Last updated: May 2018

Self-doubt is an odd thing. Too much of it can be crushing, and too little of it pathological. Depression and self-doubt go hand in hand, as low moods tend to come with a devastating self-criticism.  Society seems to adore unabashed self-confidence, will tolerate arrogance so far as the holder of such egotism has street credentials, and is ashamed of those who through endless introspection see a complicated world in which they are a minor player.

Doubt, particularly of self, it seems, is to be left in a dark corner or overcome at all costs.

Such single-mindedness in the search of confidence, however, overlooks the many benefits that doubt has to offer. Skepticism, for instance, is a cornerstone of scientific inquiry. Only in our doubt do we see a need to test, to retest, and to never be satisfied with the current state of knowledge, ever seeking the next horizon. Doubt and curiosity are bedfellows, as anyone with a passion for learning can attest to. Curiosity is born from the awareness that one does not know something, or that what one knows may be incomplete or suspect. Education is turning this doubt inward, transforming one's lack of knowledge into a pursuit of learning.

In the world of athletics, as another example, self-doubt can keep an athlete ever striving, whereas overconfidence in one's abilities leads to avoidable mistakes. Though celebrity athletes are known for living in hierarchies of competitiveness with unassailable pride, the majority of athletes I have known carry a modesty born from never being convinced of their ability, constantly wondering what else they are capable of. Too little self-doubt can lead to impulsive and hasty action, high-risk taking, and the all too common tragedy of using wealth and fame to achieve an unchecked hedonism that ends in penury. Sufficient self-doubt can keep an athlete in check, and away from the pitfalls of arrogance.

With rheumatoid arthritis, I find that doubt is a balancing act.

Too little doubt in how the disease affects me, and I can overextend myself, bringing stress or fatigue that can worsen the illness. Too much doubt, and I fail to achieve what I am capable of, underestimating my ability and disappointing myself. I believe it is important to dream big, to be daring, and to strive to achieve even with the difficulties of RA. At the same time, it is important to remain realistic, not underestimating the reality of this mercurial disease. Self-doubt can be a painful traveling companion at times, but I certainly would never give it up. It leads to too many valuable insights. One must keep self-doubt at the correct distance. Too close is suffocating, too far and one is lost without guidance.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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