1000 Days of Doubt

18 November 2009 · 13 comments

I think I’ve figured out one reason writing this book is so tough for me. It’s because I’m wracked by self-doubt.

This self-doubt isn’t new. I’ve been struggling with it for years, and it’s just become more acute since I started Get Rich Slowly. I never set out to be a personal finance expert. In fact, I’m sort of the opposite of an expert. I’m an average guy who’s made a lot of mistakes. Sure, I’ve turned things around and that’s what I blog about, but I struggle with the idea that people expect me to know more than I do (or have more training than I do).

And so every day at Get Rich Slowly, I brace myself for failure. A part of me thinks, “This is the day. Today everyone will realize that I don’t know what I’m talking about, that I’m just a regular joe.” I wake up every morning expecting to find tons of negative comments about whatever it is I’ve written. (Or whatever my guest writers have written.)

For over three years — for over a thousand days — I’ve wrestled with daily doubt.

Kris has tried to talk some sense into me. So has Lauren, my wellness coach. “You don’t claim to be anything but a regular guy,” they say. “Nobody expects you to be an expert.”

Lauren tries to trace my thought process. “Did the blog collapse today? Yesterday? At any time over the past three years? Why should today be any different? How can you look at a thousand days of success and still expect to fail?”

I don’t know, but every day I do. I think that today will be the day that I fail.

“And if you do fail today, so what?” she asks.

Anyhow, the thousand days of doubt at the blog is one beast. I understand it. I know that it rears its ugly head every night before I go to bed, and that I tackle it head on every morning when I check to be sure everything’s okay. It’s a daily cycle — one that I know by heart.

But the book…the book takes this doubt and fear of failure to whole new levels. At least with the blog, I get immediate feedback. If I say something stupid, people let me know. If I stumble on something that resonates with readers, I can see it right away. I’m able to make constant course corrections. Not so with the book.

As I write it, my audience for the manuscript is small: Kris, my editor, two tech reviewers, and occasional folk that I let read a chapter for whatever reason. This is a tiny tiny sample size. And they’re looking at work I did days or weeks (or months!) ago. I have no chance to make course corrections.

And so every day I sit down to write the book, I drown in doubt:

  • Does money really bring happiness? What if I have my facts wrong?
  • Should I really be defining S.M.A.R.T. goals, or does everybody know them?
  • Should I include a detailed budget, or is it okay to cover the general idea?
  • Am I giving too much detail about frugality? Not enough?
  • What the hell should I write about banking?

It’s true that I’m proud of a few chapters (happiness, which required a lot of research; debt, which summarizes my philosophy on the subject and contains lots of useful resources; income, which came out much better than I’d planned), but I also loathe a few, as well (frugality, which is so damn big!; banking, which started fine, but which seems incoherent to me now).

Every day, my stomach is tied in knots as I start to write. Will I do this subject justice? Have I included enough useful tips for the readers? There’s so much to cover — what if I leave out the wrong stuff?

In the end, I have to trust my editor. She’s been awesome so far, and she provides an excellent sounding board. She puts up with my neurotic angst (as does Kris, who is earning a million wife points through this whole process). And I have to admit to myself:

I’m doing the best I can considering the circumstances.

What more could I possibly do? If my best isn’t good enough, there’s nothing that can be done, right? So, if I’m doing my best, why worry? But I know that tomorrow I’ll wake again filled with doubt.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lauren 18 November 2009 at 19:56

Let’s just say that there isn’t a “so what?” to this worrying process. Of course there’s an important ‘what’: your feelings. Your self-esteem. Your professional image. But the real part that Kris (“Kris Gates is always right”) and I (“Lauren Muney is only slightly behind Kris Gates”) always say is that you have professionals helping you. You were chosen for your research abilities, your writing, your common sense. Your editors aren’t going to let you print boldface lies about the banking system without fact-checking, and all other book facts are straight from your successful-geek thinking abilities.

You can’t ‘fail’. The most you can do is submit to your editors and they will return for rewrite.

And yet, define SMART goals: it’s rare that people understand them, so make sure to explain, re-explain, and then refer back.

You ARE doing your best – in ANY circumstances. You have a great house, wonderful supportive wife, cute cats, successful career (which, btw, you were actually working elsewhere not long ago…), artsy city, health, and the car of your dreams.

You can’t take anything with you when the Big Game is over, so give it your best shot while you are here – which you are doing. Take a big breath and look around you. It’s useless to ask “Why worry?” – just start filling yourself with life-scenery that you are already making it, JD. Breathe in, and know that you are exactly perfect.

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2 Lauren 18 November 2009 at 19:57

oops: typo: I meant to say “YES: define SMART goals”.

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3 Beth 19 November 2009 at 06:04

You’re the best J.D. Roth I’ve ever come across and that’s really all you have to be. Those of us who’ve been reading your blog(s) for a while now, read because we like you, because you seem like us, because you’ve “made it big” in the blog world and holy shit! you now have a book coming out. We’re so excited for you. You’ve worked hard and as a result of your hard work, you’re living a life that many of us envy. But you seem so damn nice, that it’s not ugly envy. We’re HAPPY for you and excited for you and impressed by what you’ve accomplished.

