The Flames of Self Doubt

Yesterday a friend courageously described how, as a new entrepreneur, she is routinely flooded by self-doubt and fear. She feels like a fraud from a small town, without experience or grand accolades, trying to play in an arena with the pros. I understand. I too was raised in a village in the middle of nowhere, and for the first 37 years, I tried to outrun my provincial past by endlessly racing to stay ahead of my fear, insecurity and impostorism.


People mistakenly believe that they can outrun their self-doubt.

In truth, we have to change the lens with which we evaluate.


Self-doubt is fueled by comparison. Said differently, when we scan our environment and compare, evaluate or judge we pile kindling on the fire of our insecurity. As the blaze grows, we disconnect from our true and alive selves and doubt our capabilities and value. This pernicious doubt depletes our resilience and we spiral down in self-loathing and self-criticism, then we shrink, play small or stop playing.

Lest we assume that comparison is the disease of the poor or provincial, trust me, the rich, old and famous are not immune. An acquaintance in the one percent earning two million a year compares her income to those in her social group, “No matter what we earn, they earn a hundred times more. We are in the very, very bottom of the one percent.” A dear friend with a magazine-cover-body, obsessed about her chest until her augmentation, then her comparison shifted to her nose. I overheard my 10-year-old daughter politely ask her 78-year-old grandma if she would center her face on the screen so she could see her while FaceTiming. A request to which her grandma replied, “Oh sweetie, I do that on purpose because I don’t like looking at myself.”

No one is immune to self-evaluation, including myself. We all compare ourselves to others. We all compare ourselves to younger versions of ourselves. It’s a game we cannot win because we will always find someone (including the younger version of ourselves) who is wealthier, smarter, funnier, thinner, prettier or better. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, good that arises from comparison. So let’s stop doing it.

Step One

The first step to any behavior change is focused awareness: we can pay attention to how often we automatically compare. We can inquisitively watch where our eyes roam and where our mind goes as we walk down the street. We compare more than we realize. Let's tune in.

Step Two

The second step to freedom is understanding the difference between judgment and observation. With this understanding we can intentionally shift from one form of assessment to another. Like building a bicep, conditioning our brain to see and observe rather than see and evaluate takes practice, repetition and commitment.

It does not matter what we have, how accomplished we are, or how beautiful we look, for we will not feel the joy while we compare ourselves to others. Said simply, joy does not reside in the evaluating mind. When we scan our environment and compare, evaluate or judge we disconnect from our true and alive selves, and it our true nature from which joy emanates.

Joy lives in the heart of the free.