Chronic Self Doubt, Why It’s a Chick Thing

by Amy on October 15, 2014

Alice Elizabeth Wolfe. Born October 2nd 1919. My legacy.

Alice Elizabeth Wolfe. Born October 2nd 1919. My legacy.

At the Vancouver Peace Summit in 2009 the Dalai Lama, speaking to a panel of female peace prize laureates, said, “the world will be saved by western women.”

Western Women?

I’m a master certified life coach with a very full practice in my 7th year of business — I talk to “western women” every day– talented and gifted, purpose driven western women who know in their bones they were put here to do something with their “one wild and precious life” – who tell me different variations of the same thing:

“I don’t know if I have what it takes.”

“I’m not sure I can pull it off.”

“I feel like a big fake.”

“I don’t have enough experience to help people.”

“I feel like a fraud.”

And even though there are guys who “get” it, who worry about this stuff too, research shows that chronic self-doubt falls solidly within the realm of women …

Quoting a Harvard Business Review Post:

“From an early age, men often overvalue their strengths, while women too frequently underrate theirs. In reality, we all struggle to feel a stable sense of value and self-worth. Men often defend against their doubts by moving to grandiosity and inflation, while women more frequently move to insecurity and deferral.”

And from another study…

“Men consistently overestimate their abilities and subsequent performance, and women routinely underestimate their abilities and performance. Even though the actual performances did not differ in quality.”

The question is why? Why do women consistently underestimate themselves compared to men?

I was the first kid in my family to go to college. My parents didn’t know much about the college application process, but they were able to help me get into a small university located in my town. I went there for a year before transferring to another school.

It’s where I met my husband over 20 years ago.

I’ll never forget the day my parents met his parents. I was standing next to my mom when she said to them without blinking an eye, “we’re just so glad Amy was able to go to college. We knew if she did, she’d meet a nice man who could take care of her.”

In all fairness, I get it. I have 3 kids. I want them to be happy. I want them to someday meet someone great and have a happy life together.


A Way of Thinking We Take For Granted As True

This is a kind of thinking that remains a part of our culture… The idea that men are the guardians of women. It’s part of a cultural belief system that Christel Nani, author of Sacred Choices, calls a “tribal belief” — a way of thinking that is taken for granted to be true and then passed down from generation to generation.

Married by my uncle 21 years ago –a traditional Baptist minister — I was asked to vow to “obey” my husband.

“I, Amy, take thee, Ron, as my wedded Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part…”

(I insisted he vow to obey me right back, but you get the point. Traditionally there is no mention of a groom needing to obey his bride.)

It has only been 94 years, one woman’s lifetime, since women were granted the constitutional right to vote. Before that, the common wisdom of our culture was…

If women could vote, chivalry would die out.

If women could vote they would get involved in politics, stop marrying and having children and the human race would die out.

That women were too emotional and incapable of making sound political decisions.

And my favorite…

Because women’s interests were perfectly safe in the hands of men.

Maybe it’s a similar line of thinking that led Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, to advise a group of women in computing this month to NOT ask for a raise.

“It’s not really about asking for the raise,” he advised, “but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along.”


Given that the median income for full-time, year round male workers was $8100 higher than the median income for full time, year round female workers in 2010, I’d argue that we women have some self-advocating to do.

In high school, I was student body Vice President when the Student Body President was removed from office (some kind of scandal having to do with pot smoking. He said he didn’t inhale.) So I was officially the new Student Body President.

When the next student body assembly rolled around I expected to be leading it. But the leadership advisor at the time asked Bill Lee, the Sophomore Student Body President, to do it. Even though I knew I could do it. Even though I wanted to do it. My heart sank but I didn’t question it. I didn’t fight it.

And this is why self-doubt is a chick thing.

We have inherited and internalized a way of thinking that has us unconsciously second guessing ourselves over and over and over.

The idea that women are weak, inferior and less capable than the guys is a tribal belief that we all have inherited and internalized, conscious or not. [Tweet that!]

And the only way to heal this legacy is the truth.

My grandmother was 1 year old in 1920, the year that women were given the right to vote. She grew up to be the best marksmen in a squad of 10 men, she ran a bowling alley and she was a welder during WW2. She could throw a softball, knit a blanket, pull in a basket of crabs on the bay and give the longest, warmest hugs imaginable plus she made the best peach pie on the planet.

This is my legacy. The legacy I consciously choose for myself. And the legacy I will consciously recount to my daughters and to my son.

Ladies it’s time.

Guys its time.

Time to create a new legacy.

What do you choose to believe?

How will you lead from this place?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane October 15, 2014 at 9:52 pm

There are some excellent points made here. My oh my little Alice sure resembles your amazing grandma.


Amy October 16, 2014 at 7:01 pm

Yes she does!


marianna October 16, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Nice article! Some excellent points here and it’s true until we recognize that which is so ingrained, we can’t do anything about it… A small quibble is over the phrase women were given the right to vote. I’m surprised at such a passive phrasing given the nature of the article. Women weren’t given the right to vote, they fought for it and won it!


Amy October 16, 2014 at 7:00 pm

You make a solid point Marianna! Thanks for the comment!


Marguerite MacRobert October 20, 2014 at 10:28 am

I loved this article and agree with it so much. I thought the prestigious university I work at was so fantastic about women’s rights and that I could relax because the battle for equality has been won in my country, South Africa…. until suddenly a whole bunch of female professors were appointment heads of department (for the first time in 2008… in a profession – teaching- dominated by women at the bottom and men at the top but I hadn’t even noticed!). Then they could see everyone’s salaries for the first time. They were brave enough to very publicly denounce the fact that women throughout our faculty at every post level were being paid less than equally or less qualified men. Then things began to change, because we were less trusting and more brazen, and now we have an awesome female Dean (we voted her in). It might be tougher now I’ve resigned to work from home. I want to be with my kids more, that is the point, but I’m still ambitious and smart, and it is going to be interesting to watch people’s perceptions of me as I make that choice. I think quite a few people approve that I’m going to be ‘just’ a stay at home mom. What we haven’t perhaps achieved for women (or even men) the recognition of the importance of what we do at home, even if it isn’t always directly economically valuable.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: