What the Sh** Was I Thinking?!
Photo courtesy of Banjo Brown

What the Sh** Was I Thinking?!

Written by Emilie

Topics: Confidence

So you had an idea – a blog, a play, a business – some project you’ve been wanting to create for a while.

You managed to overcome the forces that had stopped you in the past. You surmounted the odds and poured your heart into this thing, this masterpiece.

But now it’s launch day.

You take a deep breath and strike the (literal or proverbial) “Publish” button. Your work is now live. It’s public. You’re public. You’re a public person.

And that’s when the panic hits.

Shame, self-doubt, terror. Absolute certainty that what you just sent out to the entire world is the most horrendous, painfully embarrassing thing anyone has ever created in the HISTORY OF MANKIND.

What the sh** were you thinking?!

The Dreaded Pattern of “Gleedoom”

How often do you experience what I described above? If you’re doing things right, the answer should be “fairly often.”

It happened to me after I launched Puttylike. It happened after I published the first podcast episode and posted my first video to YouTube. It happened when I first announced my coaching services, and again when I raised my rates. It used to happen every time I finished writing a song, submitted a design to a client or gave a presentation of any form.

To be honest, it’s happening to me right now, as I question my choice of the word “gleedoom”… Heh.

This pattern is experienced by nearly everyone who steps out of their comfort zone.

Lets break it down:

GLEE: absolute certainty that your creation is destined to touch the hearts and minds of anyone who comes into contact with it. It’s brilliance, pure brilliance.

Which is then inevitably followed by…

DOOM: absolute certainty that you are an IDIOT!

It’s a Sign that You’re Doing Things Right

Okay first of all, the pattern of gleedoom is a sign that you’re stepping out of your comfort zone. It happens when you ship something meaningful out into the world.

Steven Pressfield writes about how Resistance is a sign that you’re creating something central to your purpose. The more resistance you feel, the more important the work. So use the presence of self-doubt as a sign that you’re on the right track.

Remember #failweek? Failure is Success

I know Failure Celebration Week is over and all, but the principle still remains: the more you fail, the more you win.

And hell, if your project does turn out to be a big flop, you can still use the hashtag #failweek to brag about it! Just cc me (@emiliewapnick) on Twitter. I’d be happy to help you celebrate (and feel better about) your failures.

Seriously, if you’re going to fail, make it a big one. Fail epically.

Getting Over the Feeling of DOOM

Alright, you shipped. You sent your baby out into the world. And now, instant shame. How do you move on?

1. Expect “Doom”s Arrival and Know that it’s Temporary

I used to get hit with a tidal wave of self-doubt immediately after recording a podcast episode. At first I didn’t recognize the pattern. I just spent the rest of my Sunday evening, in a horrible mood, utterly convinced that I was an idiot. But the next day I would listen back and be pleasantly surprised, “Hm- this is actually pretty good”…

This used to happen every single week. Fun recording session followed by a knot in the pit of my stomach for the rest of the night and then a clear realization the next day that it was actually not bad.

After a few weeks I began seeing the pattern, anticipating it and even mocking it. Oh, here comes the self-doubt. Yup, here we go again.

Expecting the doom and recognizing it for what it is (a normal, fleeting state), goes a long way toward taking the power out of it.

2. Take a Break

When you’re feeling the DOOM, you’re in an hopelessly negative state. You will only see your errors. Any brilliance in your creation will be overshadowed by the tiniest of faults. Don’t even bother looking it over now.

Put your project aside for the rest of the day. As tempting as it is to want to scrutinize your work and over-think people’s reactions, don’t. Instead, go do something else. Make plans with a friend, get out of the house.

3. Wallow (or Imagine Yourself Wallowing) to the Point of Ridiculousness

If you feel like sulking, go sulk. Feel whatever it is you’re feeling. Even better, place yourself (or just visualize yourself) in a state so pitiful and embarrassing that it’s hilarious.

For example, imagine yourself crying in the bathtub with mascara running down your cheeks and really depressing music swelling in the background. (Or if you’re not a big crier, just curl up in a ball and blast the aforementioned 90’s anthem.)

Turning a negative image into something so extreme that it’s funny is a great way to replace negative thoughts with more empowering ones. Think of the most overly-dramatic scenario imaginable. Really visualize it. Try to crack yourself up.

The point here is to see the doom as a temporary state, and one that is completely overblown. Your fears are trying to fool you into thinking things are worse than they really are. Don’t you let ‘em!

4. Don’t Seek External Validation

This may sound counterintuitive, but in these moments you should limit the amount of reassurance you seek out from friends and family. It’ll often backfire.

Sure, hearing about how talented you are might make you feel better in the moment, but this feeling is fleeting. Compliments are nice, but they’re a poor foundation for self-esteem.

