I was catching up with friends and family and one friend asked me: “So how’s the self-doubt? Do you think you’ve conquered it now that you’ve walked 2,000km down the length of New Zealand?”
It was a good question. A decent question. I just didn’t really know how to answer it given I was still getting over my feelings of failure after being unable to complete the Te Araroa trail in one season.
My response was: “It’s still there but it’s getting a little better.”
Progress I guess when I’d set out to challenge my chronic self-doubt by solo walking 3,000km down the length of New Zealand. For two years I’d chickened out on the walk because I didn’t think I was good enough to be able to do it, and then finally, when I was so fed up with my excuses, I felt I at least had to try, to prove my self-doubt was wrong, determined that it wouldn’t hold me back from achieving something incredible that I’d been dreaming about for more than three years.
Prodded by my friend’s question, and with time on my hands after stepping off the trail and readjusting to “normal life”, I’ve reflected on those four months and 2,000km walked to see what I’ve learnt about self-doubt.
These are the 10 things I’ve learnt…
Almost everyone suffers from it
Everyone I met walking the Te Araroa Trail had a reason for walking it and while not everyone I met was walking because they wanted to prove their self-doubt wrong, many were. There was one guy who didn’t tell his parents he was walking the trail until three days before he left for New Zealand because he was worried they might say he wouldn’t be able to do it and he would buy into that and pull out. And there was a woman who had been told by a former partner she’d never be able to do anything like walking the length of New Zealand and she feared it might be true. I also met more than one non-trail walker along the way who said the Te Araroa was something they couldn’t do, that they didn’t have it in them or that they weren’t good enough or brave enough to do it. I was surprised at how many people actually felt like me. Self-doubt it seems is a normal human feeling.
2) My self-doubt is worse when I compare myself to others
For the first three weeks of the trail I spent a lot of time comparing myself to other walkers and beating myself up for not living up to the exacting expectations I was putting on myself and what I thought (perhaps wrongly) other people expected of me. When I compared myself to these walkers who were busting out massive mileage, walking faster than me, who had less blisters and a lighter backpack, I believed I wasn’t good enough to walk the length of New Zealand; I doubted myself and my abilities. Once I realised that everyone was on their own journey – myself included – and that comparing myself to other people’s journeys wasn’t helpful, I was less hard on myself and more accepting of who I am.
3) I don’t have to prove anything
I set out to walk 3,000km to prove to myself that I could do it but in hindsight I didn’t have to prove I was good enough, I just thought I did. Walking 3,000km wasn’t going to overcome my insecurity or make me whole or make me feel good enough or make me a better person. It might look that way but when you get to the end (or when your faced with diverting from your original path) those feelings can still be present despite what you have achieved. I thought walking Te Araroa would make me feel better about myself but I realised the trail can’t do that, only my mind and I can make me feel better about myself. In other words, I didn’t actually have to walk 2,000km carrying a 17kg backpack to prove or to become a fricken awesome, unique and special human being. I was already a fricken awesome, unique and special human being when I started walking – walking made me realise that, it didn’t make me that.
4) Worrying I’m not good enough or can’t do something is a ridiculous waste of time
Oh my God, how much time have I wasted on over thinking about my self-doubt! Worrying about it didn’t help, it didn’t make me feel better or more confident to do something. The only thing achieved from worrying that I wasn’t good enough or couldn’t do something was making sure I didn’t achieve. Walking the Te Araroa trail made me realise that I could be much more productive with my time if I didn’t let self-doubt take over my thinking and stop me from moving forward.
5) Failing at something does not mean I am not good enough or that my self-doubt was correct
If we take the premise from point three above, then this conclusion follows. I also wrote a whole blog post on why failing to complete the full 3,000km in one go doesn’t make me a failure here.
