Although I didn’t realize until recently, duality has been an important concept emphasized throughout the fellowship. It took until an in-class discussion on Ursula La Guin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness” for me to begin to understand the full scope of it. It’s an idea that has shown up everywhere. In social enterprise there is the duality between being a dreamer and being a doer, between the emotional and the logical. Neither side can succeed on its own, but both parts together can produce something incredible.
The most vital duality for me was in recognizing the relationship between confidence and doubt. Though I have ultimately gotten to a point where I can balance the two in a healthier way, the beginning of the fellowship was dominated mostly by doubt. The self-doubt began before I was even a fellow. Going beyond simply doubting if it was the right opportunity or if I would even get in, I had a recurring feeling of doubt concerning my abilities. Everyone I interviewed seemed to have some tie to business and every placement option seemed to require some sort of business skill. From my initial interactions with the fellowship, I drilled into my brain that I wasn’t supposed to be there, and sooner or later, everyone else was going to figure it out. Despite Keith consistently telling me it wasn’t a problem, both during the interview as well as multiple times throughout the class, the seeds of doubt had rooted and weren’t ready to let go. Looking back I am able to see that most of this derived from a combination of selective hearing and confirmation bias.
I remember distinctly multiple moments throughout the fellowship where I had an overwhelming sense of “I have absolutely no clue what I am doing.” A major source of doubt came from the type of project Jasmyn and I engaged in. Our main deliverable was creating a mental health curriculum. This fit well under Jasmyn’s skill set, but the only concrete knowledge I had came from taking Intro to Psychology freshman year. I felt severely outmatched on the project. As much as I wanted to contribute I had nowhere to begin. There were multiple meetings we had with our advisor where I didn’t say a word because I was just struggling to understand what they were talking about, let alone contribute to the conversation. I felt better able to contribute to the project once we began to create our interview guide for interviewing the beneficiaries, and from that, I got a first hit of confidence. This part of the project helped motivate me to try to play a more active role, even if I was uncomfortable.
The next major step in our project was receiving our transcripts back from the interviews. Reading the first interview transcript was one of the most pivotal moments in the fellowship for me. Up until that point, we had interacted with very few people from KadAfrica, and hadn’t really experienced the emotional, storytelling side of social enterprise that is so vital. I don’t think I will ever forget what I felt while getting the first glimpse into the lives of these women. They were open in sharing their trauma. They told stories of losing loved ones and being forced to leave their homes. They described their fear of getting sick or injured and not being able to pay for treatment, and their anxiety about their own future and the future of their children. It was absolutely heartbreaking just to read their words typed out on a page. As I write this out, it is not lost on me that this short reflection will never do justice to describing the experiences these women have gone through. I am just trying to demonstrate their resilience and how open they were to share their stories.
As I began to process this, I was hit with the realization that now it was our responsibility to use this information and produce a curriculum that could be beneficial. This point was probably the lowest point for my confidence during the fellowship. I simply could not comprehend how I would even begin to tackle this project. How could we possibly address this subject from so far away and with little cultural context? How could I, with no relevant skills, make any impact? I was so doubtful that I would be able to do anything in this situation that I wouldn’t even let myself begin to think about any possible solutions or where to start. Luckily this feeling subsided slightly as I began to talk with Jasmyn and Dr. Carroll about the transcripts and about how we would create the curriculum. Though my personal confidence was low, having people to turn to helped remove some of the doubt I had in our project.
It was around this time when I first began to reflect on the role that confidence and doubt had played in the fellowship, as well as in other aspects of my life. I initially saw a linear relationship between doubt and confidence. It felt like you begin with doubt and move towards the end goal of confidence. It seemed like a natural progression. I was very uncomfortable when I was constantly doubting myself and began to feel more at ease with confidence. In my mind I was working towards simply eliminating all self-doubt and being totally confident.
As the fellowship progressed, I became more mindful of my feelings of doubt and confidence. I began to notice what would bring about feelings of one or the other. I became more aware of how I reacted to both. Most importantly, I started to realize that it wasn’t as much of a progression as a relationship. Having doubt wasn’t the enemy and being fully confident wasn’t the end goal. There was a duality to confidence and doubt. Although they are opposed, they are most beneficial when taken in conjunction.
Finding a balance between the two is incredibly important. When either completely dominates the other, you run into problems. When I have allowed myself to be consumed with self-doubt, I’ve been crippled from even taking any steps towards resolving my issue. With only confidence, you become prone to rejecting help from other sources and are more likely to miss out on different perspectives. While alone each side can be detrimental, together they thrive. Being too far on one side or the other, is not a place I want to be.
Ultimately, finding a healthier balance has helped me grow. Before, doubt would lead me to shy away from opportunities. Now, I am better able to analyze where the doubt is coming from and use it to push myself out of my comfort zone. In addition, being mindful of when I feel confident has been vital in recognizing my strengths. This reflection has also helped me become a better team member. Although I’ve never been one to shy away from help, I will more readily seek it out now when I need it. In addition, I am much more assertive and better able to advocate for myself.
The past nine months in the fellowship have been a time of major growth and change in my life. I have grown in my understanding of the world and my place in it. I am more in tune with who I am, what brings me joy, and what my strengths are. I went from barely knowing what social entrepreneurship was, to being thrown into it and experiencing it firsthand. While this reflection on confidence and doubt was a small stop on a long journey, it was vital in beginning to process my experience in the fellowship.
“Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way.”
-Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness