D. None of the Above: Managing the uneasy marriage between determination and...

D. None of the Above: Managing the uneasy marriage between determination and doubt

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Daniel Dunaief

By Daniel Dunaief

We generally don’t have to look too far to find difficult marriages. But what about the unions that reside inside us?

Determination and doubt travel together when we’re making a decision, when we’re confronting the naysayers and when we’re preparing for the next steps in our lives.

Sure, I could take the harder assignment, prove something to myself or my boss, venture into the unknown in my area of expertise, or I could stick with what I know, take jobs that will be manageable and remain in my comfort zone.

Determination is often considered the more admirable member of this marriage. Such fortitude pushes us to set new expectations and to venture into arenas where the risks we take could cause physical or emotional bruises.

We see determination when we look at the faces of people running up a hill, returning home late from work, or practicing their musical instruments until they develop rings on their lips or red welts on their necks.

When we’re seeking inspiration, we read about or consider the determination of others, who overcome financial, emotional or logistical limitations and exceed everyone’s expectations but their own. Determination is akin to an off-road vehicle that we maneuver into untrodden or difficult terrain, hoping our suspension and alignment can handle the sudden and unexpected contours of a landscape better suited for pictures or studies of nature than for travel.

While it has a bad reputation, doubt, like the blue girl Sadness from the movie “Inside Out,” also has its place. Doubt can, of course, make the determined part of ourselves even more steadfast, as we seek to prove to ourselves and everyone else that we can and will accomplish anything.

Doubt is the rain that can make the sunshine that much sweeter.

Doubt also can spring from reason and understanding, as in, “I doubt climbing to the top of that tree, when I haven’t maneuvered to the top of a tree in years, is a good idea.” Yes, doubt can and does save us, not just from embarrassment but from injuries, discomfort or dead ends.

Reflexively ignoring doubt as an unwelcome voice whispering in our ear carries risks that may be unnecessary, such as ignoring a “Beware of the Dog” sign before jogging through a stranger’s yard.

So, how do we deal with this married couple? Do we let determination rule the day most of the time, while we periodically give doubt the chance to share concerns about obstacles and consequences?

The answer depends on the circumstance. What is the downside to acknowledging, understanding and appreciating the origin and potential benefit of a doubt?

This doubt shouldn’t need to hide behind the punch bowl, sit in the dark with the coats in a back bedroom, or wait in the car while determination gets to run wild, pushing our limits.

We should consider doubt — whether we or someone else expresses it — in the open, allowing ourselves to ponder and plan for the difficulties ahead, giving ourselves a chance to make informed decisions and to see a few steps into the maze of our future.

Our doubt may help us find a better course of action, redirecting and refocusing a determination that enables us to persevere over the course of a future filled with potential but riddled with uncertainty.

If our determination makes a better case than our doubt, at least we’ve benefited from the marriage that lives in us. Indeed, at its finest, determination should not only understand and appreciate doubt, but this tenacity should also use concerns and objections as motivation, giving determination the opportunity to win over the concerns doubt expresses.

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