How to doubt yourself

               There has been much writing on confidence, certainty, and holding one’s ground;  visit the right internet forum or blog, and you will find no shortage of people willing to back up any and every decision you think best.  In every corner, American pop culture champions individuality and self confidence.  While confidence is a trait that many people excel in (for some, it never clicks with their personality, not at all to their detriment), we seem to have less experience as a society in knowing when and how to doubt.  The extreme viewpoint of self-doubt and questioning everything to the point of immobilizing one’s life contrasts strongly with the cavalier attitude of never once looking back or reconsidering, and the well bred woman finds herself in the middle trying to find a balanced view of the subject.

               “If it’s doubtful, don’t do it.”  As a child, I heard this saying often.  Uniting experience and intuition, the words ring true for both those who have ignored their intuition to their detriment in the past and those who would avoid doing so in the future.

               But how far to apply this principle may sometimes cross the mind of a well bred woman in progress;  after all, life can be uncertain even in the best of times, and it is rare that a decision presents itself with such perfect clarity that not a shadow of a doubt crosses one’s mind.  How seriously, then, should one consider the creeping thoughts of doubt;  how far should one second guess one’s decisions?

               While part of the answer undoubtedly lies in knowing how to be certain, the other half is knowing how and when to doubt.  Even the most prepared person may not always be able to uncover every pertinent fact in a situation or control external factors.  It is then that the reasoned hum of experience, coupled with the insistent whisper of intuition, will cast doubt over a decision that ordinarily one would have felt within her powers to make.

               How should a person doubt?  The process begins long before the need to make a decision occurs.  The three factors that will enable a woman to doubt when necessary (and most likely avoid a serious error of judgment) are

Knowing herself
Not yielding to peer pressure
Continually advancing her knowledge and wisdom

               Were any of my readers raised in such a structured environment that everything from the daily schedule to your clothing choices was decided by an authority figure?  While structure is great for kids, during the teenage years a young woman ought, ideally, to be given increasing freedom to make everyday choices on her own, thus fitting her for adulthood.  If such opportunity is not granted, a young woman accustomed to the decisions of others may struggle with knowing herself compared to one who was granted more flexibility and freedom.  As a seventeen year old, I recall something as simple as a light jacket color and size being chosen for me: blue over pink, and an enormous size medium over the well fitting size small.  Though I disagreed in spirit, eventually I found it easier to say no to my preferences and easier to give in to the opinions of others, a habit I have recently begun trying to break.  So while I cannot speak with too much authority as one who successfully knows herself, I can attest to the ideal frame of mind it puts me in each time I trust myself and pursue my own unique talents, abilities, and inclinations.

               That leads me to the next point: not allowing oneself to be swayed by the opinions of others or yielding to peer pressure.  Ah, family and close friends:  we love them so!  Blind in our love, perhaps, we accept treatment at the hands of relatives and dear ones that we would naturally be offended by from a stranger!  Whatever the reason, I believe that it is both easy and common for relatives and close friends to exert their influence over a person, to the point that one may feel that one should follow every suggestion received in order to make the best decision.  In smaller things, such as cooking or home decorating or fashion sense, it is easy to see that such matters are individual;  but during major life decisions, one often craves the advice of others, especially trusted confidants.  However, seeing life through the perspective of foolish choices, soured risks, unfulfilled hopes, or broken dreams, others can often be quick to cast doubt on a plan based not on reason or logic but solely their own emotions or opinions.  Therefore, someone may end up doubting herself solely because of the influence of another, even though that person may not have the past experience, present knowledge, or future vision that she does. That is not to say that the advice of others should never be considered when making a decision;  it has often saved many an inexperienced youngster from an unwise turn in life.  However, one must learn to distinguish between doubting based on wise counsel and doubting everything merely because someone out there expressed hesitation about it.  As with supporters, one can always find an army of naysayers to every subject possible if one looks for them.  And too many women have allowed another’s negativity to talk them out of what would have been an appropriate choice for themselves.

               Knowing when and how to doubt incorporating the advice of others introduces the last point, perhaps the most influential: adding to and relying on one’s knowledge and wisdom, the tools needed to discern and properly navigate periods of decision making and doubt.  Everything from experience interacting with people to knowledge of budgeting can provide one more mental connection, all of which come together in aggregate when one faces a final decision.  When that doubt creeps up, it may not be obvious what the exact problem is, and it may not be until years later, if ever, that one fully realizes what alarmed her.  But a solid and increasing knowledge of everything applicable to life, from people skills to practical skills to common sense, will be the untiring voice of reason that may cause a person, at the last moment, to decide against something if the doubts simply cannot or should not be reasoned away.  They say intuition is something women seem to possess or pay heed to more than men;  not ever having been a man myself, I cannot speak from full experience.  But over the last few weeks, as my family has been in upheaval after an interstate move to a vastly different location (the Northeast US, coming from the South), it has often been nothing more than a nagging feeling I could not shake about a person’s character that has steered us through the complicated set of decisions required for establishing new lodgings and business relationships, storing and managing our belongings, etc.

               How do you doubt?  When have you listened to your doubts and withdrawn from a situation, and when did you ignore them but later wished you had not?

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