On self doubt, Ira Glass, and why we can’t all believe in ourselves and that’s okay.

January 21, 2014


This weekend has been a whole big not-so-fun ball of what-ifs and why-am-Is and what-the-heck-am-I-doing-with-my-lifes.

Not that this is anything new.

Self doubt is one of my more consistent hobbies. It ranks right up there with binge-watching angsty dramas on Netflix and telling myself I can’t eat all the cookies and then eating ALL THE COOKIES. (In my defense, COOKIES.)

I realize that my current bout of uncertainty is primarily the result of the following circumstances:

a. It’s January. In Michigan.

b. I’m broke because I just spent a bajillion dollars on car repairs.

c. My car still doesn’t work.

d. All of the above. And, well, if I’m going to be completely honest, girlie hormones.

While I know this will all pass soon enough, I still can’t help kicking myself a little bit and wondering what life might be like if, say, instead of deciding to move to small-town Michigan last year, I had decided to move to some balmy metropolis far, far away where instead of spending all my cash on a car that doesn’t work, I could be lashing out on private beachside huts, Mai-Tais, massages, and my own very own personal tuk-tuk driver.

Of course, I know that if I were living in some balmy metropolis far, far away, I’d probably just be wondering what life might be like in small-town Michigan.

Because that’s how I work.

It’s not that I think the grass is always greener on the other side.

It’s more like I kind of like the grass I’m on, but at the same time I’m not so sure about this grass. I mean, does this grass even look okay with my eyes? Or should I have gone with something with more chartreuse. Does grass even come in chartreuse? Heck, I don’t even know what chartreuse is! AHHHH, WHY DOES GRASS COME IN SO MANY STUPID COLORS AND I CAN NEVER MAKE UP MY MIND AND WHEN I DO I’M STILL NOT SURE IF I’VE MADE THE RIGHT DECISION AND SHOULDN’T I JUST KNOW ALREADY WHAT COLOR GRASS I LIKE? I MEAN, I’M ALMOST THIRTY-EIGHT YEARS OLD. THAT’S LIKE PRIME THIS-IS-MY-COLOR-GRASS-AND-I-KNOW-IT-AGE, ISN’T IT???

So, yeah, that’s where my head’s been this weekend.

But then I remembered a quote from Ira Glass. I can’t find the exact quote now. (I think it’s somewhere in this interview here. I watched it back when the  interview was free to watch, but now the interview is on this inspirational website that you have to be a paying member to use, and, well, I’m too poor to pay for inspiration.)

But it went basically something like this:

Some people wake up every morning, and they are sure of themselves. They know what they’re doing is right and that they’re totally just going to rock it.

And then there are the other people. These people are the ones who wake up every morning, and they’re all like, “GAAAHHH! LIFE! HARD! ME! WRONG!”

You’re either one or the other. There’s really no changing that.

The trick is to just to figure out what kind of person you are and just deal with it already.

(Of course, when Ira Glass said this he sounded much more poised and thoughtful and not at all like the Incredible Hulk.)

I remember when I first heard the quote I felt so inspired.

It inspired me in a way that the inspirational quotes telling me to believe in myself never did.

I wrote it down and kept it with me at all times because I’m that person — the type who writes down quotes by nerdy NPR reporters to keep in her purse.

But I’m also that other type of person — the type of person who is always doubting herself and her decisions.

And I know I can’t change that because Ira Glass told me so.

So I just need to deal with that already.

(And maybe watch a few angsty dramas on Netflix to help me get through this. Also, COOKIES. BECAUSE COOKIES.)

What type of person are you? The type who wakes up every morning confident with your decisions or the type that’s all like, “Umm? What is this that’s happening right now? Am I so sure about this?” And how do you get through your periods of self doubt when you’re having them?

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On January 21, 2014 at 7:00 pm Melanie Stokes said:

    This is exactly what I needed to read right now! Thank you!!

    Melanie =)

  2. On January 21, 2014 at 7:30 pm Vivian said:

    I hear ya! I live in Tokyo and every day I curse my tiny apartment and wish I lived somewhere with room to breathe. It’s always greener…
    Things will get better! Well, after January comes February… Them spring!

    • On January 21, 2014 at 9:45 pm Sally said:

      This is funny because I have actually been thinking nostalgically about Japan and wondering if I should move back. I’m sure if I did, I would miss the relatively empty streets of Kalamazoo.
      And, yes, SPRING!

