To overcome doubt, surrender formal power. Honestly.

Overcoming Doubt By Surrendering Power

The whole idea of “overcoming self-doubt” is a huge racket that people need to spend time on, myself included. It’s really hard to accomplish things at work (or in your personal life) if you have a lot of self-doubt; you can always take any potential endeavor and talk yourself out of it via doubt. (I’ve done this literally too many times in my life to count.) The problem is two-fold:

  • Problem One: Most of your greatest successes in life come from concepts that were, at one point, “risks.” More on that here.
  • Problem Two: The entire way that corporate cultures are often designed is with a focus on getting power. The goal is to move up, get more money, get more power, etc. (For many people.) That creates a culture where competition is rewarded; competition often leads to “comparing yourself to others,” which leads to “doubt.” Now think about this: concepts like “creativity” and “collaboration” and “empathy?” Are those tied to advancement, per se? In short answer, no. Not in most places.

So if you want to push past doubt and be more successful, how do you start? What if your first step was surrendering the idea of formal power?

That’s outlined in this article,  by this guy. He outlines three key ways to overcome doubt, notably:

  • Surrender power
  • Set impossible goals
  • Remember what makes you unique

I agree wholeheartedly with No. 1 and No. 3; No. 2 gives me a second of pause. Here’s why.

Surrender Power: Yes. Because you know what? “Formal Power” and “Leadership” are wholly different things. You can lead from anywhere in an organization, even one with a massive amount of hierarchy. Fact of the matter is: if you’re chasing a title, you’re chasing money. Don’t tell me “I want to be a leader!” A janitor can theoretically be a leader if he/she structures his/her contributions right. If you want to be an SVP to be a leader, that’s a fool’s errand. No. You want to be an SVP to make more money and have decision-making sign-off, sure. That’s fine to admit. But the chase of power, and the framing of that chase through competition, creates a lot of doubt in people — and burns a ton of people out. So give up on chasing power. Chase leadership, if you want.

Set Impossible Goals: I love the idea here. I just worry that “set impossible goals” sounds very buzzword-y to a lot of people, and also, very few people know how/where/when to begin such a process. How can you chase “impossible goals” if you barely understand your current goals, and if your manager doesn’t really know how to set goals for you? How can you chase the stars when your footing is awkward, right? Well look, there’s fear in everything you do. But No. 3 is actually important in terms of this part, too.

Remember what makes you unique: I don’t want to get very religious in this space, so I’ll shy away from that. But I do believe that there’s some higher power with a hand in creation, and I do believe the system is generally set up to make every single person unique in some way. Maybe that’s a bad way and you become a serial killer. (Shit.) Maybe that’s a good way and you become a billionaire. (Cool!) Whatever it is, though, you are unique in some way and there’s a reason/context behind you being around. I honestly do believe that. And if you ground yourself in what makes you unique — with a dose of self-criticism so that you don’t get a giant ego — you can begin to overcome doubt as well. I deal with self-doubt literally every hour of every day, but you know one thing that makes me unique? I write it down and share it with people. It’s freeing. And because I have the ability to do that, sometimes that helps me cope with self-doubt.

What about you? How do you eliminate self-doubt?

Ted Bauer


  1. Well, to answer your question:

    1) I do something I’m really good at, like proofreading or brushing the dog or decorating a corner of my bedroom

    2) I do something I really enjoy, like reading young adult fiction or creating a list in my journal or taking the dog to the park

    3) I do something small I’ve been dreading, like paying the cell phone bill or writing a two-pager for class or…returning…my mother’s…phone calls…

    (i mean, that’s a Thing, right, in parental relationships, neglecting to call Mom back? I don’t need to feel guilty about acknowledging this, do I? I am two steps into self doubt and counting…)

    Well then, I’m going to eat ice cream. I’m good at it, I like it, and that little voice that tells me I’m not as young as I used to be is dreading just how far into the carton I’m sure to go.

    …there may be certain variables in my plan I have not properly examined yet…

    In all seriousness, No. 1 inspires me and your qualms regarding No. 2 are enlightened. I don’t know how you bust this stuff out as you do but I truly like seeing you pop up in my Reader!

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