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How to overcome self-doubt when you're "not an expert"

Not an expert? No problem. Learn how to overcome self-doubt as a creator -- and why non-experts make excellent educators.

January 8, 2021 by Rachel Burns

You know that voice in the back of your mind? 

The one that tells you you're a fraud. That you can't do it. That you don't have anything valuable to share, or that you can't create content that's worth paying money for.

The one that says that no one is going to take you seriously, let alone buy your information products or sign up for your online courses

That voice is self-doubt. And it's a liar.

"I'm not good enough" is one of the top excuses entrepreneurs make. But when you're struggling with imposter syndrome, self-doubt can seem more like a fact than a feeling -- and it makes it hard to love what you do for a living.

Hard as it may seem, you can overcome self-doubt -- even if you're not a so-called "expert". 

And if you're learning as you go, that actually gives you a big advantage as a creator. You can share your unique experiences and understanding with people whose shoes you've (recently) been in. 

In this article, we'll share five practical tips for overcoming self-doubt. But first, let's talk about why being an expert isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Why not being an "expert" can be your greatest advantage

Expertise is overrated. 

For one thing, it's subjective. What exactly differentiates an expert in your field from whatever the level below "expert" is? Who decides that you are or aren't an expert? Chances are, the call is coming from inside the house -- a.k.a. your inner critic.

And even if you don't meet the (almost always arbitrary) criteria to be considered an expert, that can be a significant advantage when connecting with your customers and creating engaging course content.

Here are three reasons why non-experts make excellent educators. 

Reason 1: You don't suffer from the expert blind spot

Experts -- people with years and years of experience doing something at an advanced level -- tend to suffer from the "expert blind spot".

Research on the expert blind spot shows that "advanced knowledge in a content area can lead to notions about learning that are in conflict with students’ actual developmental processes".

In other words, experts can sometimes be too far removed from the way that beginners learn, making it hard for them to connect with and effectively teach others.

When you're still on your own journey of learning and improving, you know what it's like to be your students or customers -- because it wasn't too long ago that you were in their shoes.

Reason 2: Your experiences and understanding are unique to you

In the words of Dr. Seuss, "there is no one alive who is you-er than you". Your experience gives you a unique perspective, which in turn shapes how you teach others.

Take Minessa Konecky, business coach and founder of Direct to Success, for example. Minessa teaches entrepreneurs how to build a "hustle-free" business -- something in which she has first-hand experience. 

During her early days as an entrepreneur, Minessa learned a hard lesson-- that hustling wasn’t worth sacrificing her health. Now, she uses that experience to help other entrepreneurs lead a hustle-free life.

“I put together a system that helps migrate people from this hustle culture perspective -- where you have to work 24/7 -- to designing a life where you let technology and social media do a lot of the time-consuming work for you, so you can take time off.”

By embracing and learning from her own experiences, Minessa was able to connect with and help others -- and build a thriving business. 

Reason 3: Not everyone wants to be an expert

If you're brand new to making pasta from scratch, which of these courses would you rather take: "Homemade Pasta for Beginners" or "Super-Advanced Expert Pasta Making from Scratch"?

OK, that's an extreme example, but my point is this: When people learn something new, they need to start from the basics rather than jumping into the deep end.

They don't need an expert because they don't necessarily want to become experts themselves. Sometimes, being really good at the basics is more than enough. 

And just like learning as you go helps you relate to your students, the opposite is true, too. Not knowing it all makes you come across as more authentic.

People crave that authenticity -- 86% of consumers say that authenticity is a key factor when deciding what brands they like and support.

At the end of the day, you don't need to be an expert in your field. You just need enough know-how and understanding of your customers' situation to teach them something new. 

Now, that's all well and good, but it doesn't banish self-doubt from rearing its ugly head throughout the creative and entrepreneurial journey. That's why we've got five tips for beating it back. 

5 ways to overcome self-doubt as a creator

1. Embrace a growth mindset

We all have negative thoughts sometimes, and, for me, the advice to "embrace positivity" or "think happy thoughts" can feel frustratingly dismissive. But it's also true that our thought patterns play a significant role in our self-confidence.  