  3. On January 21, 2014 at 7:31 pm Kristen said:

    Yes, this! So much this! I wake up in the morning, and I suddenly have this panicky moment where I think I’ve forgotten everything I ever knew about how to do my job and how to be around people and like… exist, and stuff. So yeah, pretty easy to guess which category I fall under!

  4. On January 21, 2014 at 8:18 pm Claire @ ZigZag On Earth said:

    That rings so true to me.
    Currently leaving in a small town in Germany in the middle of the black Forest, wondering if I should move to Paris and live in its center. Will love all the activities and all that I am missing here but I am sure then I will doubt because I will be surrounding by too many people and not be in nature anymore and so I will miss the little town… ARGGHHHH
    And that’s just the location thing… then there is the work…
    Claire @ ZigZag On Earth recently posted..ZZOE Tuesday Travel Quote #6

    • On January 21, 2014 at 9:43 pm Sally said:

      Of course, now that you’ve said you live in the middle of the Black Forest, I TOO want to live in the middle of the Black Forest. Mostly because it reminds me of cake.
      Oh, yes, and the work….

  5. On January 21, 2014 at 9:18 pm Priya said:

    I’m totally the Gaaahhh-Life-Hard-Me-Wrong type of person. I’m always over-thinking things and doubting myself. And I don’t think that will ever change. But something that has changed a little bit over the years is doubting myself but doing things anyway. I really like a quote a heard awhile ago… it went something like this: “Doubt will kill your dreams more then failure ever will.” I’m sure you doubt yourself all the time but has that ever stopped you from doing things like moving to a new city/ country? If you don’t like Michigan, move. But after this weekend, OK?
    Priya recently posted..Traveler-Wannabe: People & Traveling

    • On January 21, 2014 at 9:42 pm Sally said:

      It’s not that I don’t like Michigan — I actually really like it. It’s just kind of in my nature to always be “What if…?” Like I said, even when I was in balmy, beachside destinations drinking mai-tais, I was all, “What if…?” Really has nothing to do with my location… but that doesn’t stop me from always trying to change it!

  6. On January 21, 2014 at 9:42 pm elizabeth said:

    GREAT post! We’re totally in the same camp. I need to accept that I’m always going to worry and wonder and I need to just get over myself already. I at least feel better seeing that someone else feels the same way!
    elizabeth recently posted..Down to 3 in my 10 to 10! Baby’s first Pens Game

  7. On January 21, 2014 at 9:49 pm becky hutner said:

    sad thing is, when i was younger i WAS one of those super confident-in-what-i’m-doing people and now i’m the latter! chew on that, ira!!
    becky hutner recently posted..Fashion ‘Round the World: What people wore in 2013

    • On January 21, 2014 at 10:00 pm Sally said:

      Hmmm… I guess Ira doesn’t know EVERYTHING. Color me surprised!
      And, yeah, I can kind of see that. While I wouldn’t say I was super confident when I was younger, I think I had a clearer direction and, at least, knew exactly what I didn’t want — even if I couldn’t exactly figure out what I want. Now I’m not even sure about that!

  8. On January 21, 2014 at 10:04 pm Charle said:

    So immersed in thought about your post I just wrote my email address, usually iheartemdash etc, etc, as idoubt…. Mmmmm. It seems the people in Ira’s first category are few and far between. Do you think they’re faking it and we all really belong to the second? Great post. Hope the cookies help!
    Charle recently posted..Day 328: White on White

    • On January 22, 2014 at 7:01 am Sally said:

      Or those people aren’t in the practice of reading self-doubty blog posts on the blog of a professed scaredy cat. I imagine they’re reading stuff like “Why I’m Awesome” by Awesome Girl or something like that.

  9. On January 21, 2014 at 10:26 pm becky hutner said:

    could stem from the american parenting approach of “you can do anything!” and “you are special & not just because you’re my spawn.” we’re pumped with all this confidence & then we leave the childhood bubble to realize, ack! life is scary. & full of decisions. damn those 2 for leading me to believe otherwise!!
    becky hutner recently posted..Fashion ‘Round the World: What people wore in 2013

  10. On January 22, 2014 at 7:33 am Patrick said:

    Thanks for posting this, Sally! I’ve always been the ‘waking up confident/happy with what I have’ type of person. It’s interesting that they say you can’t change it–we were ‘born that way’ I guess?

