November 1, 2011

Robin Cangie: Doubting for Dreamers

Robin is a writer and thinker who loves to wonder about things. She helps companies create marketing that empowers, rather than interrupts, their customers, and writes about education, technology and the new economy on her personal blog, robinoula.com. You can find her on Twitter at @robinoula.

What happens when our dreams don’t go according to plan? What happens when, after taking that giant leap of faith, that first great act of daring, we hit a roadblock and falter? What happens when we begin to doubt our dreams?

10 weeks ago, I disrupted myself. Dramatically. I'd been dreaming for a year about moving to San Francisco, and when I got the chance this summer, I leapt. I flew down alone. I spent six weeks living in a teepee that I found on Airbnb. My husband joined me at the end of September, and I thought from there it would get easier.

It has gotten harder. Dreams always lose some of their luster as they begin to actualize, and the spectre of doubt has been creeping back into my consciousness. Not regret, simply doubt. Did I make the right decision? Will I ever learn to love California? Can we even afford to live here? Can I make this work? And so this post is deeply personal, because I'm not reflecting on lessons that have already been learned. I'm smack in the midst of a blooming, buzzing, confusing dream. When it comes to doubt, I'm right there with you.

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Source:  istockphoto

Our culture is filled with parables of boundless optimism, of the impossible dreamer who never loses faith. Doubt is viewed as a negative emotion, a failure even. Doubt, we learn from a very young age, is a threat to progress, something to be feared, defied, ignored and swept aside in relentless pursuit of our dreams.

But when we treat doubt as a threat, when we shut it down the moment it appears, we are missing out on a tremendous opportunity to learn. I realize how counterintuitive this sounds, but opening ourselves to doubt can actually help us on our dreaming journey if we let it. The idea feels uncomfortable only because we are misunderstanding the nature of doubt itself.

Theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich said that “doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” We cannot fully know our dreams if we are alienated from the doubts that swirl within them, for each shapes the contours of the other. Just as light cannot be itself without shadow, our dreams arise from the interplay of faith and doubt, not the absence of one or the other.

Let’s be clear that embracing doubt isn’t the same thing as succumbing to it. When we embrace doubt honestly and with our whole selves, we merely allow it to be what it is, so that we may learn, understand and ultimately give ourselves permission to release its hold over us. This is a far more powerful way to treat doubt than suppressing it, which only causes it to linger like dust upon our consciousness.

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Source:  istockphoto

Every moment of doubt holds a lesson, a chance to gain a little more clarity, a little more insight into the forces that inspire us and the fears that hold us back. Doubt reminds us that we are finite, that we are human and that by our very nature, we do not have all the answers. Nor should we, because the human spirit withers in the face of absolute certainty and soars in the face of uncertain aspiration.

We need the creative tension between faith and doubt. We must dwell there, in this wild, tender place between knowing and not knowing. For this is how we dream, how we imagine a better world and take that first breathless leap toward creating it.

I love this line, "The human spirit withers in the face of absolute certainty and soars in the face of uncertain aspiration."

"Are you alienated from the doubts that swirl within your dreams?"

"Are you dwelling in the wild, tender place between knowing and not knowing?"

  • http://www.mindfulltutors.com Janna

    Wow. While I hate to pick favorites, this post is (so far) my favorite post ever written on Dare to Dream. So much time guidance for me.
    I regularly struggle with doubt in the course of running my business. Rather than embrace this feeling in a healthy way, I shove it down. What inevitably happens, however, is that because I’m not dealing with it, I start to freak out as the doubt simmers and festers below the surface. Reminding myself that “Every moment of doubt holds a lesson, a chance to gain a little more clarity, a little more insight into the forces that inspire us and the fears that hold us back” will help me move forward.
    Like Whitney, my favorite line was, “The human spirit withers in the face of absolute certainty and soars in the face of uncertain aspiration.” I don’t know why this statement is true, but it IS. I’m going to think about this idea for the next few days and post again!
    I am going to print off this post and put in on my fridge…

  • Teresa Whitehead

    “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” What a great quote! Whatever I do, I would LIKE to do it deliberately, and that probably isn’t possible without recognizing and considering doubts. I’d never put it in those terms before–thanks for crystallizing my thoughts.

  • http://mariacarr.com Maria

    What a great post! I have re read this paragraph several times.
    “But when we treat doubt as a threat, when we shut it down the moment it appears, we are missing out on a tremendous opportunity to learn. I realize how counterintuitive this sounds, but opening ourselves to doubt can actually help us on our dreaming journey if we let it. The idea feels uncomfortable only because we are misunderstanding the nature of doubt itself.”
    I need to ponder this. Thank you.

  • http://basic-joy.com Anne Waddoups

    Loved this post! Many times I interpret doubts or fears as indicators that I’m on the wrong path rather than as lessons about my own tendency to hold myself back. This made me think about that “wild and tender place between knowing and not knowing” and appreciate it for the fertile soil it is for my ideas. Thank you.

  • http://www.jeniscrazy.blogspot.com Jennifer Knight

    What a genius post! I’m currently living in the wild, tender place between knowing and not knowing in quite a few areas of my life… the doubt creeps in and I wonder what I’m doing wrong… now I know to embrace it and look for the lessons. Thank you!!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/dscofield Dscofield

    Paul Tillich was a very wise man in many ways – this quote is just one of them. Doubt is the way we grow, we learn, we explore, we discover – it is a powerful motivator to press on – something I try to teach my kids – if you doubt, go learn more, think it through, realize perhaps you don’t have all the answers (and can’t) – so leverage doubt and, as my father has told me over and over as well, don’t just doubt what’s before you, also doubt your doubts….

  • http://www.daretodream.typepad.com Whitney

    I am so LOVING your comments — thanks Robin for inspiring so much thought.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/robinoula Robinoula

    Everyone, thank you so much for all of your thoughtful comments. I’m honored and inspired that you have brought so many of your own wonderful insights to this post. Again, thank you.

  • Megan

    What a beautiful post! Thank you for inspiring me.

  • http://funderfulworld.wordpress.com/ Anita

    Great post, I loved the way you’ve articulated your thoughts.
    My favorite: Embracing doubt isn’t the same as succumbing to it.

  • http://fit4thabo.blogspot.com/ Thabo Hermanus

    You had me at “embracing doubt isn’t the same thing as succumbing to it”! Love the share and here’s to new beginnings. Good luck with your journey Robin

  • Elizabeth Keeler

    “We must dwell there, in this wild, tender place between knowing and not knowing.” I thought this was poignant. Your post provoked thought. There’s an element of suffering when doubt is in the picture, but maybe…maybe that struggle is also what makes us happiest. I guess I wouldn’t want to be perpetually certain. Maybe doubt and happiness can co-exist. Interesting ideas…thanks so much for this.

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