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck offers a more nuanced approach to changing the way we think. Dr. Dweck says that it's not intelligence or talent that sets successful people apart -- it's a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset

A growth mindset helps you embrace, overcome, and learn from challenges by focusing on continuous learning rather than prioritizing looking smart.

When you see knowledge as something to develop continuously, you'll feel more motivated to learn -- and less critical of your own mistakes. 

Here are the five success habits Dr. Dweck recommends for building your growth mindset:  

  • Persist when there are obstacles.
  • View effort and hard work as the only way to master something, rather than focusing on perfectionism.
  • Learn from criticism.
  • Find lessons in other people’s success.

Minessa Konecky is a pro at viewing things with a growth mindset. “I think that what we really need to do is look upon past failures and mistakes as wells of information that we can then use to feed whatever it is that we're doing now,” Minessa advises. “It's never a waste.”

Minessa embraces one of the central tenets of a growth mindset -- figuring out how to learn from your failures -- which is an essential part of overcoming self-doubt, and our next strategy.

2. Learn from and talk about your failures

"Failure" doesn't have to be a dirty word.

The more we talk about our mistakes and mess-ups, the less taboo they are, the less shame they carry, and the more we can encourage others to be more open about their learning experiences.

Failure is part of the entrepreneurial journey. In the Startup Curve, coined by Y Combinator founder Paul Graham, failure is a standard phase called the "trough of sorrow".

And while the "trough of sorrow" sounds discouraging and bleak, it's actually what happens right before your business starts heading upward toward scaling and growth. 

If you frame failure as part of the "experimenting and pivoting" stage, it becomes less of a roadblock and more of a precursor to bigger and better things.

Embracing those difficult periods is a vital part of succeeding in business, says Ryan Kulp, founder of Micro Acquisitions. "To run a successful business, you have to first get comfortable running an unsuccessful business, because most of the time, success comes later."  

One way to learn from your failures is to understand why things went wrong. Rehashing every detail and beating yourself up isn't helpful, but learning and growing based on specific errors can be.

If you're dealing with a failed product launch, for example, you might be experiencing the number one reason startups fail -- a lack of market need. 

That's what happened to John D Saunders when he launched his first course. As a newbie entrepreneur and course creator, he assumed what his customers wanted. “It was a feeling in my gut that I felt the world needed this, and that was the first mistake,” John told us.

“What I should have done, and what I do now, is properly pre-sell the idea to an audience and have them invested before even developing the course.” Now, John talks to his audience to validate his product ideas and get feedback before creating a new product.

Your customers can be a great source of feedback and ideas, and so can a community of like-minded entrepreneurs, which is exactly what our next tip is about.

3. Find (or build) a community

Solopreneurship can be a lonely endeavor. Many creators are solopreneurs/remote workers, and loneliness and remote working often go hand-in-hand -- especially during COVID-19, which has all of us more isolated than usual.

If remote work has you feeling lonely, you're not alone. A study on remote work from Buffer shows that the top two struggles of working from home are collaboration and communication, and loneliness.

When you work solo, it sometimes feels like voicing your worries is akin to yelling into the void. But chances are there are other people out there on similar journeys, facing similar obstacles and doubts.

Studies have shown that simply feeling supported socially can make a measurable difference for mental health, regardless of how much socializing you're actually doing.

Social support comes in many different types:

  • Emotional support: Empathy, caring, love, trust, concern, and listening.
  • Instrumental support: Help in the form of time, labor, and money.
  • Appraisal support: Affirmation, evaluation, and feedback.
  • Informational support: Advice, guidance, and suggestions.

For creators, it's vital to seek out appraisal support and informational support from your peers. Membership communities and mastermind groups are great places to find it. 

A mastermind group is a collective of like-minded people who offer each other advice and support, have a common goal, and help solve problems as a group.

Brit Kolo, founder of Marketing Personalities, told us that joining a mastermind group is the best investment she’s made in her business so far:

“Business growth is just the beginning of the incredible effects ... I've also grown as a human being, a leader, and a CEO. The other business owners in my mastermind group have become lifelong friends, and I do not say that lightly.”