6) I will always be ok
There were a lot of times on the trail when my self-doubt reared its ugly head: walking in pain along Ninety Mile beach; when I walked into Kerikeri with 12 blisters; when I had to take extra rest days for my blistered feet; when I had a meltdown in Ngunguru; when I had a meltdown in the Dome Forest; when I stressed out about climbing Mt Pirongia; when I was forced to turn back from the summit of Red Crater; when I learnt I would have to navigate rapids in the Whanganui River; when I struggled through the Tararua Ranges; when I set out into the wilderness of the Richmond Ranges and when I was forced to stop walking because of injury. At each obstacle – whether physical or mental – I felt the prick of self-doubt and the thoughts that I wasn’t good enough and the fear that as a result I wouldn’t be ok. How beautiful hindsight is because for each and every one of those moments I was ok and everything turned out ok: I endured the pain and survived; my blisters healed; the world didn’t end because I didn’t stick to my plan; I came back resilient and determined from my meltdowns; people didn’t think I was a failure for not making it over Red Crater; I navigated and survived the rapids better than I thought; likewise with Mt Pirongia, and the Tararua and Richmond Ranges; and I wasn’t actually a failure when I had to quit the trail and my injury wasn’t the death sentence I thought it was. Life, I see now, has a way of working itself out. Caught up in the moment it’s often hard to see, but I realised that despite my self-doubt everything will be ok.
7) I just think I’m useless
This learning actually came about prior to setting off on the walk and was really the impetus and kick up the backside that turned the idea of walking the length of New Zealand into a reality. This was the moment I realised that everything stopping me from doing the walk was in my head – it was the thoughts, the doubts, the self-limiting beliefs. But more importantly none of those thoughts were true. I wasn’t actually useless or incapable of doing the walk; I just thought I was. And I believed that.
8) Self-doubt is a signal I’m pushing myself outside my comfort zone – and that’s a good thing
From an evolutionary point of view, you could argue that self-doubt has the purpose of keeping us in check and protecting ourselves from danger. Fine if you’re wanting to take on a woolly mammoth but in the 21st Century this self-doubt is spiking out of control and it’s unproductive. But we also view self-doubt as a bad thing (that’s why it’s so hard to talk about from fear of judgement). But what if we viewed self-doubt as a positive thing rather than a problem? What if self-doubt was a signal that you should do something rather than coming up with excuses why you can’t? I’ve become so fed up with my self-doubt, negative thoughts and being held back as a result, that I wanted to put this theory to the test, and that’s another reason behind taking the plunge and embarking on #WalkNZ. Walking the Te Araroa trail has pushed me outside my comfort – feeling self-doubt around the walk and during it has given me the opportunity for growth and personal development; something I wouldn’t have got if I’d just listened to my self-doubt and binned the idea once and for all.
9) I can do more than I ever thought or imagined was possible
You know, I’m still gobsmacked at what I’ve achieved – 2,000km walked! 2,000 fricken kilometres! And that’s not to mention all the mountains climbed, wild forests hiked through, or road walking I’ve endured, the navigation I’ve had to do, the massive pack I carried, the rain or the solo camping. The thing is, I achieved all this in spite of the self-doubt I felt. This shows it’s not self-doubt that was holding me back, but rather the believing it to be true (which takes us back to point seven above). That means anything I thought was impossible because I didn’t think I was good enough is actually potentially possible regardless of the self-doubt I feel about it.
10) I’ll always live with self-doubt
I spent four months walking 2,000km and I carried self-doubt in my backpack every day. At no point did it disappear. In fact, I don’t think it will ever actually disappear, although some days it’s voice will be louder than others. I’m sure I’ll always have it. Walking the length of New Zealand isn’t going to kick it into touch. What is different though is how I think about it and that’s why I said to my friend that it was getting better. By being aware of it and how it is stopping me from achieving my goals and dreams, by understanding that it is literally just a thought in my head that is holding me back, by thinking about it as an opportunity rather than a problem, allows me to be able to live with it but also to move beyond it and not give it the attention that it is screaming out for. Of course, it’s still a work in progress – just writing this blog post has been an emotional up and down of can I can’t I – I’m only human and I have to remind myself constantly. But like anything, it’s one step at a time.