  11. On January 22, 2014 at 7:46 am Katie said:

    I am sooooo the same way! And the grass is always greener thing rings so true. It’s not that I dislike where I’m at but I’m always wondering if something else might be better. And I keep waiting for that moment when I wake up as one of those people who knows exactly what she wants to do.
    Katie recently posted..The Square: Personalizing the Egyptian Revolution

  12. On January 22, 2014 at 12:26 pm Val said:

    While I like to think that some day I will be that person who wakes up and knows that everything will be OK and is totally sure of herself, you (and Ira) are probably right: I just need to accept the fact that I am always going to be a doubtful worrier. I guess I just need to figure out how to channel that it into being productive? (I also am starting to think that a lot of people who look like they wake up knowing they’re doing everything right are just faking it.)
    Val recently posted..On turning 33. Who do you want to be?

  13. On January 22, 2014 at 12:30 pm WanderingCarol said:


  14. On January 22, 2014 at 1:03 pm Mzuri said:

    … and sometimes so-called thought leaders throw bullshit out into the universe just to see if it flies. I mean, really, those are the two choices of being-ness? Pfft.

    I’d say draw from your own page: An unbrave girl who feels fear (and doubt), but does a scary thing anyway. Now that’s an inspiration.

    • On January 22, 2014 at 6:39 pm Sally said:

      I’m sure those aren’t are only two choices… and I’m sure there are plenty of people who waver between the two or don’t even care about if they’re killing it or not because, hey, whatever. But, after years of being told I should just believe in myself and my decisions, and never, ever being able to do that, it was kind of nice to have someone let me off the hook and say, “Hey, you can doubt yourself. That’s normal for you. Don’t fight it.”
      That being said I haven’t really let my doubt stop me from doing MOST things. Yes, it does stop me from doing SOME super scary stuff… and sometimes I wish it didn’t and maybe some day it won’t.

      • On January 22, 2014 at 8:15 pm Mzuri said:

        Hi Sally – your reply puts a positive interpretation on Ira Glass’ statement that I didn’t catch when I read your post. … that being a waverer is just as valid a way to see the world as those who are naturally confident. In that light, I see how you felt taken off the hook ….(But something I’ve learned is that there are a lot of folks out there who look and act confident on the outside, but who are quaking inside. I used to, as they say, compare my insides with their outsides.)….
        Anyway – I stand by my statement that you are an inspiration to those who are “unbrave” and who go forth anyway. 😉
        Mzuri recently posted..Lafayette: 2nd Saturday Artwalk: January 2014: Whoojoo

  15. On January 22, 2014 at 6:07 pm John said:

    Thanks for another delightful and thought provoking post, Sally! I know exactly what you’re going through (minus the girlie hormones!) I even the same car issue..and I commute 45 mins to school (yay for carpooling! Because people who ride public transportation unnerve me!)

    I go between those two types of people….usually in succession: How am I going to work this out? What am I doing? Why can’t I find an alarm sound/song that gently buoys me out of sleep??

    But then I think, what’s the worst case scenario? Will that really ruin my life? And you know what, it won’t. I’m constantly reminding myself to keep my priorities in order.

    But if I can make it through my last (!) semester, I’ve got hope! I have travel and blog plans and I’m finally doing what I’ve wanted to for a while! (I hope when it’s up and running, you’d give it a look). 🙂

  16. On January 22, 2014 at 7:45 pm Isabelle said:

    Who says you have to know where you want to be for the rest of your life? Maybe your thing is to change scenery from time to time because you are interested in discovering the world, not because you can’t make up your mind. And so what if you in your late thirties and haven’t made up your mind? I’m 45 and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up! You are who you are and that’s enough.

    • On January 25, 2014 at 11:03 am Sally said:

      Thanks for the encouraging words, Isabelle! I feel the older I get, the more possibilities I see career and life-wise. I think when I was in my 20’s, I thought I’d just pick one career and go with it. But now that I’ve had a few different “careers” under my belt I’m like, well, what do I want to be NEXT? I don’t know if you’ve had the same experience?

      • On January 25, 2014 at 2:44 pm Isabelle said:

        Definitely! I never had a career plan and kind of went with what life offered me. Now I do have a ‘career’ (which happened without planning anything!) but I can totally see myself doing something else if an opportunity presented itself. I’ve just gone back to University to study something completely different just because I find it interesting. Not everyone has a plan and that’s ok. I don’t necessarily think that the grass is greener somewhere else but certainly a different shade of green and there is nothing wrong with going from one place to the next, discovering new things. Hey, we’re single, there are advantages!! I’m sure that some people who think we can’t make up our mind actually envy our ability to just choose our next adventure!

