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Overcoming Self-doubt and Inadequacy

All of us struggle with feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy. The “I’m not enough” syndrome robs many of us of contentment and accomplishment. Many years ago, the Air Force moved me and my family to Hawaii for a new position. This was my first non-flying assignment in my Air Force career. My new job required me to manage people and aircraft for the Pacific region in order to respond to global conflicts.

I was already a bit intimidated operating in a part of the world that was quite different. I was responsible for forces in Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and other islands and locations all over the Pacific region. My previous flying assignments involved heavy aircraft and moving cargo and people. Now I was thrown into managing fighter/combat aircraft and personnel in a part of the world that was very, very unfamiliar to me.

Now add to all of this that my new boss was highly demanding, very impatient, and had little tolerance for my lack of understanding and knowledge in this new role in which I found myself. Finally, throw in the fact that New York and Washington, D.C. had just been attacked on 9/11/2001, and the pressure was on me as a new war planner in a part of the world in which I was completely uncomfortable.

Boy, did I feel inadequate for the job. My new boss only re-affirmed my inadequacies with his lack of patience and highly demanding personality that allowed zero room for a learning curve. I was stressed out. Way stressed out! I was miserable and every day I let everyone know how miserable I was. I just wanted to quit!

I became deeply discouraged. I hated my job. I lived with self-doubt and felt like a complete failure every day. I could not keep up no matter how hard I tried. I knew that if I did not overcome these feelings, that my mental state would only get worse and therefore, work would get worse.

How did I overcome my feelings of inadequacy? How did I defeat the self-doubt monster? First, I took my feelings and emotions to prayer, then I took action. I’m not sure how I came to these solution steps, but I’m convinced God took me down this path for healing.

1. Focus on serving others. I decided to not see my critics (my boss) as the enemy, but as someone I was there to serve. I began to ask myself, “how can I serve him better?” “How would he view or think about this issue or that problem?” I got out of my own head and purposely asked myself the tough questions that would help me help him. Quite often our feelings of inadequacy are rooted in too much focus on me and little focus on others. Get outside of your own head.

2. Stop comparing yourself to others. I stopped comparing myself to other officers who had been in the job longer than me and already knew how to manage these issues. Comparison breeds feelings of inadequacy. Instead of comparing myself to others, I asked them for help. I decided to view those better than me as a resource for learning and not a threat.

3. Change your perspective on negative criticism. My boss was a constant negative critic. Nothing was ever good enough. Perfection was the only acceptable answer. Instead of letting this discourage me, I decided to let his criticism better me. I received all criticism and insults as a growing opportunity. I could not control him, but I could control my attitude towards him. In my mind I decided to welcome all his anger and criticism as opportunities for me to learn and grow.

4. Celebrate your victories even if no one else notices. This one is closely related to #3. Many of us who struggle with feelings of inadequacy often find our value and motivation in the assurance of others. I realized that I had to encourage myself. I asked myself, “what did I learn today that made me better? What did I accomplish today that I could not accomplish last week?” I learned to celebrate my victories alone, even if no one else noticed.

5. Recognize unrealistic expectations. Often, we set or have unrealistic expectations and then when we fail to meet them, we feel inadequate, and our confidence is challenged. When I arrived at my new job, my expectations were way too lofty. I thought I knew more than I really did. It was humbling to find out that I was not as smart as I thought I was. Refusing to humble ourselves is a giant mistake and leads to emotional and mental distress on many levels. Humility is a giant key to our success.

This was my experience at a time when I truly felt inadequate and carried a great deal of self-doubt. I cannot remember a more miserable time in my life. Correcting my thinking and actions was hard, but it brought enormous benefits. It led me to experience the greatest growth of my Air Force career. These corrections led me away from feeling and being inadequate and led me to an incredible job promotion well ahead of my peers that I was certain I did not deserve.

What’s your story? How have you dealt with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt? We all experience it. We can quit and take our ball and go home, or we can dive in and change our thinking and experience great growth. Remember, all feelings and emotions are ultimately for our benefit. The question is, how will you respond to them?

Be Well!

Todd Robinson

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