March 7, 2019

When Ms. Worrywart comes Calling: a Poem for Women who always Second-Guess Themselves.


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I wrote the following poem a few years ago about self-doubt, with a humorous “Dr. Seuss-like” attempt to overcome it.

The responses I have received from men and women have been quite different.

Changing of the Guard 

I am a person who
For the most part’s done okay,
Trusting head and instincts
When planning my own way

Yet just when I am doing great
Plans are working out…
Ms. Anxious Gene sneaks upon me
Hits me with self-doubt

From confident and fearless
to panicked and afraid,
Suddenly second-guessing plans
Previously thought well-made

What if I am wrong?
What if no one understands?
And by chance I fail?
Will I be shamed from this land?

When confronted with this detour
I’m distracted and distressed
And find that those exact fears
Begin to manifest

I used to think it helpful
But have since come to see
That listening to Ms. Negative
Just derails successful me

Now I know the pattern
So when Ms. Worrywart does call,
I politely say, “not listening!”
You’re just here to make me fall

I’ve had to shed these guards,
Ms. Gene, Ms. Neg, Ms. Wart
And welcome in the new ones
Ms. I-can and Ms. Support

Okay, ladies—whad’ya think? Men?

When I have shared this, mostly in writing circles, it has evoked reactions from women such as telling me they resonate with it wholeheartedly, or that it “so captures” a quintessential struggle women face that they want to share it with their children or with their women’s groups.

The men have been more neutral; they might like or dislike the rhyme, or in one case, saying it’s sort of “cutesy,” which is “off-putting” to them.

Why is there such a disparity in reactions to this poem based on gender?

A Telegraph article says, “A recent study found that 40 percent of working millennial women experience self-doubt at work compared to just 22 percent of men.” And the Institute of Leadership and Management, based in Staffordshire, found that half of female leaders regularly experienced self-doubt in contrast to fewer than a third of male managers.”

Forbes also discussed this topic recently and noted, “Men are not exempt from doubting themselves—but they don’t let their doubts stop them as often as women do.” A Hewlett-Packard internal report found that men apply for a job or promotion when they meet only 60 percent of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100 percent of them. What doomed them was not their actual ability, but rather the decision not to try.

That last point, from my experience, is insightful. Even after writing this poem to “pump” up my confidence, despite my best intentions, Ms. I-can was still regularly talked out of her plans by Ms. Negative, and for all the reasons talked about in the research. I was letting myself down due to perfectionism or lack of confidence, and then feeling guilty when there was no result.

In “The Confidence Gap,” the authors investigate these concepts further, and found that what really keeps us ladies back is not a difference in ability, but that we hold ourselves back because when self-doubt creeps in, we don’t even try. The authors surmise that our best solution is to force ourselves to act, because when we do (even when forced to versus choosing to), our results are as good as men’s.

We are all capable. It’s just the combination of confidence and capability that makes a huge difference in results.

My poem was complete in terms of sharing a common experience. And it went as far as to rally the troops (aka all my parts) for change. But it didn’t offer a solution—the how.

So, I’ve added two more stanzas. Ladies, reach out and let me know how it goes:

And when I’m feeling shaky
Unsure I can achieve
I’ll remember that inaction
Is a certain guarantee

Choosing to give up
Just assures the status quo
So now I will step up
Just see where I can go!


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