Getting the occasional “buck up! You’re awesome” from a loved one is okay. Just be careful. Continuously seeking out validation from others makes you feel weaker because it actually reinforces your reliance on others. It’s a counterintuitive cycle: you feel helpless, so you see out validation, but the more validation you seek, the more helpless you feel. It’s the opposite of self-empowerment.

You want to derive your core value internally, not have it be dependent upon other people’s reactions- be they good or bad.

After the Storm

Once you make it through the gleedoom, a sort of clarity takes hold. You’re now able to assess the project from a more rational perspective. Perhaps your work really is as brilliant as you initially thought or maybe there are some things you could improve.

But now that you’re not feeling hopelessly negative, you might actually be able to appreciate what you’ve built.

Building Momentum

This pattern tends to dissipate the more you ship. I’m no longer convinced that every blog post or podcast episode I publish is terrible. However, as soon as I step out of my comfort zone and try something new, the pattern reemerges. And hell, us scanners are always trying new things, so you had better learn to handle this.

***

Do you ever feel completely foolish after launching a new project? How have you dealt with this self-doubt in the past?

38 Comments

  1. Brian Gerald says:

    Yes, so much yes.

    I recently decided to launch Strategy + Action, a weekly email for activists, non-profits, and world changers looking to leverage web and media to achieve social good and I think that I’m still in the throes of gleedoom. I set a goal: get 50 subscribers with the first 15 days. I got them within the first 24 hours. Holy shit?! So much for ramping up. Now every Wednesday right before I send up an update I think “OMG What if this horrible? What if this isn’t what they want? What if this is the one that makes EVERYONE unsubscribe?!?!”

    But it’s all good.

    Because I remind myself that this feeling is a sign that I’m doing something right: that I’m creating, publishing, shipping, pushing myself and others. And of course, I can watch my numbers continue to climb :)

    It’s thrilling.

    • Emilie says:

      Awesome Brian! I’m so happy your newsletter took off. I had a feeling it would. Seriously, when I was preparing for our coaching session back in the day, I remember looking over everything you were up to and thinking, “Brian’s going to kick so much ass if we can bring all of his talents together in a way that helps people.” And lookie… :)

      Also super proud that you’re trekking on despite the gleedoom! Keep hitting that Broadcast button.

      It was such a pleasure meeting up today! :)

  2. Janet says:

    I’m pretty sure I was experiencing gleedom when I tweeted you about not being sure if saying I’m a stronger writer was a GOOD thing, because I’m trying to work as a designer here!! I mean, what the hell am I THINKING!? I’ll never be an excellent designer. I’m such an idiot!! Why would people pay for me?

    ;)

    blahblahblah.

    Resistance is a good gauge to keep on going. And I’m landing projects!

    • Emilie says:

      Haha nice, Janet! Yeah, results are all that matter. They speak for themselves. If you’re landing gigs and your clients are happy, then you’re set. Nothing to worry about.

      (Take THAT gleedoom! ;)

  3. Rob says:

    I always find the the posts I publish that cause me to think ‘Holy Shit, what was I thinking!’ are always the posts that are received most welcomingly, and with most enthusiasm. So, whenever I get that feeling when I hit the publish button, I also get this surge of excitement for the comments that are to come :)

  4. Mark says:

    I’m studying this phase in the “heroic journey” now: “The refusal to return.” During moments of creativity we “linger in the chambers of the sea” and then “human voices (often our own) awake us and we drown.” Artists (the contemporary priest/shaman) are given to “receive” and then freak out when it’s time to “go down the mountain” and share their “boon.”

    I love the term “gleedom.” I know ‘zactly what you’re talking about. Too well. The “psyche” seeks external validation and is moved by the ebb and flow of $$/recognition/data. The true self is unmoved. We might like the manic flares of artists, but the world-shifters are able to let the psyche modulate, while maintaining a deep internal calm.

    Great post,
    M

    • Emilie says:

      Mark,

      Every time you leave a comment, I want to publish it as a new blog post. :) Such truth in your words. (Have you considered writing a book?)

      You (and Campbell) are spot on. Human voices pulling us back to “reality”- except that it’s not reality. It’s warped. “Drowning”.

      How are you enjoying the Heroic Journey by the way? Sounds like it’s worth a read.

      Thanks for adding your voice to the convo, Mark. Always appreciated.

  5. I love your point about not seeking external validation. You’ll cripple yourself with that bullshit.

    Gleedoom is how you know you’re doing it right. Safety is worthless.

    • Emilie says:

      Totally. Asking for validation feels harmless in the moment and when you get it, it does sometimes give you a rush of confidence. But that usually passes and then you feel even worse. It really only perpetuates the negative feelings.

      • Emilie says:

        p.s. nice umbrella title ya got there! :D

        (I’ve got a post forming in my head about umbrella titles… I may have to use you as an example.)

  6. Shannyn says:

    I totally got that feeling when I launched FrugalBeautiful and also when I started my Rescuing Ralph fundraiser…I get it now that I’m doing a Makeup that Matters fundraiser on my blog. Everything else has gone pretty well, thankfully- though I’ve had to work hard at it (success doesn’t just happen on its own, even with the best ideas) but I’ve felt rather fortunate I had the guts to force myself to take risks!

    heck I even was like that when I hired you as a coach-I was so nervous to ask for help but was glad I did!

    • Emilie says:

      Aw I’m so glad. :) And isn’t it great once the ‘traumatic event’ is long in the past, and you can look back and say “thank GOD I did that!” or even “wow, what was I ever worried about?!”

      You’re right, it takes hard work and experimentation. The willingness to ship and ship some more. And you’re totally doing it Shannyn! Awesome.

  7. Cara Stein says:

    When I first started my blog, I used to have that gleedoom thing for every single post! What an angsty time that was! (If I went back and looked at them again after a week or so, I loved them again and thought they were the best thing ever.)

    I don’t know if the fact that I rarely feel that way now means that I’m more confident now or I’m not pushing myself enough. Well, actually, I’m pushing pretty damn hard, but mostly in the same directions. I don’t have the energy to do any more, though, so I guess for now I’ll have to settle for exhilarating. ;)

    • Emilie says:

      Heh. I wouldn’t worry about it, Cara. It just means you’ve gained a bit of confidence and you trust yourself more.

      But don’t be surprised if those feelings come up again when you DO decide to take that next step. Whether it’s a paid product or coaching or just using a new medium like video… whatever it is, if it’s somewhat foreign, you’ll feel the gleedoom, guaranteed. But as you keep at it, it’ll subside just like it did with blogging.

      And yes, exhilarating is pretty damn awesome! I agree. :)

  8. Morgan says:

    I experience this every single time I start a new adventure (and I start quite a few new adventures) and I always freak out. It’s fun and it’s scary, as it should be! Great blog. :)

  9. I actually went through this when I first started my blog and during the last couple of weeks. It happens when you’re thinking too much about the direction of where you want your blog to be and not what you want out of your blog.

    It’s cool though. It’s stuff to get over.

    • Emilie says:

      I suppose it can happen at those moments too. It’s a natural reaction to putting any creation out into the world. So sure, if you’re over-thinking people’s reactions, that’ll make it worse.

  10. Ian says:

    Yup, you pretty much described the life of someone who dares to ignore their brainwashing as a child!

    My fathers response to any idea I had was to say that “if it was any good someone would have already done it” and my mother said only this week, “when are you going to get a regular job, because it’s not good for the children to see you at home all the time”.

    Since when did it become a bad idea to be around for your kids huh?!

    (You can probably tell that I am reading ‘The 4-Hour Work week’ at the moment……… better late than never!)

    I personally love the ‘tingle’ of excitement that I get when I have an idea, regardless of the disappointment when Google tells me that someone else has indeed already had that very same idea. It just spurs me on if someone has made it fly, because it means that I am in the right groove, :-)

    Nice one Emilie.

    • Emilie says:

      Wow, good for you Ian! And you’re reading 4HWW! That’s a turning point for a lot of people. Such a seminal book. Actually I don’t know how anyone could read it and NOT look at the world differently afterward.

      One of the sad things about getting into “lifestyle design” is that other people in your life won’t understand. Most people don’t want you to break free. Instead of asking you about your amazing ideas and goals, they would rather try to discourage you and scare you back into complacency. It’s as though you breaking free from the status quo threatens their own belief that THEY are stuck. It’s this learned helplessness. If you break free, that means they could too. Something most people don’t want to hear.

      Anyway that is so awesome Ian. :) I can’t wait to see where it leads you.

      • Ian says:

        Thanks Emilie,
        I read years ago that ‘we’ threaten peoples ‘world view’. I mean that once we start talking about anything off the 9 to 5 track, they shut us out as we threaten the ‘choices’ that they have made, i.e their view of the world and their place in it.

        The need to fit in is strong for most of us and having the courage to break with tradition doesn’t come easy (or at all for some).

        Those are the ones picking up their gold watches for their sterling service to the company (like they really give a sh*t).

        Being different may be tough at times but the alternative is worse IMHO!

        Just need to keep listening to our inner voice and reading about others also going it ‘alone’.

        Stay well

  11. Seth says:

    For me, the doom feeling manifests as the cynical voice of my internal critic. I’ve dealt with the bastard for a while now and I can (usually) recognize his tricks.

    Usually, mockery combined with time to reflect works pretty well.

    • Emilie says:

      Interesting. I definitely still have an inner critic, but it’s a lot quieter than it used to be. My doom is usually less of a voice and more a sinking feeling, a mood. Or resistance- inability to work. They’re all different manifestations of the same thing though.

      Thanks for the comment, Seth.

  12. Holli says:

    The comments here add confirmation and validation for gleedom as a common state for anyone creative:)
    I know it too well myself. Thanks for another perfectly timed post!