We don’t care if you write a crappy book (though we know it won’t be). We will buy it and read it and show it to our friends and tell them that we were reading your stuff long before you were a famous book author. And we will feel proud. You make us want to do better. You cannot fail because we already like you. We know you’re no “expert,” but we don’t care. We know you’ll make mistakes. We can take it.

Write on . . .

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4 Mike Piper 19 November 2009 at 10:14

It is scary. There’s no doubt about it. People say what they want in Amazon reviews, and there’s nothing you can do to stop them.

What’s worked for me with my books is exactly what’s worked for you with your blog: Don’t overpromise. As long as you don’t position the book as something it isn’t, you’ll do fine.

As long as the book matches the title matches the promotion, things seem to work out–regardless of whether the book is lengthy, short, written by an expert, or written by a regular joe.

And, as Beth mentioned, for about 60,000 of us, we’re expecting the book to be “J.D.’s book about money.” And it can’t help but be anything but that. No worries there. :)

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5 Mike Piper 19 November 2009 at 10:18

Errr, second-to-last sentence should say “And it can’t help but be exactly that.”

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6 bethh 19 November 2009 at 16:41

(Hi J.D., Steve at brip blap linked to your very hilarious Disposable story. What a priceless look at a Younger You!)

I hope you are giving yourself a LOT of credit for bravery. It must be really hard to so consciously put yourself out there every day. I’m glad you’ve got such great support in your life propping you up and patting your back. The book process sounds brutal but I’m really looking forward to the result. Lucky us with the shortened wait period!

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7 Jessie 22 November 2009 at 17:24

What’s worse – the doubt if you go for it and write the book or the regret if you walk away? Doubt sucks, but regret is forever.

Breathe.

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8 Brett McKay 24 November 2009 at 14:44

I’m with you man. It’s nerve racking putting yourself out there with a blog and a book. I think the biggest thing that’s holding me back is I’m afraid to put myself out there more and grow my site because I feel the bigger I get, the bigger the target I become, and the bigger my failure will be if it does happen.

I’ve been in this rut for awhile now and I don’t know how to kick it.

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9 Beatrice 30 November 2009 at 06:50

Worrying can be a helpful process — I’m at a point in my career where I’ve come to accept that it’s part of my way of working through a project. It sounds to me like some of the things you are “worrying through” on your book will make it a better (well thought out) book.

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10 Nicole 30 November 2009 at 08:39

I still strongly recommend grabbing one of Robert Boice’s books on writing/productivity. It sounds like you’re doing great in terms of progress, and the questions you’re down to are ones that your editor can help you out with, but still run the risk of burning yourself out. A lot of writing is mental. Just do it. Start before you’re ready. Break things into smaller tasks. Take breaks. Finish before you’re ready. Set yourself up so your subconscious can do most of the frustrating work.

Also, still recommend On Writing by Stephen King.

Of course, I have TWO 30+ page articles I have to finish by the end of the week. Fortunately I’ve been taking them in bits and pieces.

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11 Karen 1 December 2009 at 07:51

You are the only professional blogger I read who doesn’t receive hatemail. If that doesn’t mean you’re doing something right, I don’t know what does. This is a truly pleasant and supportive blog community.

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12 Richard 7 December 2009 at 11:24

I thoroughly enjoy you blog. The book will be every bit as informative and entertaining as the blog is because it is you, not something that you are making up just to get something in print. It won’t meet your expectations, like when I bought my first car. I wondered for some time about if it was the best car, if I got the best deal, etc. I finally had to tell myself to stop continuing to shop for the car I’d already purchased.
Do that with your book (when it comes out) and then write a sequel to refine and add all of those things that you learned, found out, remembered and decided to add to the first book.
And we will buy and enjoy that one, too.

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13 Amanda 17 February 2010 at 13:20

This is a total tangent….but OH MY LORD. I, too, feel this way ALL THE TIME. And I’ve been a working engineer for three years now AND I have a master’s degree. It has been getting slightly better over time. I did think up till recently that I had lost a client for our company and was feeling stupid and like a fraud and all sorts of bad (and expected to get fired)…and finally I said something to my boss about it and he was like, dude, seriously???? No one else thought that I was the reason for the client leaving, no one thought I was a fraud, no one thought I was stupid. There have also been situations in which I kept quiet because I didn’t think I knew enough to speak up…and six months down the road it turns out I was actually right and should have listened to my gut and spoken up.

I think maybe it’s a nerd thing. We all think that we actually don’t know anything, when actually we know a lot and just don’t give ourselves credit for it.

I know these situations aren’t the same as yours, but the FEELING is the same, and I think to some degree we all feel it. Anyway. That’s just my two cents. I think you are doing fine, and you’re going to BE fine, and you know a hell of a lot more about personal finance than I do, and that’s enough for me to keep reading your blog and buy your book. Even if there’s some stuff I might already know, not everyone will, and it will be a good read either way!

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