Trying Defeats Self-Doubt

by Patrick McNerthney

My response to 9/11 was to join the fire service. 

At the time I was in portfolio school to become an advertising copywriter – you know the type: a sleazy hack willing to sell snake-oil and such, kind of like the good-looking creeps in Mad Men – but the events of that day, and the weeks after, made me realize selling stuff with words was a frivolous occupation in the grand scheme of things.

(Copywriting is actually a really fun gig, and those who do it well tend to not be sleazy.)

Thus, over the course of 18 months I received my first aid certification from the American Red Cross, went on some “ride-alongs” with the Seattle Fire Department, attended Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) School, applied for a volunteer position at a local fire department (got in somehow), and graduated from their three-month training regimen. After which, I worked two shifts per week, passed the Washington State certification exam, and started applying for paid firefighting jobs. Whew! A lot of steps in that career path!

The truth is, I was totally intimidated the whole time. 

Well, maybe not with the Red Cross, but a little bit with EMT school and a lot with the fire service stuff. As I’ve indicated before, I’m not necessarily “gifted” when it comes to working with tools (the fire service has tons of axes, saws, pry bars, generators, compressors, pumps and plenty of stuff I can’t even name at this point). Add to that I’m somewhat afraid of heights (seriously), and I’m not exactly a super-brave person overall (i.e., running into a burning building never seemed like a great idea, and honestly, I felt somewhat nervous putting up Halloween decorations last weekend – I know, I know, it’s early – given I had to balance on a three-foot high wall). 

Additionally, and as you can likely surmise, the instructors during every step of the journey were fairly militaristic and generally grumpy – lots of yelling, push-ups, criticism, and other drill sergeanty-type stuff. One guy yelled at our recruit class so close we could feel his whiskers brushing our faces. 

(Okay, wrong kind of whiskers but you get the idea.)

Yet, my entire class graduated, including me. Our crew ended up going into a few burning structures over the years and helped people out on lots of medical calls. Later I got a job in an emergency department to bolster my medical training and increase my chances at a full-time, paid job in Washington or Oregon. I applied and tested for four years – and watched some friends get hired, but ultimately I quit (yes, quit) and pivoted to another career.

The lesson from this time of my life – which I frequently forget and really want to remember now more than ever – involves self-doubt, which inspired that intimidation I outlined earlier. Self-doubt rode with me this entire journey, from first aid training all the way through testing for full-time jobs. Yet, despite the self-doubt, I showed up and tried my best. Or, to look at it another way, rather than waiting to feel confident enough to try, I gave myself permission to simply begin.   

Guess what? Confidence is not a prerequisite for success. We can doubt ourselves, but still show up to work, ship a project, present an idea, try something new, advocate for someone no one else believes in, change the status quo, or even (insert your dream here). 

And we can do all of this resting comfortably with the knowledge that it might not work, just like my attempt to go pro as a firefighter didn’t technically work. Although it did work in a way because of the strength that simply trying provided. 

When we try, not because of confidence, but rather despite self-doubt, it (ironically) gives us conviction we can lean on, regardless of whether or not we succeed. Action in the face of self-doubt creates a power source we can recognize and utilize at any time, as it stands ready for us to call on if we simply remember it’s there.  

Oh! The other thing is, we often don’t recognize the value of our own work or the impact we make by simply being us and giving things a go. Meaning, a lot of the time doubting ourselves is simply an error on our part; what we deem mediocre or insufficient might just be brilliant if we give it a chance to be seen.

Over to you. Imagine providing your residents or loved ones a music track to dance to, or a blank sheet of paper from which blooms an artistic masterpiece, or some lyrics to sing at the top of their lungs. Do you think you’d see some skeptical, nervous, or doubtful expressions? Perfect! 

Fine Art Miracles (FAM) champions creative expression as the perfect tool to help the elderly and other underserved populations recognize and utilize their power to overcome self-doubt by simply making. The act of creating something from nothing through Art Therapy, Music Therapy, and ART2GO packages ignites the conviction that they are important, relevant, and valued, all from their ability to make change through an artistic medium.  

But there’s more! The magic of trying leads to strength and confidence that counters the stress and anxiety of loneliness,social isolation and other challenges your residents and loved ones face daily. FAM’s programs are simply a way to connect people to their powers, which is pretty cool, and can be vitally important for anyone! 

Besides, odds are there’s quite a bit of brilliance there. Nothing wrong with giving your residents and loved ones a chance to show off a little! Which just so happens to be a great way to reconnect with the past, demonstrate mastery, and feel pride in what they’re capable of accomplishing.

If you have any questions feel free to reach out, FAM is happy to help!

I’ve got quite a bit of stuff to try myself. A peer wants me to do a TED Talk…one of those motivational speech type things. Which has my head swimming with doubt! But I’ll give it a go. I’ll just have to make sure the stage isn’t very high off the ground. Surely he doesn’t mean a real talk right? Just, like, something from his office or something? Help!


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