  17. On January 23, 2014 at 8:50 am Carmen said:

    We are nomadic and sometimes I have self-doubt about whether we should be starting a family yet and buying a home – doing conventional things. But then we go somewhere awesome or make some new foreign friends and I think nah, I’ve made the right decision for the time being 🙂
    Thanks for sharing, a great post yet again!
    Carmen recently posted..Our first negative experience house sitting

    • On January 25, 2014 at 11:01 am Sally said:

      I totally get this! I questioned myself a lot while living overseas — asking myself if I shouldn’t be back in the States, putting down roots, working a more career-track kind of job, getting some kind of stability, etc. Well, I’m back in the States doing just that, and I’m still questioning myself! When will it ever end??? (Answer: probably never. For me at least.)

  18. On January 24, 2014 at 8:53 am Erika said:

    You know, this was so comforting to read! I’m a little younger than you, but still feel like” I’M ALMOST TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS OLD. THAT’S LIKE PRIME THIS-IS-MY-COLOR-GRASS-AND-I-KNOW-IT-AGE, ISN’T IT???”

    I think that you’re right… some of us are born with that amazing self-confidence and no doubt whatsoever and some of us aren’t. I’m in the “aren’t” category. But I’m trying to learn how to just accept that that doubt will always be there so I can get on with it. I never really know if my decisions are the right ones, but I’ve noticed the most rewarding ones weren’t really made with “right” or “wrong” as criteria. I think they were just made from, “Do I *want* to do this or not?” And yeah, I’ve questioned it sometimes, but I guess… I don’t know… I don’t think I have any answers. I guess I just wanted to say that it’s SO COMFORTING to see that someone else feels this way, too! Thanks Sally!
    Erika recently posted..Stop Overemphasizing Your Weaknesses + Other Lessons

    • On January 25, 2014 at 10:59 am Sally said:

      You’re welcome! And I totally get your “Do I *want* to do this?” questioning. That’s kind of how I ended up in Michigan. I knew it would be much more “right” to go overseas where I could make more money or stay in Buffalo where I could save more money. But Michigan just felt more like what I wanted to do at this point in my life. I have to keep reminding myself that.

  19. On January 24, 2014 at 10:54 am Ceri said:

    I get through my periods of self-doubt by reminding myself that whatever decisions I’ve made – good or bad – are going to help shape me in some way and become a better person. Plus, even the bad decisions we make teach us something. 🙂 Now back to COOKIES!
    Ceri recently posted..It’s Official! I’m Moving Away Again …

  20. On January 24, 2014 at 7:34 pm Heather said:

    Aw, Sally! If I lived nearby I’d totally take you out for a beer this weekend. The teenage me was riddled with self doubt after relentless teasing at school. But after college, when it turned out that I was actually pretty good at my marketing job, my confidence in my decisions slowly increased. I still question myself from time to time, but things have turned out pretty well so far and I know that, mostly, I made that happen. And whenever I’m afraid of doing something outside my comfort zone, I remind myself that I moved to NYC without knowing a soul and made a great little life there. And like Frank says, “if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere!”
    Heather recently posted..Drinking Bulls Blood Wine in Eger, Hungary

    • On January 25, 2014 at 10:53 am Sally said:

      It’s funny because I don’t have a lot of doubt when it comes to my job. Yes, there are times when I think “I should have done that lesson differently,” and, sure, there are times when I just want to quit my job and live a life of leisure… somewhere balmy with cabana boys. But for the most part I’m a really confident teacher. In fact, I can get a bit cocky about it.
      The self doubt comes more into play when it’s personal stuff — like life decisions and stuff. I tend to find that stuff a lot harder than standing in front of a room of 15-30 students, talking about participial adjectives. I know, I’m weird.

  21. On January 26, 2014 at 1:32 am Tom @ Waegook Tom said:

    I’d say that in general, I’m pretty confident of my decisions, but sometimes I still wonder what the hell I’m doing. I had a, ‘you-came-to-Asia-to-teach-AGAIN?!’ moment the other day, and thought, well, what would life be like if I just left and travelled around the likes of Thailand and Vietnam. Then I realised that my luggage weighs 27kg. No way am I lugging that around.
    Tom @ Waegook Tom recently posted..Southern Food: Not Just Fried Chicken

    • On January 27, 2014 at 12:53 pm Sally said:

      Speaking as a girl who has done the teaching-in-Asia thing more than a few times and the travel-around-Asia thing, I think you’re making the right choice. Traveling is fun, but I’d much rather settle down and make friends and own more than one pair of shoes. And, well, COUCH.

