Self-Doubt is Overrated

“We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?” – Marianne Williamson

Harvard professor Stephen Pinker once remarked that his peers are some of the least-confident people you’ll meet. Weird, huh?

Professors are, by definition, the top experts in their fields – not just PhD’s in a given realm, but they’re typically the cream of the PhD crop – a professorship is like the major-league for academia, the show, the big time.

But we humans take our strengths for granted, don’t we?

Pinker says most professors (often himself included) know what they know so well, it’s hard to imagine not everyone else knows it too. Psychologists call this false consensus.

So if some of the smartest, best educated among us lack self-confidence, how about the rest of us? Is it just possible that you and I are taking our most special, unique talents for granted as well?  Thinking, perhaps, “Oh, everybody else knows this!” or “Who can’t do that?” or “It’s just common sense!”

We humans take our strengths for granted, don’t we?

I shared recently how I’ve been holding myself back lately, trying to appear reasonable in order to bring more doubters over to The Human Side of Business. I think a big part of that was my own fear of being rejected. But finally it occurred to me, you know what? That’s enough. Like the Far Side cartoon, Noah’s Ark is casting off from the dock. If we leave a couple of dinosaurs behind… well, you can only help the willing.

You know more than you think

Just like those professors Pinker talked about, I’m nearly certain that you know a lot more than you think, because you – like me – suffer from false consensus. How do I know? It’s human nature, that’s how. When we’re not that informed on a topic, everything seems simple, and you can get the impression you know it all in that given area. You’re completely confident. But as you learn more, you realize how much more there is to know that you still don’t fully grasp – answers beget more questions, not full knowledge. Then boom! Self-doubt begins to creep in. Add this self-doubt to your natural discounting of the value of what you do know, and: voila, you’re in the perfect storm of knowledge and doubt that Pinker tells us plagues his peers.

About a year ago, I shared with you how I suffered from Delusions of Mediocrity. I’ve made great strides since then, I’m happy to say, but I’m not anywhere near as self-confident (or cocky?) as I was when I was younger. This whole false consensus thing has been slowing me down, without doubt. And one big area of my own false consensus is my fluency with social media – not that I’m Mr. Facebook Marketing Campaign. Rather, for five years now I’ve been studying literally every aspect of how social is radically transforming business. I’m so immersed in this topic that I just kind of assume that everyone else knows what I know.

I’ve done some stuff. I’m doing more stuff, right now, with a bunch of really talented people who wouldn’t waste their valuable time with just anyone.  What right do I have to doubt my own skills, abilities and talents? None. What right do you have? None.

Then I gave a talk, and watched the film from it. Wait a minute, I realized. I’m not half as average (in my areas of expertise) as I thought I was. Hmm, I thought. Maybe I have been suffering from false consensus, just like the professors Pinker talked about.

I’ve done some stuff. I’m doing more stuff, right now, with a bunch of really talented people who wouldn’t waste their valuable time with just anyone.  What right do I have to doubt my own skills, abilities and talents?


What right do you have?


You know more than you think. You have insights that have deep value to the rest of us. Maybe it’s in leading others so they do their finest possible work – Lord knows, that’s a rarer gift than most! Maybe it’s setting business strategy, or maybe it’s social media savvy. Maybe it’s using your high EQ to navigate the treacherous internal political landscape that is your organization. (As Tom Peters pointed out to me years ago, “All business is politics!”) Maybe it’s explaining complex ideas so they’re simple to grasp, which Colin Powell says is the mark of true genius.

Whatever it is, you are better at your talents than almost anyone around. And if you don’t realize that, if you doubt that you’re much of anything special at all, then you are hamstringing yourself – but much more importantly, you’re robbing the rest of the world of your unique contribution! As Marianne Williamson points out, who are you not to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Don’t doubt your own talents! Don’t be selfish! Not right now, when so many people in the world need your help.

You know more than you think. You have insights that have deep value to the rest of us.

There is a movement afoot. The Industrial Age ended a while ago, but a whole lot of leaders didn’t get the memo. So the few of us who did are acting as midwives to give proper birth to the Social Age, the human age, that’s started. That transition? It needs leaders: a whole new host of leaders! There is so much room among us; no one’s interested in elbowing for position right now. Are you kidding? Quite the opposite: we’re desperate from your help!

Are you ready to step up? Are you ready to help us lead? It starts with deciding – just deciding – to stop doubting yourself.  That’s stupid, and you’re not stupid. That’s selfish: you aren’t selfish, are you? Of course not!

Then stop indulging in self-indulgent, inappropriate, ineffective doubt. Decide to believe in you.

Together we’ve got a world to change. We’ve got a message to spread, and some how-to to share. So let’s go get ’em!


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Image credit: dirkercken / 123RF Stock Photo

Ted Coiné is a Forbes Top 10 Social Media Power Influencer and an Inc. Top 100 Leadership and Management Expert. This stance at the crossroads of social and leadership put him in a unique perspective to identify the demise of Industrial Age management and the birth of the Social Age. The result, after five years of trend watching, interviewing and intensive research, is his latest book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive, which he co-authored with Mark Babbitt. An inspirational speaker and popular blogger, Ted is a pioneer of the Human Side of Business (#humanbiz) movement. He is also a serial business founder and three-time CEO. When not speaking at conferences and corporate functions, Ted advises CEOs on how to become Truly Social Leaders, or “Blue Unicorns” as they put it in A World Gone Social, in order to bring their companies into the Social Age. Ted’s advice: “Change is only scary if it’s happening to you. Instead, bring the change your competitors dread. That is something only a Social Age business leader can accomplish.”

  • Suzanne Daigle

    Darn Ted, you nailed this again! The world is waiting for us to “snap out of it”. I’ve always said that if we could see each other from the inside out, we’d howl with laughter realizing how much the same we all are and we’d get on with the work and have a heck of a lot more time to play. Self-doubt takes up tons of time and space. Thanks for being who you are…this blog is just so friggin good. Gotta run now, want to post this on Twitter and Facebook.

  • Achim Nowak

    I second my friend Suzanne, the brilliant Marianne Williamson, and you, my friend. Thank you for this delicious POST. Holding back serves no one. The key then is to focus and be of service in the areas which we’re most passionate about, and to be honest about what those are. And then YES, do it already! I support you in your personal BOLDNESS!

  • Loved this article. Very enlightening. Who knew that we all tend to minimize our strengths and assume them onto others. I agree with Achim about incorporating our service into our passions. I’ve found that doing what I love is the cure for both procrastination and self doubt. It’s when I’m trying to figure out what’s expected instead serving from my heart that I am ineffective and unsatisfied.

  • Kerry O’Neill

    Great stuff! It’s tricky because it is often the good motivation of remaining humble that causes one to hold back. However, the altruistic motive of focusing on others and not self can backfire and result in withholding things that will benefit others. C.S. Lewis wrote: “Humility is not thinking less of oneself. It is thinking of oneself less.” I’m trying to remember that as long as my heart’s motive is pure, I cannot allow myself to be swayed by the opinions of others – character (who I really am) over reputation (who others think I am)!

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  • Coach K

    Having read two of Professor Linkers’ Books, this article grabbed my attention. Nice encouragement for those of us with a reservoir of experience, because yes, it IS easy to get caught up in the “everything is new, and I’m NOT” arena of self-doubt. The Colin Powell quote feeds virtually everything I do. Great work, Ted.

  • Coach K

    Professor PINKER. Not Linker. :/

  • This article is right on the money Ted!

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