On believing you will fail

Insecurity does not have to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Here’s something I wish I realized earlier: believing you will fail does not mean you will fail. You can succeed in spite of a lack of confidence in yourself.

As a teenager and young adult I struggled to develop confidence in several areas of my life, from academics to social status to romantic relationships. I was dogged by insecurities about not being smart enough, not being interesting enough, not being attractive enough. But among all my insecurities, one was particularly insidious: being insecure about the fact that I wasn’t confident in myself.

This kind of recursive insecurity-about-insecurity has the potential to spiral into an endless cycle of fear. Thankfully, over the years I overcame my major sources of self-doubt: I was able to make friends and feel loved, I was able to excel in some of my classes, and I was able to get into meaningful relationships. While I still struggle with self-doubt, I was able to disprove my deepest self-limiting beliefs.

But I would have relieved a lot of misery along the way if I never bought into this meme that your confidence is a hard barrier on your success. The idea that you have to believe in yourself in order to do well was imparted on me from well-meaning friends and popular culture. It contains some kernel of truth: your self-confidence does influence your output, and insecurity can be paralyzing, especially in social interactions. But this does not mean that if you don’t believe you’ll achieve something, you are guaranteed not to achieve it.

What does determine your success at any endeavor is a combination of your experiences, dispositions, skills, ideas, environment, and dumb luck. Your present beliefs about yourself are just one part of this amalgam of forces. Plenty of people become wildly successful without being assured of themselves; in many contexts, healthy self-doubt is actually a better indicator of competence than blind self-assuredness. You can still make friends, get a job, and find a partner that likes you even if you’re not sure that you like yourself. This is not to say that the journey to self-acceptance is unimportant—just that you can become a functional and successful person even while that journey is in progress.

So to anyone who is struggling with believing in yourself: it’s not such a big deal. It’s okay if you think you are going to fail that next test, flunk that next job interview, or bomb that next date. There’s a very good chance that you’ll succeed in spite of your beliefs. Keep pushing through, and one day your beliefs will catch up with just how capable you’ve always been.

My friend Vivek put the same sentiment really well:

There's truth to the meme that our beliefs can limit us by deterring us from taking action. But reality can also surprise us when we take action regardless of, or even despite, our beliefs.