Dealing With Doubt: Am I Good Enough?

Am I good enough? For the job? For graduate school? For a leadership role?

For some planners, the answer is, “Of course I am.” They believe they can achieve any goal. For the rest of us, the “good enough” question comes up perhaps more than we would like. My blunt response is this: maybe not. You could fail despite good intentions and effort, but there’s only one way to find out. You have to try your best.

Narcissism is characterized by a grandiose view of one’s own talent. If one never considers weaknesses, one ignores the natural distribution of talent. Most people aren’t good at everything. Being overconfident leads to errors and failures. A planner may be good at brainstorming but lousy at follow-through. We tend to think of those who never experience doubt as narcissists. 

There is another kind of narcissism — that of excess doubt. Narcissism and doubt may seem like an oxymoron, but one who doubts too much adopts a narrative of specialness associated with perceived deficiencies. This is boastfulness of woe. Narcissist doubters place themselves at the heart of the matter, acting as the judge of their competency. 

It’s normal for young planners to feel doubt, but they shouldn’t spend too much time asking, “Am I good enough?” Instead, focus on realistically assessing weaknesses and doing something about them. “Am I good enough?” can distract from staying on task and encourage procrastination.

You shouldn’t decide the worth of your work on your own.

Consult mentors, bosses, professors, and colleagues about their perceptions. You don’t possess complete knowledge — a weakness may not be that serious, or it may not matter for a given task, or it may be solved with collaboration. If your writing is poor, develop a game plan for improvement, identify ways of tracking errors, and get editing help. You may also be blind to your strengths. Some planners take their basic competency for granted — being able to understand a problem, marshal resources, think clearly, write effectively, be reliable, or work in a team.

Ironically "C" students sometimes achieve the most success. They can’t do it themselves and so collaborate in school and in practice. "A" students may be able to do everything alone but can fail in practice if they don’t collaborate. If you have the vision and will, but lack certain skills, find a team that covers all the bases.

Planners have a responsibility to develop their gifts to serve the public interest. If you never doubt, seek humility and compassion so that you don’t live alone in an “army of one.” If you are doubter like me, manage its role in your thinking. Consider it, but outsmart it as appropriate.

As I write this, carbon dioxide concentrations have exceeded 400 ppm and social and political polarization is high. Planning’s role in solving problems is more needed than ever. We shouldn’t let ourselves be sidelined by doubt. The world needs us too much.

Learn more about this blog series, "A Guide for the Idealist."

Top image: Thinkstock photo.


About the Author

Richard Willson, FAICP

Richard Willson is a professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Cal Poly Pomona. He has also served as department chair, interim dean, and academic strategic planner. Willson's research addresses parking policy, climate change, and transit-oriented development. He is the author of Parking Reform Made Easy, Island Press (2013) and Parking Management for Smart Growth (2015).  Willson is a mentor to young planners. His forthcoming book, A Guide to the Idealist, provides a path to effective practice and personal development. He consults with regional and local transportation agencies such as the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, cities, and developers of urban infill projects. Willson holds a PhD in urban planning from the University of California, Los Angeles, a Master of Planning from the University of Southern California, and a Bachelor's of Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo.

November 7, 2016

By Richard Willson, FAICP