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That Dumb Thing Even Smart Women Do–Part One
Teri Brown - Young Adult Author

That Dumb Thing Even Smart Women Do–Part One

 Yes, I am including myself in the title of smart women. After forty-cough-something years on the planet, I think it’s time that I owned up to the fact that I’m smart. I belong to a generation of women who had (during one woefully misinformed fashion era) shoulder pads and big hair and were told we could do or be anything we want, except don’t tell people that you’re smart or ambitious, or whatever, because that wasn’t nice.

But I can say it now with only a little bit of uneasiness as if waiting for my mom or grandma to shush me at any minute.

I'm smart… except for one thing. (Well, more than one, but body issues are a whole different blog.)  But if I’m so smart how come I’m so dumb? And why are so many successful smart women just as dumb as I am?

That one thing? Self-doubt

Is doubt just a part of success? Do men doubt themselves? I don’t know how many times I’ve been having a heart to heart with smart, successful women and have them confess the same thing: I feel like a fraud.

Even if we’ve earned success the hard way, even if we’ve juggled children, managed households, started businesses and companies, ran meetings, became social entrepreneurs, got our degrees or had books published, we still feel like frauds, fakes, charlatans. That niggling of doubt in our stomachs causes us to work harder, promote harder and take on more tasks, because if we didn’t really earn our success, it could all disappear and then where would we be?

My reaction after snagging one of the best agents in the business?

“She must really like my ideas and figures she can just work with the rest of it.”

My reaction after getting an incredible contract from Balzer+Bray for my book, Born of Illusion?

“OMG, what if they find out I’m just a flake and not that talented?”

My reaction after getting a contract for the Summerset Abbey series from one of the smartest, most powerful editors in the business?

“She’s going to be so mad when she discovers I’m a fraud and I can’t really write!”

Sound familiar? This sort of negative chatter doesn’t just affect women writers, but women everywhere. The most successful business women I know often mask their feelings that they don’t deserve and didn’t earn their success.


As I was wondering about this, it finally dawned on me—if I didn’t really earn my successes, or my accomplishments, if I weren’t talented, then the following would have to be true:

The highly trained professionals who read my work, paid for my books and gambled their company’s money and precious time, did so to be NICE. To make me feel good about myself.

Uh huh, and I’ve got a piece of swampland to sell you…

They did those things because they don't think they're gambling--they recognize and value my talent. So why don't I?

This kind of thinking is why criticism is so much more valid in our mind than praise. We want the praise, need the praise and then don’t really believe it when we get it. But any kind of implied criticism… that stuff is GOSPEL.

And another damn thing, how come it’s like taboo to admit to self-doubt? Don’t let anyone know that you are any less than confident, or that your life is any less than wonderful or… or what? Will it start a feeding frenzy? Do people think less of you because you are sometimes beset with doubt? Is this why women hide it and only confess after a couple glass of wine?

But that’s for part two… so what about you? Is this a female thing or do men struggle with this too? Why do we do it? Is it culture? Part of our DNA?

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Why are so many smart, successful women just as dumb as I am?(Click to Tweet)

Why do the most successful women feel as if they don’t deserve their success? (Click to tweet)

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4 Responses to That Dumb Thing Even Smart Women Do–Part One

  1. Evangeline says:

    I think self-doubt assails everyone, particularly when your success is determined (or seems to be determined) by your personal efforts. As an author, so many things are out of our control that it’s easy to focus on the things we can control–and beat ourselves up over it because we bear the burden and pressure. We can’t exactly blow up at our agents, or editors, or cover artists, or even our readers, when we are disappointed. *g* So the next best punching bag is ourselves.

    Discussing the self-doubt isn’t taboo per se, but I sometimes feel that–to bring it back to the paragraph above–it ruins the illusion that writing books and being published is full of Mary Sunshine, Hearts, and Daisies. People also fear seeming weak. I found an old blog from about ten years ago and laughed and cringed over the daily emotional flailings over my life’s vicissitudes, and felt a bit ashamed that I did not come across as professional, collected, in control, and perfect!

    Also, when you fall in love with a book you don’t see the blood, sweat, toil, and tears the author put into crafting every word, and when you’re reading about their self-doubt and struggles while writing that book, it’s kind of akin to Toto pulling the curtain away from the Wizard! The knee-jerk reaction against this may also be attributed to a little professional jealousy: “you’re published, you’re a NYT best-seller, you’re a millionaire, your book was turned into a movie, etc…don’t you know how many people would kill to be in your shoes? Stop whining and sniveling!”.

    But all I know is that when I’m frustrated or filled with doubt over my writing, I like know that I can visit an author website/blog and find a post that speaks to my exact situation.

    • TeriBrown says:

      Thanks for the comment, Evangeline. I think self-doubt is something most people can relate to, especially creatives who are exposing parts of themselves to the public for criticism. As humans, I think it’s fairly normal to want to be liked… it may even be a biological need. After all, people within the tribe are far more protected them those on the outside. Creatives also tend to be a bit different while growing up so maybe our self doubt comes from our experiences while growing up.

      But it does make me laugh at how pervasive it is.