What follows is my story of self discovery — the bumpy road that has taken me through a long period of self doubt and into a period of confidence, giving me the freedom in my career to do what I have always dreamed of doing.
Cloudera — My First Job
I feel as though the last few years, from the moment I started my first job up until the time when I quit my last job, I’ve been blocked, unable to reach my full potential in the workplace. My struggle started at Cloudera. I was a software engineer straight out of school, working amongst the best engineers in the industry, and I didn’t think highly of myself — I wasn’t as good as the other engineers and I let that define me. Self doubt overtook me like a plague. I blocked myself from my full potential, in part because I was in the wrong role at the company. But mostly because of the negativity I was directing towards myself.
After a year as an engineer I transitioned to do a mix of training, consulting, support, and the like. I was finally in a position where I was very good at my job, which helped my confidence a little. But I wasn’t doing a job I had always dreamed of doing. In college I never saw myself answering support tickets and installing clusters for someone else. I wasn’t on the path I wanted to be on, so I left Cloudera to put myself on the “right path.” The decision was hard given how much I liked the company and enjoyed my coworkers, who are now very good friends of mine. But I needed change.
Atlassian — My Low Point
After Cloudera I joined Atlassian as a product marketer. I took the job because others advised me that product marketing would be a good field for me. I listened, even though I had a marketing internship in college that I didn’t enjoy in the slightest. However, while at Atlassian, I learned an immense amount and had a great time, too. Atlassian is a fabulous company, but I struggled there. I never contributed to the company in a meaningful way. I had lots of ideas but found myself getting stuck in the execution of them. I beat myself up for not making an impact, and still my confidence stayed low.
I recall one specific meeting at Atlassian where my confidence was at an all time low. I had an awful attitude in the meeting, and as soon as it was over I was unbelievably disappointed in myself. I was consumed in the weeks that followed by questions about why I reacted that way, who I was, and what I was doing. Throughout this period of introspection I thought deeply about what I wanted to do, and how I wanted to get there. I decided I needed to leave Atlassian for the same reasons I left Cloudera. But this time I left to consult three days a week and experiment with my own ideas the other two, despite the strong efforts of my friends to guide my career for me.
Something changed when I left Atlassian that I’ll never forget. Friends and former coworkers were criticizing me for leaving two companies doing incredibly, incredibly well, mostly pointing out the very clear financial incentives for staying at these companies while my stock options vested further. But I didn’t care. What changed was that I finally started thinking on my own. I finally started using others’ opinions to guide me instead of define me. I stopped looking for approval from others.
For the first time since college I looked to myself for guidance and change, I believed in myself, and I let my heart guide me, paying attention to my feelings and emotions before anything else. I approved of myself.
I can’t say for sure what changed to instill this new found confidence. But I think the change came from a combination of three things: my practice with mindfulness and meditation, my consulting experience, and my impatience for being unhappy any longer. I’ll start by talking about mindfulness and meditation, two practices I started right as I was leaving Atlassian.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness and meditation have taught me to observe and study my emotions and feelings. Now when I get a sinking feeling of self doubt or anxiety, I understand exactly where that feeling is coming from, why, and how it’ll impact me moving forward. When I’m faced with decisions, I can relate emotions and feelings to thoughts and beliefs. I’m so much more aware about what is going on, both internally and externally, that I understand my place in the world at a much more fundamental level than I ever have before.
Mindfulness and meditation have also shown me the importance of loving yourself, thinking highly of what you have done and what you’re capable of doing. Beating yourself up only makes you unhappy and furthers your self doubt. Negativity toward yourself isn’t productive. Ever. We’re each amazing in our own ways, regardless of what we’ve accomplished or what we’ve struggled through.
My Consulting Experience
Throughout my career I’ve had very good bosses, but none of them gave me enough freedom to express myself. For better or worse I follow an order exactly as it’s given to me, deferring all direction and decision making to my boss, giving none to myself. But after I left Atlassian I consulted for WibiData, a company founded by two close friends. I was working from home, by myself, on a project that I had almost all control over. I felt a sense of freedom that was at first very scary, but which later developed into a sense of confidence as I continued to consult and experiment with my own ideas on the side. Looking back I wish my bosses would have inspired more confidence in me. But now, being my own boss, the scary phase of freedom is over and the exciting part is here to stay.
How I Feel Right Now
Working for myself has been a true pleasure. I’ve finally gotten a chance to pitch to some of the most famous investors in Silicon Valley, and I’ve gotten a taste of what it’s like to start a real company — anything from forming the board to opening a bank account.
But it’s not all fun. Starting a company is incredibly stressful on many different levels. First, and most obviously, I don’t have an income. But the stress manifests itself in other ways, too. I don’t have the luxury of having a boss to protect me from mistakes or misdirections. It’s all on me now.
Despite the added stress, I’m still loving what I’m doing, and I don’t doubt myself one bit. I’ve just accepted that doing something important and exciting will always be stressful. And without self doubt I never let that stress turn into something that controls me. I keep going.
Despite the new confidence I have in myself, I still seek advice from others quite often. Although now, instead of doing what they say because I want them to approve of me, I listen to the advice that I agree with. But I no longer seek approval from them. I approve of myself and that’s all I need. I do what I believe in despite any conflicting advice from people I respect. (UPDATE: this article has great advice for how to deal with advice and what other people think of you.)
My Advice to You
I can’t count on two hands the number of friends I’ve spoken to over the last few years who suffer from self doubt. Many of us are in jobs we don’t like, or in relationships that we aren’t comfortable with. Or maybe we’re not in a relationship or without a career. We become unhappy with something in our life and we do nothing about it. We don’t believe in ourselves and we’re blocked from finding happiness.
Overcoming self doubt and finding your confidence won’t happen overnight. It won’t happen in a few weeks or months, either. And it won’t come from an external source. It must come from within. The process starts when you start believing in yourself, even in just the very slightest way — when you stop letting others’ beliefs about you define who you are and what you’re doing — when you stop seeking approval from someone else and approve of yourself no matter what.
You need to stop waiting around for something to change in your job or relationship. Nothing will change unless you be the change.
No potential employer or significant other will believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself.
I’ll close with a link to a guest blog post a friend made a few days ago. This particular friend has changed his attitude, and in turn changed his life. He quit the job he hated and has since gotten many promising job interviews, which is an accomplishment he’s never enjoyed before. His story is inspiring in so many ways and I’m incredibly proud of him. Take a look at his 10 tips for happiness and read the post understanding who wrote it.
And hang in there. Everyone goes through periods of self doubt, ending only when each of us realizes that we can’t sit around waiting — we’re the only ones who can change our own lives. And change starts by believing in yourself no matter what.