Is there magic in self doubt?

While completing my specialist in librarianship this winter and embracing new opportunities to share my passion for equity education, student self advocacy and mental health awareness, I find myself both rejuvenated and completely, utterly, and absolutely full of self doubt.

With my own learning around growth mindset and my long held belief in the importance of building student self esteem, how can I see the magic and value of self doubt? The answer is both simple and complex.  Simply put, I  have never known a day without it.  For me, and maybe for others, my internal monologue is a running ticker of self doubt.  It is never gone, never silenced  and has been anxiety-producing and insomnia-creating on many occasions but, it is overcome. And I believe it makes me the reflective practitioner that I am today.

Although my self doubt is constant, it no longer overpowers my choices or dominates my feelings. It does, however, force me to question, to wonder and challenge myself.  If I accepted that I had it all figured out, that I had mastered my craft, that I could ride the wave of confidence for the rest of my career – how would I ever learn and grow?

So then the question expands – what does this mean for my students?

I am not totally sure (note the self doubt creeping in) but, I do know it has to be addressed.  That while we simultaneously must build student self esteem and self confidence we must also allow them the honesty and freedom to acknowledge that they may not be great at everything, yet! Much of my self advocacy research has focussed on the importance of student understanding of their learning profiles in order to effectively advocate for their needs.  This process is only authentic if we openly discuss both how scary this can be and that it may not always go the way we had hoped.  I want to push students to be able to both identify their areas of need and the self doubt that may come along with it, as well as determine what actions they can take to address those needs and face that inner voice of doubt. I also want students to feel confident and capable but, not complete.  I want them to seek growth and development no matter their starting point which will hopefully lead to the meaningful and powerful student-led inquiry.

In our house, we do celebrate SUCCESS – certainly these include awards, “good” marks, making the team, big wins and amazing performances. I would be lying if I said we were completely above valuing those extrinsic measures of success.  However, we also celebrate ATTEMPTS – including falling on the ice for the first time, just trying to get that gr.  7 needle, auditioning for the presumably unattainable role, approaching the unapproachable teacher, attempting that math question alone, and even asking a friend to get together for the first time though unsure of what the answer might be. This is when we discuss the bravery it took just to “give it a go”, the feeling of pride that they can embrace by knowing that they faced their fears and the decision they would make if the opportunity arose to try again.  This is the intrinsic value of facing and overcoming self doubt.  It can give my students and myself the power to take risks, to try again and to be honest about our strengths and needs. 

This becomes reflection and, for me, the power of reflection to lead to new ideas, change and growth is simply magic.

One thought on “Is there magic in self doubt?

  1. As a father, teacher and coach I would like to applaud you for celebrating the “attempts”! All to often students, athletes and kids do not see the value or personal growth associated with trying, failing or succeeding in attempting new activities! It reminds me of a quote that I hold close from my atom hockey coach, ” if you don’t fall you aren’t trying”

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