The Fight to Conquer Self-Doubt

Life has thrown a few curveballs at me in the last few months, which unfortunately also brought on an old and very unwelcome companion: self-doubt. As I found myself grappling with the struggle, my nerves became frayed and my emotions heightened constantly. Ironically, a trip taken to rejuvenate myself was the point at which that so hated companion decided to rear its ugly head.

Funny how that works out.

I’d been practically counting down the days to this trip — my first non-working vacation in 2+ years. I was going to hang out it in my favorite city, celebrate my one-year wedding anniversary, and carve out some time to work on personal writing projects. It was all going well until I got to do just about the coolest thing ever:

I walked through the New York Times newsroom.

For anyone reading this who isn’t a writer, I understand that this may not seem like that big of a deal. For me, though, it was like a ballerina getting to walk the stage at Lincoln Center for the first time. To me, The New York Times newsroom is the pinnacle of writing success. I was awestruck as we took our clandestine and therefore very short tour.

As the glow of the event wore off over the next few days, it was replaced by confusion and insecurity. Before this, I was becoming truly satisfied with my career. I was happy with my development as a writer and feeling challenged every day. But seeing that newsroom sent me into a tailspin.

You see, I’d long ago discarded my dream of working for the Times. Working for startups made me lose any desire to work for any large company. I loved the flexibility and freedom of working for small startups that strive to create change and move fast. Anything else seems like a jail sentence — even the Times. And, even better, my confidence was growing. I know what I’m doing! I have content strategy skills! My writing is getting better!

How quickly that seemingly firm foundation crumbled. When we walked out of the newsroom, my husband jokingly asked if I picked out my desk. Little did he know that I was doing just that. It took me less than one minute to picture myself in that room, churning away at an article that would finally shed light on the struggles of my generation and why it’s so important to protect our country’s future. I already knew what topics I’d cover. I saw myself writing from a platform that could create tremendous change. In short, my content strategy dreams seemed laughable in the face of The Gray Lady.

What could possibly be better than working for the Times? I thought. And how could I ever make that happen?

Why does this self-doubt always rear its ugly head? I know I’m a good writer. I trust in my ability to put my finger on the pulse of what matters to our country and to thoroughly do my research — no vapid articles coming from this girl. I want to dig deep and expose the topics on everyone’s tongues. I want to bridge the gap of understanding between different parts of the country and different socioeconomic statuses. And I believe I have the background and the skills to do it. So, why so insecure?

Because I grew up without money and without connections. I had a wonderful education but at a virtually unknown school. I may write the words, but how could I rub elbows with people who’ve studied at Ivy League schools, people who traveled the world (often at the risk of their own lives) to get the story? These people would laugh in my face if I ever even dreamt of sitting next to them in that newsroom. Right? And how would I even get in? I mean, seriously, like anyone gets hired at the Times by answering an online job posting?

Most importantly, why is this suddenly so important to me? Sure, I love the Times. I fall in love with some writers and stories and feel frustrated at the lack of development in others. It’s a relationship. Love, frustration, always evolving, but, ultimately, respect. But does that mean I should dream of working there? Do I really want to lend my skills to the Times, or do I want the Times to make me better?

Is this a case of me asking what I can do for them or the other way around?

This insecurity crisis brings me back to my early days in New York. Even though I spent nearly every waking moment writing, I refused to call myself a writer. People would introduce me as such, and I would immediately correct them. No, I’d say. I can’t call myself a writer until I get paid to write.

Ridiculous. I recognize that now. I’m a writer because I write, and I don’t need a paycheck to prove it. What I wanted at the time was validation.

And perhaps that’s what I want now. Validation. What could possibly be more validating than writing for the Times? What could be more proof of having “made it” as a writer? Somehow, getting paid to write isn’t good enough for me anymore. Suddenly, I feel that I need to work at the Times for validation.

But do I even want to work for the Times? Yeah, sure, of course! What writer doesn’t? Does that mean I need a nameplate there to prove that I’m a good writer? No. What I want is to use it like a badge I can whip out any time I feel insecure. It’s a way to show the world that I’m a good writer, a serious writer, even if they never read my writing.

And then I remember two very important things: 1) The world doesn’t think about us as often as we tend to think it does, and, 2) who cares what the world thinks, anyway?

Life isn’t about what they’ll say when you’re gone. It’s not about getting to tell our grandchildren about the credentials we acquired. It’s about the meaning we put into our work every day. Every day I get to write about subjects I care about and that help people. For me, it doesn’t really get much better than that.

Yes, New York Times, I still love you. And I certainly won’t ever give up the dream that someday I can contribute my words to your community. But until then, I’m pretty happy with the work I’m doing. And that’s all that really matters.

    Shannon McNay Insler

    Written by

    Writer, community builder, and content strategist.

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