I’ve never really bought into the idea that good things come to those who wait. If you spend too much time waiting around then you’re far more likely to miss out on amazing things that are staring you straight in the face. This isn’t to say I’m impatient, I just resent the idea of a backseat attitude when it comes to my own ambition. However, there is a problem I have encountered: Self-doubt. It holds me back, slows me down, and limits my potential. Self-doubt is like mental quicksand, especially as the more you dwell upon it the more it engulfs you. Needless to say, having a lack of faith in your own abilities is never ideal.
There is no bigger source of pressure for me than my expectations. I am my own biggest critic and without a doubt I’m the most brutal person when it comes to my failures and flaws, even if it’s an entirely internal mental process. It doesn’t matter what it might be, but when I set my heart on something I am always hungry to be successful and achieve even more. Of course, success is a difficult thing to measure, but even when Exit Left Apparel got features on websites or was listed in impressive articles it wasn’t enough. In some ways this pressure is great because it pushes me and motivates me further, but at the same time there is a limit that I hit every so often when I cannot live up to my own expectations and my work ethic suffers.
The pressure I apply to myself means I am constantly striving to achieve a lot of things, but it leaves the door wide open for self-doubt. One specific experience serves as a reminder to me about how easy it is for doubt to make you feel like abandoning something you love.
A few years ago I sent a huge shipment of products out to America as a gift for some very established musicians. I’d talked to this group of artists about their work and they said they liked the brand. We stayed in contact and eventually I suggested sending them all some stuff. These weren’t small time creatives so I knew I had to impress them. In fact I felt certain that if the products reached them safely, and they liked what they received, the exposure we would get would be more significant than anything else before that point, especially as these guys were in the press in one form or another every single week. I wrote letters to each artist, included the specific products they had requested, and ensured that every item within the package was labelled perfectly, name tags and all. I could not tell you how many times I checked the address on this huge box of products before taking it to be sent.
As I left the box with Royal Mail an inevitable wave of doubt hit me. What if something went wrong? I’d invested a lot of time and money into this package. Well, unfortunately something did go wrong. I attempted to track the parcel down a week later after hearing nothing. Somewhere between England and LA there had been a major issue. The package had disappeared after a failed delivery, and with a supposed lack of return address the box had somehow ceased to exist. All my worst fears were confirmed and this investment had been for nothing. My hopes of getting the brand exposure I had wanted so badly crumbled away. Equally, the relationship with the musicians fell to pieces (which is why I’ve left them unnamed) as I had no way of sending out the same amount of products, and in all honesty, I was embarrassed.
I spent weeks trying to think of what I could have done differently. I tried to blame people around me for something that was out of anyone’s control. I beat myself up about it and wished I’d gone about everything in another way. It left me in a position where I didn’t feel like I could continue to invest myself in the business because I didn’t believe I was capable of succeeding. That’s exactly what doubt does to you. It puts you in a place where you forget all of your achievements and only see the negatives. What I have come to realise is that if you don’t believe in yourself, why would anybody else? All your effort isn’t worth a thing if you’re consumed by self-doubt.
At this point it’s clear that one vanishing parcel didn’t make me give up on myself, but it did make me reassess what I was doing. I took some time to focus on other aspects of my life, and while ELA certainly slowed down, I managed to use my time to achieve things that were important to me. I built myself back up and quashed the self-doubt that circled my mind. However, just because you overcome something once in life doesn’t mean you’re then done with those issues forever. Self-doubt is still something I am dealing with on a regular basis, and I struggle constantly to maintain my focus and drive when I am simultaneously applying such major expectations and pressures to myself.
While I am by no means a qualified success story at this point, experience tells me that I need to stop thinking in this particular self-doubt enabling way. I have to let go of the pressure I apply to the path ahead of me, and stop second guessing the decisions I have made in the past. While it’s vital to retain my ambition and never forget lessons I have learnt, I need to be focussed on doing what I can right now. Living life in the present is the most certain and absolute way of overcoming self-doubt because it means there is no opportunity to question whether I am capable of achieving my goals. Instead it means that time is used in a proactive way. No contemplation of failure, just pure and consistent action.
Accepting responsibility for your life is one of the most challenging aspects of becoming an adult, but grabbing life with both hands and actively making things happen is a sure fire method to bury doubt and build solid foundations for self-belief. It’s not an easy task, or a simple one, but learning to rely upon myself and trust in my own decisions has been incredibly empowering. There is no point waiting around and procrastinating because true success will never be handed to me on a silver platter. Instead I am going to have faith in my abilities and put them to good use rather than letting negative thoughts slow me down.