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Doubt and Learning

January 24, 2018

Doubt and LearningEmbrace Doubt:

Often, I will start out with a new client, project or endeavor with a considerable amount of conscious doubt. What makes me think I can do this? What makes me think I will be the best coach for this person? When will they find out I’m really an impostor?

Frankly I can’t think of a time when I let doubt keep me from moving forward. However; I have let fear stop me — I don’t (won’t) go sky-diving, bungee-jumping, etc. I’m quite uncomfortable with heights and falling. On the other hand, I have gone rock-climbing. I had to overcome the doubt that I had the strength and agility to “do it,” and then overcome my strong fear of falling. I’m so happy that I pushed through the doubt and fear. What a great experience.

Precursor to Learning:

For me, doubt has always been the precursor to learning. I’ve learned most when I had doubts, questions and curiosity. Likewise, failure has always been an instrument for gaining knowledge.

I never lose. I either win or learn.” — Nelson Mandela

I also find that once I try things several times over, the doubt gives way to uncertainty. I change from doubting I can do the task at hand, to uncertainty about the outcome from trying. I take comfort in knowing that even if I “fail,” I will learn something valuable. I work hard to get better each time.

Yet:

As I think about it, anything new must be accompanied by doubt. Otherwise we are placing unwarranted confidence in ourselves, our groups or our companies. I remind myself to say, “I don’t know how to do that, yet.” I was “horrible” at driving a car when I was first allowed to try. Now, like most long time drivers, I rarely think about the mechanics of driving. I just get in the car and go.

I remind myself that rarely have I tried something and been successful the first or even the second time. Most times, it takes me many iterations of failure and learning before I’m comfortable saying I know how to and can do something. I’ve had to learn to embrace doubt, accept failure as a learning experience and be humble about my chances of success.

Humility:

Which brings me to the humility part. Ever notice that someone who really knows what they are doing approaches things with confidence AND humility? Ever notice that experts are usually filled with doubt or at least quick to acknowledge what they don’t know about their topic of expertise? Bertrand Russell put it well:

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”

I do my best to keep this quote top of mind. It isn’t easy when I work hard to gain knowledge and expertise. More often than not, though, I’m grateful when I leave room for, and embrace, doubt.

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