A Mama's Conversation with Doubt - by Elizabeth Quintal for MotherHustle
“Doubt: it’s that voice, that little hesitation, that grabs you by the arm and says, ‘Don’t! Because what if…‘.”

It was March when we first said it out loud to one another, It was April when we said, “let’s do it”, it was June when we started the process, it was October when we made the leap.

In 7 months we upturned our life, our stable life of the past 12 years.

My husband and I decided to sell everything we owned, (well, like 90%) and move abroad with our son. Not only did we decide to sell everything and move, but less than a year prior, I had started a business after leaving a 10-year career in nonprofit.

The reactions we got from people was an array from disbelief and shock to praises of bravery. But honestly, it didn’t feel brave; not one step has felt brave. It has felt stupid, scary, crazy. It has felt exciting and fulfilling, but not brave — or at least not what we think brave should feel like.

Why? Because I have doubt.

Through those 7 months, doubt followed me with every step — even now, a year later, the doubt is still here. What if it doesn’t work? What if people laugh and say, I told you so? What if this completely fails? What will people think? What if it doesn’t turn out like I want or thought? What if we really are crazy?

Doubt: it’s that voice, that little hesitation, that grabs you by the arm and says, “Don’t! Because what if…”.

So what do we do, how do we navigate through our doubt? The first step is to acknowledge it, even have a conversation with it. Acknowledge, that yes, we have doubt about ourselves, our abilities, our worth, our value, our dreams, our choices. And we can use daily life as justifications for our doubt. It’s often wrapped up in a some day, or one day, or when the timing is right, or I just don’t have the time, the money, the x-y-z right now.

And these things are true: often we don’t have the time or the money or the x-y-z we think we need. But when we see ourselves doing this, we need to catch it, truly think about it, and have a conversation with our doubt. 

I hear what you’re saying: this may turn out badly, we may fall, and ended up bruised, bloodied, broken and with egg all over our face. But (and this is an important but), it’s worth it. Because even if that happens, I can get back up — and when I do, I’ll be stronger, I’ll have grown, I’ll have stretched and learned, I’ll have experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise. 

One of my favorite quotes is from Brené Brown: “What would you be glad you did — even if you failed?”

Because that’s exactly it. What would you, right now in this moment, be glad you did even if you knew you would fail?

Part of our conversation with our own doubts is knowing that the what ifs our doubts are presenting may be right. They just may happen. But there are other what ifs too: the what ifs of our dreams…

What if we always regret not taking this chance? What if this is a door that has things waiting for us we can’t even imagine? What if even though this is scary and we may fail, this is exactly what we need to do right now?

Of course, that’s easy to type, it’s easy to write, it’s even easier to say or put in a cute meme. What’s not easy is doing it.

As humans we search for comfort, we yearn for stability and concrete data — 2 + 2 = 4, a + b = c — but life isn’t like that. Raise your hand right now, even as you read this, if life has ever handed you an unexpected curve ball that mucked up your plans; maybe an unplanned pregnancy, or an unexpected struggle to start a family, an illness, a loss, an opportunity, a love, a journey, an experience, a conversation, or heck, even a traffic jam or going through the whole day with your yoga pants on inside out.

We have to be ready and know that we very well could and might fail. (In fact, we probably will at some point.) It’s knowing that a + b may equal c sometimes, but sometimes it may also equal e or z. I mean, I’ve failed at a minimum of three things daily since our move, things I didn’t even know I could fail at, like simply trying to locate toilet paper and finding out it’s next to the milk and eggs because those aren’t refrigerated here.

And it’s scary to know we may fail, and that fear is what our doubt counts on, but when we recognize that it’s a part of life, a part of what happens to ALL of us, it allows us to take those risks, to step out and try.

Think about one person right now that you’re amazed by, that blows you away with their courage, with their gumption, with what they do, I guarantee you they have the same doubts.

What if you tried something 5,126 times without it ever working? Would you try that 5,127th time?

It took Sir James Dyson 15 years and 5,126 failed prototypes before the 5,127 attempt, which resulted in the creation of the Dyson bagless vacuum.

What if you made 1,000 attempts at something, would you keep trying to create it?

Thomas Edison was told by teachers he was, “too stupid to learn anything” and he made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb.

What if 27 publishers turned your book down? Would you keep writing?

Theodor Seuss Geisel was rejected by 27 publishers for his first book, but could you imagine a world without a Dr. Seuss book in it to read to your little ones?

What if your publisher said they won’t publisher your book anymore? Would you keep trying to get it published?

Paulo Coelho’s publisher gave the book back to him and said, “I don’t want to publish this book anymore.” but he went knocking on doors to find a second publisher and 15 years later, the Alchemist made The New York Times bestselling list.

What if in pursuing your dream, you were rejected by others, turned down, cut from the team, told no? Would you keep trying?

Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Steven Spielberg was rejected twice by the USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. As a child, Albert Einstein didn’t start speaking until he was four, reading until he was seven, and was thought to be mentally handicapped. J.K. Rowling was a single mom, living on welfare, Harry Potter was rejected 12 times and she was told, “not to quit her day job.”

What do all these people have in common? They failed. Some of them, hundreds and thousands of times.

They didn’t have a magic crystal ball or a fortune teller telling them keep going and on try 5,127, or 28, or 13, you’ll get it. They had no way of knowing how many tries, how many flops, but they kept going. Does it mean they had no doubts? No, it means they accepted that the flops, the failures, the uncertainty, and all the fear and doubt were a natural part of the journey, not something to prevent it.

We aren’t born with a “keep going” or a “give up” a “why even try” gene. It’s not freckles or dimples.

Showing up and trying, even through our doubt, is something we can cultivate and grow in our lives. What if Dyson would have quit at try 5,000? What if Thomas Edison would have said, “They must be right, I’m stupid” and quit at attempt 500? What if Walt Disney agreed and told himself he had no imagination and should give up?

It seems ridiculous, because look at the amazing things they’ve created. And yet, these are the things we tell ourselves every day, these are the doubts we let take root in us. One of the bravest things we can do is simply show up, acknowledge our fears and doubts, acknowledge our dreams and creativity, and take the leaps and fall and fall and try and try and keep showing up.

And this isn’t just about starting a business, or leaving a job, or moving, or the things we consider big life decisions. This is about how we live in the every day moments. Maybe we won’t play in the NBA, invent a lightbulb, or an imagination empire, or an incredible vacuum, but we each have something to create, and to give to the world in our own way.

It is brave when we say, “Not today, Doubt,” and we keep going — even when we flop 2, 5, 15, 1,000 times along the way.


Elizabeth Quintal is the founder of Outside The Box by Cheeky Days, a subscription box for families inspiring connection, creativity, and community. Elizabeth worked in nonprofit for 10 years serving homeless children and families in Houston. Outside The Box draws from Elizabeth’s experience working for local nonprofits and the realization that a lifestyle of love, kindness, and empathy can bring about change and build community. Her passion is to raise awareness about the importance of community and the impact each of us can make. Follow her on Instagram at CheekyDays, on Pinterest at CheekyDays, and on Facebook at CheekyDays. Make sure to sign up for her free e-magazine on diversity here.

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