How to Squelch Self-Doubt
It’s the end of the year. You’re looking back on your students’ growth over time, testing might be heavily on your mind, and exhaustion is fully in place.
You know of colleagues who are moving to other places, onto other endeavors, or are leaving the field entirely. And you’re wondering, “Should I have done the same? Is this where I should be? Am I doing it right?”
The self-doubt is starting to really creep in. You think about all the should’ves, all the could’ves. You think about the seemingly perfect classrooms you see all over social media, about the smart things your colleagues have shared, said, and done over the course of the year. You wonder: How come you didn’t think of that? Any of it?
I have been there, too. More than once.
Ok, let’s be honest. This kind of self-doubt has happened to me more times than I could ever count.
But let’s think for a minute. Education, for both kids and adults, is all about learning. Growth. Development.
We can’t compare ourselves to others, because we are not them. We have our own unique style, we are on our own unique path.
And that, my friend, is exactly what makes you awesome. Because of that, the world needs you. Tremendously.
That difference from one person to the next is what the art of teaching is all about. Growing as an educator is what allows us to draw upon a large variety of tools in our toolbelt over time. Besides the kids of course, this is what makes this career so special, and what makes it so fun. In this day and age, when so much of teaching is handed down to us, where the science of teaching is beginning to eclipse the art of teaching, the art is what we need to hold onto very tightly.
In her book Dare to Lead, social scientist Brené Brown talks about things being difficult and how to navigate that. She is a researcher who digs into feelings like shame and self worth. And she has a phrase I love:
“Embrace the suck.”Brene Brown, Dare to Lead
What she means is that there are going to be times where we’ll feel uncomfortable, and even pain. In her book, she’s referring to working with a team, which we all know has its own set of issues.
But I think that philosophy applies so well to our own, individual teaching.
Inevitably there will be hard parts. We’re going to have parents that run us through the wringer (man–if we ever had a glass of wine together, I could share some truly insane stories I’ve lived through). We’re going to have conversations with our administrators that aren’t so awesome. We’re going to have times that we don’t get along all well with our teammates.
And we’re going to have some very difficult kids.
There are going to be countless times where you think you might have failed some of your kids. This is all normal. I know because I have felt every one of these things myself. You don’t go through over 20 years in this field without some pretty deep battle scars!
There’s nothing wrong with you, and there’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing. This is all part of the job. Whenever we deal with humans, there will be some bumps–or even major potholes–in the road.
Here’s some of the best advice I can share: learn to turn that self-doubt into something good.
I promise–you’ll want to keep reading. This ONE piece of advice that I learned early on and is one of the biggest reasons I’m still enamored with being an educator. I want you to know it, too!
I’ve learned the hard way over the years to flip the script on my own thoughts and feelings, my own self-doubt.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of anger, frustration, and deep overwhelm. It’s even easier to let in the feeling that maybe you’re not the teacher you wanted to be. Maybe you didn’t give your kids what they needed.
But here’s the thing about self-doubt.
It’s a feeling of guilt and pressure that we put on our own selves. Negative emotions are typically what our brain defaults to. It’s the way we’re wired. Literally. Our amygdala brains are built to protect us. It’s how humans have survived all of these years. We are hardwired to feel negativity. Doubt and trepidation are survival mechanisms.
When cave people entered the forest, they were concerned that a saber tooth might attack them, and they are unsure if it was the right move to enter the forest at all. They might even have cave-cursed themselves for not going to forage for berries earlier in the day when the sun was higher in the sky. Without a doubt, they were on high alert for tell-tale growls and slow but steady footsteps nearby, so that they could plan for a quick move to get away.
Without that feeling of “idea bad, stay safe,” they could quite literally have died. Their self-doubt preserved their life.
But guess what? Saber tooths are gone. That level of self-doubt is no longer needed. It doesn’t serve us anymore.
Knowing this, and knowing that the only person who can control our thoughts is our own selves, I have learned to flip the script. Instead of going down that dark, downward spiral, I’ve learned to pause and take a breath. At the end of every year I always ask myself: what are the really big lessons I’ve learned?
Sometimes the lessons are about myself as a person. Lots of times the lessons are about how kids learn. Lots more times they’re about how to work with other humans in better, more productive ways. One year, when a student of mine tragically lost his battle with cancer right after Christmas, it was about holding true to what matters most in life and letting go of what doesn’t.
There’s never just one lesson, either.
After 15 years in the classroom, 5 additional years as an interventionist, and now as a coach, I can tell you I have learned some very big lessons. And continue to learn. Every. Single. Year.
Here’s the advice you need. It’s changed my whole perspective, and I believe it’ll do the same for you:
The lesson out of all those years that has been the most powerful for me is to take Brene’s advice and embrace the suck.
Whenever a new and difficult situation is knocking at my door, or I’m smack in the middle of it, I’m totally ok with it. Because I already have the mindset that I am here for a reason. I know that this crappy thing is happening for a reason, and that It’s happening to me for a reason.
I’m ready for it.
I’m ready because I know there’ll be a lesson I was meant to learn. A lesson I needed to learn. Over these 20+ years, those lessons have led me to become the confident teacher that I am today. I believe it’s the secret sauce to why I’ve remained so passionate about education all these years. It’s why I have absolutely no desire or intention of stopping, despite all the constant noise out there.
It’s why I also want to help other educators overcome their feelings of self-doubt and guilt and pressure, because once you get through to the other side, where I am, it’s an absolutely indescribable feeling. But I want you to find that feeling. It’s incredible.
So I challenge you.
Think about just one thing that’s been super challenging or even frustrating for you this year. What’s the bigger lesson you have learned from it? How can that experience make you a stronger teacher? A better person?
That is how you turn self doubt into something positive.
Hold onto that. Because no teacher next door, no Instagram or Pinterest teacher has had the kind of growth that you have. Own it.
You have earned it!
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