  22. On February 6, 2014 at 9:46 am Lisa said:

    This is the first time I’ve read your blog, so I have some catching up to do. But… I find myself wavering between I’m going to rock this, and am I rocking the right thing. Gah! That can be frustrating, considering I’m recently engaged. A person can drive themselves crazy thinking am I with the right person, of course I am, but what if, no that’s stupid, well you might have a point, there’s always this, there’s never that. All you self doubters, and fence sitters, how do you deal in relationships?

    • On February 9, 2014 at 1:21 pm Sally said:

      I’m going to have to send that question out to the universe as it’s been a MILLION-BILLION years since I’ve been in a relationship. No joke. So, reader-friends-who-have-actually-been-in-a-relationship-in-recent-history, what say you?

  23. On February 6, 2014 at 9:48 am Lisa said:

    Also I’d love if you checked out my photo/travel blog, its relatively new and I’d love some feedback. Nomadorwhat.wordpress.com
    Lisa recently posted..A Short Jaunt to Detroit

  24. On February 12, 2014 at 4:39 pm Michelle said:

    Wow. I’ve just stumbled on your blog and this post piqued my interest. Not only do I LOVE Ira and live for This American Life, but I resonate so strongly with what you are saying. I’ve always been the person to make a decision and then immediately become nostalgic for the life (or career, or place) I’ve left behind. I often find it crippling because it’s so damn hard to not long for the unknown or past.

    BUT then I think about it, and I am so happy that I am a person that wonders about the grass on the other side. If I were to wake up and know exactly what I wanted, I would have never experienced all the cool people and places I have as a perpetual wanderer, uncertain of my “path”.

    Perception, my dear Watson.

    • On February 12, 2014 at 6:54 pm Sally said:

      This is such a good point. I’m sure I would have never been to all the places I’ve been to or lived in all the places I’ve lived or met all the people I’ve met, if I was the type of person who was completely and absolutely sure of where I was supposed to be. Yet another reason to value being wishy-washy and undecided!

  25. On April 5, 2014 at 10:09 am Julian P. Thornton said:

    I do recall that episode of Ira’s. It was as if he was speaking from another dimension, one that is all to familiar. Now doubt is a better thing.

    • On April 6, 2014 at 11:23 am Sally said:

      This is definitely another great one by Ira Glass, but this wasn’t the one I was talking about. The one I was talking about is an interview he did for this Internet show for teenagers. I looked for the video clip, but now the Internet show charges you for access, so that’s why I couldn’t post it on my blog. But, yes, this one rocks as well!

  26. On May 21, 2014 at 9:45 pm Shaz said:

    Hi Sally!
    I’m new to your blog, but wanted to comment because I enjoyed this post (and enjoy most things Ira Glass and NPR do, really). It’s comforting to know others feel the way I do, too!

    I tend to do it with things in the past as well, which is even more futile – i.e.: “you know what would have been better?! X.” Obviously, I can’t go back and change anything, so it’s even more frustrating. I so badly want to be the person who is just happy with what I have and what I’ve done, but I guess I can accept that I’m a doubter, and woulda, shoulda, coulda person, and try to change my responses to those thoughts rather than get even more down that I am that person.

    Anyway, thanks for your thoughts! I’m enjoying your blog.

    • On May 21, 2014 at 9:55 pm Sally said:

      Thanks, Shaz! Glad to hear you’re enjoying the blog. Yes, I am also trying to get out of the woulda, coulda, shoulda. A lot of my doubt has to do with the future, though. Should I move overseas again? Should I change jobs? Should I… gah! I’m trying to work on living a bit more in the present but it’s a hard habit to break!

  27. On September 26, 2015 at 1:21 pm Yesitsme said:

    Constantly battling “What if ..” and it’s frigin’ exhausting. Possibly a little more exhausting for my husband. The only thing more exhausting than being this restless has got to be being married to someone who is. P.S. – Tickets to see Ira Glass next weekend. Clarity awaits!

  28. On June 20, 2017 at 5:17 am Shuyi Chua said:

    I found the quotation you were looking for! As I was searching for it after reading your post. That inspirational site has published a book called “Roadmap: The Get-It-Together Guide for Figuring Out What to Do with Your Life” and parts of it are in google book, including the part that you like. It goes:

    “Some people feel happy and confident when they wake up in the morning every day, and some people are going to feel doubt and worry… And it’s good to acknowledge early which kind you are and make your peace with it. I know no matter what I’m doing. I’m going to wake up worried every single day.”

    Just found your site. A very doubtful and timid girl thanks you. 🙂

  29. On August 13, 2017 at 2:16 pm joan wendt said:

    you’re hilarious and adorable.


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