At some stage or another, all of us have experienced the crippling feeling of worthlessness. That horrible, choking feeling that you’re just not good enough. I’m sure we can experience it in a number of situations or due to a number of reasons – a partner doubting your capabilities; pressure that feels just too much at work, big expectations from a little guy or girl. My most recent encounter – standing in front of a room full of influential people, all more clever and experienced than I am, with the sole purpose to see whether I’m good enough. In case you didn’t guess it – I had to present my research proposal for the doctoral committee of the university for final acceptance into the program.
Unless you have been in this exact same position before, I don’t think anyone truly appreciates the pressure this puts on you. For one, these people are in no way your peers – in fact, you are trying to convince them that you are worthy of joining their ranks. They are all very much more knowledgeable of the specific field of research you are expecting to join (translation: ONE flaw and they’ll see it from a mile away). They are all accomplished, published authors and researchers, probably with NRF gradings (a rating for the most bad-ass of researchers). You make one tiny oversight in your research methodology, they’ll attack you like the pack of wolves they truly are (that’s what it feels like, at least). This alone is enough to make any aspiring researcher go hide under your car like the scaredy cat you are.
My loving and supportive and definitely blind SO told me before the presentation: “Remember, when you walk out of there you’ll be one of them”. Such blindness. He couldn’t see that I am completely incompetent and unworthy of ever achieving my dream of calling myself Doctor. The crippling self-doubt had by then taken such a strong hold of me, that I was barely able to stand up straight. I could feel my legs giving in constantly (have my ankles always been this weak??), my shoulders feeling small and my neck insufficient in its task of holding up my head.
I had an entire weave of support – my dad told me to go and kick ass, he didn’t feel it even necessary to wish me luck – he didn’t doubt me one second. My mom sent me her whole arsenal of pictures of kittens with Bible verse quotes wishing me good luck, and assured me fifty times that she’ll be praying for me the entire time – for strength and peace and confidence. My SO had an entire rehearsal of one-liners telling me how amazing I was. My colleague BFF posted her support publicly on Facebook. Friends and family that kept me in their thoughts. I couldn’t possibly have been more supported and believed-in by everyone – except myself.
What, then, can possibly make you believe in yourself if you simply don’t feel good enough? For me, there was one thing. One thing that made me walk into that room and start making small talk with the people I’m terrified of most. Starting that presentation despite the fact that I just wanted to casually walk out, start jogging and not stop until I reached the end of the continent (then start swimming). So very simple – I did it for every person who believes in me more than I believe in myself. I cannot find it in myself to disappoint them.
The answer to overcoming self-doubt may not lie with finding your inner strength, finding that one part in yourself that believes you are good enough and worthy and competent. It may not lie with you at all – but completely outside of yourself. I have found that it lies with every person who believes in you so much that you cannot bear the thought of proving them wrong. Completely outside of yourself. The belief of people outside your head, can overcome the disbelief you have inside your head.
I don’t believe this makes you weak – not being able to internalise your own ability. It makes you blessed. Having an entire army of people ready to fight your demons when you can’t – that’s a blessing right there. In case anyone that forms part of my security blanket reads this – there is not enough words in any language to thank you for believing in me, especially when I don’t believe in myself.
After all this, I am very much pleased to be updating my Bio with the words “PhD candidate of the NWU”!