The Little Voice Inside My Head

Right now my head is a bit stuffed up thanks to a cold, but the little voice inside my head usually takes no prisoners. This past weekend, however, it was not expecting such a direct confrontation.

“Why don’t you think you’re an ‘A-level’ speaker?” asked a respected colleague of mine.

The little voice inside my head was very quick on its feet and replied, “I actually don’t do a lot of teaching and preaching so I don’t get as much practice as an A-level speaker would have. I tend to ramble a bit. And, I let life hijack me and my emotions too much to bring my A-game every time.”

I’m fairly comfortable in front of a crowd, can make eye contact, etc. Larry Studt, my high school speech team coach, taught me well. I’m a good public speaker, not great. Good.¬†At the same time, I’ve never considered putting my name in the hat to be the Bible expositor at our summer training weeks, nor have I considered myself to be of that caliber. Self-promotion is not my MO. I was raised to believe that if you are that good, someone surely will notice and advocate on your behalf. There is no need to toot your own horn if you’re that good, right?

Um. Sort of. Sometimes? Maybe? Not always?

I’ve often wondered if there is unique flavor to female self-doubt, or perhaps a unique spin to a woman’s self-confidence. I know so many strong, successful women who are often surprised when asked to consider putting their names in the hat for a promotion, a speaking gig, a leadership role. Add to that any cultural layers that explicitly or implicitly limit a women’s role and there you have a interesting combination – confident self-doubters.

My colleague later asked me what I could only presume was a rhetorical question: “Why aren’t you out there more speaking?”

There are a lot of good reasons. I’ve spent the past 14+ years having and raising three amazing children. Speaking gigs don’t always fit in between childbirth, nursing, weaning, teething, potty training, preschool, kindergarten and suddenly high school registration.

And perhaps there were a few opportunities to put myself out there and to get a little more training and experience when I let the little voice have too much space. Perhaps.

I’ve found ways to quiet and calm the little voice – mentors and trusted colleagues and friends who will give honest feedback, trying new topics and speaking in front of new audiences, and listening to my own voice.

What does the little voice inside your head stop you from doing or trying or experiencing? How, if at all, does gender or ethnicity, play into your experience of self-doubt? How have you silenced that voice of self-doubt or have you found it helpful?

This past weekend was good for my soul on so many levels, and I’m still thinking about the questions my colleague threw at me. And I’m rethinking, reconsidering how I might answer them the next time those questions come my way.

7 Comments

  1. SueAtGraceCorner February 12, 2010

    When my self-limiting little voice emerges, there are some questions I ask myself before I pay too much attention to it:

    Is this voice drawing on my best wisdom?

    How old is this voice? (Sometimes I realize it’s a very young — and often frightened — part of me.)

    Can I imagine Jesus saying the same words to me?

    I need questions like this to help me discern when I’m limiting myself in an unhealthy way and when I’m recognizing true limitations that should be respected.

    Interestingly, I’m on the other end of your dilemma with public speaking. I’ve accepted some invitations to speak in the past couple of years despite some inner misgivings, only to realize that God really was telling me, “That’s not your ministry.” I had assumed that if I was capable of doing it, I must. (And that sounds suspiciously like my mom’s voice in my head.)

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  2. Jessica February 12, 2010

    great blog Kathy! I have that little voice too- but usually it comes up AFTER I’ve put my name in the hat for something. As in “why the heck did you do that??!! These people are going to think you’re full of yourself- are you so deceived/arrogant/crazy to think that you could actually do _____ (whatever it is I may have asked to do). I do think the layers of gender and ethnicity add to this complicated little voice we all have. I think you’re A-list!

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  3. Scot McKnight February 12, 2010

    There’s a particular kind of female self-doubt, and it’s called the Impostor syndrome.

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  4. Esther February 12, 2010

    “confident self-doubter” – definitely me. I am a strong woman with strong opinions and I can push through the hard things of life with a lot of confidence. But inside my head there are many feelings of insecurity and incompleteness.

    Gender definitely plays a role in my self doubt. About three years ago I believe God called me to be a pastor but since I grew up in an environment that does not believe that is even biblical I have struggled with even being able to say that out loud.

    The voice of self-doubt is bad for me in that it causes me to believe lies about myself but it can also be good in that it allows me to remain humbly at Christs feet.

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  5. elderj February 13, 2010

    That voice of self-doubt that seems to sound much louder for women than men might also be in some small way a gift of God. Aside from the unhealthy and ungodly ways in which this voice rises up to silence a needed perspective it also points to a perhaps much more attuned sense of self and other that it seems women, more than men I think, seem to have. For while men in our confident brashness go about to conquer worlds, dam rivers, and navigate oceans we often fail to consider (or have been trained to ignore) that our pushing forward might be at the expense of someone else’s development or advancement.

    I wish at times I did not feel the pressure both internally and externally to press forward my ideas and promote my agenda, because failure to do so would be considered, well girly (as if that were a bad thing). I wish the self and other awareness that seems (to me) to come so much more easily if not naturally to my sisters would come as easily to me so that there would be fewer fires to extinguish and bridges to rebuild. A bit of healthy self-doubt would be a net positive, or at least the willingness to admit such doubt would likely aid in the sanctification of our masculine identity and move us closer to imaging Christ.

    But then again… maybe I’m wrong…

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  6. Kathy Khang February 17, 2010

    @SueAtGraceCorner: “How old is this voice?” – what a wonderful question. It’s interesting to read how you would characterize the very young and frightened voice. I suppose the older voice is the one I have the long-standing fight against.

    @elderj: yes, I would agree with you that the voice inside my head can be a gift that keeps me appropriately in check. Conversely I would say there is something just as God-given in the confident brashness you and other men either blindly embrace or carefully balance against the needs of others and consequences.

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