There are mastermind groups for almost every type of entrepreneur in every niche, but you can also create a membership site of your own, like Justin Jackson did with his MegaMaker community.

MegaMaker is a community for developers and designers who "want more than a regular 9-5". It connects people with similar goals, so they can form partnerships, share advice, and support each other.

If you want to start a membership community, Podia makes it easy to create your own website and sell memberships online. Sign up for a 14-day free trial to get started

External support can be a powerful tool for overcoming self-doubt, but support needs to come from within, too. 

4. Practice self-compassion

When you're dealing with feelings of self-doubt, it's easy to slip into negative self-talk. And a lot of times, it's easier to beat yourself up for being human than it is to extend yourself some compassion.

But being kind to yourself does more than boost your self-esteem -- it can make you a happier, more productive person. So it's time to start practicing some self-compassion.

Psychologist Kristin Neff identified three main components of self-compassion: 

1. Self-kindness: We're our own harshest critics. Self-kindness means being understanding toward yourself when you mess up. Being imperfect, failing, and struggling are inevitable parts of life -- don’t make it harder by getting angry with yourself. 

2. Common humanity: Self-doubt is part of the human experience. When you realize that everyone feels this way sometimes, it can help you feel less alone.

3. Mindfulness: Instead of bottling fear and self-doubt up so that you never have to think about it, practice being aware of your thoughts and feelings. Journaling is a great way to work through negative thoughts so that you can move on and stop overthinking.

Plus, mindfulness can make you more creative and productive at work.

All in all, when you practice self-compassion, you’re more likely to enjoy your work, avoid burnout, and master our final tip.

5. Stop self-sabotaging

Too often, we're our own worst enemies. Instead of taking care of ourselves, we set ourselves up for failure by creating unsustainable situations that don't let us reach our full potential.

Setting yourself up for success requires self-awareness and self-discipline, which is likely why the latter is one of the top characteristics for running a successful business.  

As business coach Becky Mollenkamp told us, "Even if you don’t realize it, you likely have a whole host of limiting beliefs that are causing you to self-sabotage and stay in your comfort zone. Invest in yourself (and your self-belief), and everything will change."

Procrastination is my personal daily act of self-sabotage -- and then I feel bad about my work ethic, which makes me less confident in the work I do produce. It's a vicious cycle.

Minessa calls these acts of self-sabotage "business prisons": 

“I started to explore this idea that we were actually building our own business prisons, where we basically set up a structure in our lives, where the only possible outcome was failure and exhaustion because we’re not taking care of ourselves."

Another way we self-sabotage? By not taking care of our physical health. Self-care for business owners means taking care of your body and mind. But 38.7% of side-hustlers report giving up sleep to work on their businesses.

Physical health looks different for different people, and you should always check in with your doctor before making changes to your health habits.

The bottom line is this: Prioritize your mental and physical health to stop self-sabotaging and start conquering self-doubt.

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Conquer self-doubt, no expertise required

Every creator deals with self-doubt. You wonder whether or not your work is good enough, feel like a fraud, and compare your own abilities to the experts in your field.

But you don't have to be an expert to create valuable content that has a real impact on your customers' lives -- and not being an expert can even be one of your greatest advantages.

When self-doubt comes knocking, here are five tips to send it packing:

  • Embrace a growth mindset rather than a fixed one. Focus on learning and evolving over time rather than achieving perfection.
  • Learn from and share your failures. Failure is part of nearly every entrepreneurial journey, and it often leads to growth.
  • Find a community of like-minded creators, or build one of your own. A support system is key to continued growth as an entrepreneur.
  • Be kind to yourself. Self-love is a much more powerful motivator than self-hate -- and a healthier one, too.
  • Stop self-sabotaging. Create habits that set yourself up for success, not failure. 

You can't change your life and your mindset overnight, but by taking small steps, you can start overcoming self-doubt and start seeing your work as it is -- valuable and worth sharing.

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