The Doubting Twin – your internal career blocker

Waiting to be noticed, unsure of your skills, stepping back to give others space, letting people talk over you - all signs of an energetic Doubting Twin. Balance her with a Constructive Twin and you will be good to go.

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‘If I’m really good at what I do, then people will notice and give me the opportunities I deserve. If that doesn’t happen, it’s because I’m not good enough and I just have to accept that’.

Thus speaks the Doubting Twin

Of course, she is misguided. I say ‘she’ because most often it’s women who are plagued by an inner voice that drones on about not getting stuff right, not being good enough, needing to put other people first………

If this rings a bell, your Doubting Twin could well be getting in the way of your dream career or business. As a polite and modest person, the idea of saying how good you are will be like fingers down a chalkboard. ‘I couldn’t possibly do that.’ ‘I can’t risk being big headed.’ ‘I was told never to boast’. Yet this is just what you need to do. Reframe the concept of ‘big headed’ to ‘realistic about what you do well and what you have to offer’ and this is just what employers or new customers need to hear from you.

I’ve held in depth conversations with numerous women on this subject: employed, self employed and business owners; from senior level to entry level; young through to approaching retirement. 99% of them had one thing in common – they struggled to believe in themselves and to speak honestly about their achievements and talents. This didn’t stop them being successful. Most of them were achieving well, despite the tyranny of that inner voice. But I was left wondering how much further they could have gone, if the voice had been positive and constructive. And I’m sure there are numerous women out there who hold themselves back from success for fear of being criticised or getting it wrong.

I remember one young woman who was headhunted by a company that needed exactly her skills. Their main question – ‘what would it take for you to move?’ Despite being happy in her existing job, so nothing to lose, she immediately produced a litany of reasons why she shouldn’t ask for more money. ‘They won’t like me if I’m greedy, I’m not worth that much money, I’ll never be able to do the job….’ Then she remembered our conversation about the Doubting Twin and realised who was talking. She took a deep breath and asked for an additional £15K and got all but £5K of that. So recognising the voice of her Doubting Twin and taking the risk to step out of her limitation was worth £10,000 a year. Nice!

The first step is to recognise what’s happening. It’s never easy to spot it in the moment because it all feels so real. So get in the habit of doing a quick review of your day to see who is doing the talking. Notice where you held back, where you didn’t manage to get what you wanted, where you let others take the limelight away from you. Then consider what the risk would have been in having a go and speaking your piece.

Go take a look at my blog on Core Talent and clarify what you do best. Then it will be easier to identify when the Doubting Twin is holding you back.

Once you spot her, be curious about her motives. In my experience, she’ll have arisen for very good reason and is doing her best to keep you safe. Find out more about that and say ‘thank you’. Then let her know how talented you are and share your dreams. Reassure her that you’re not going to be rash or careless and that you still value her nose for danger. Then identify some ‘safe’ risks and experiment with behaving in a different way.

 It's this Doubting Twin that underpins the Imposter Syndrome. She acts like a brake on your system to keep you in your place. She is really useful sometimes, but she is also a sure fire way to avoid using your power. So see her, take her concerns into consideration, make a plan and introduce her to the part of you that is ready for adventure. Together you will make a really exciting combo!    

Post your questions in the comments section below, ask us on the Psychologies Facebook and Twitter page or email I’ll be posting regularly, answering your questions.

Judith Leary Joyce

Great Companies Consulting

In 1996 I made the shift into business, taking my knowledge of Gestalt Psychology into the realm of Executive Coaching, Facilitation and Leadership/ Management Development. In 2001 I worked on the 100 Best Companies to Work For list, then went on to write my first book Becoming an Employer of Choice which was followed by Inspirational Manager and The Psychology of Success. Since then I have worked with organisations across the sectors from large corporates through to young start ups, public sector and charities. Now it’s time to help you have a love affair with your work and get exactly what you want from your career. To find out more about my work and coaching go to


Go to the profile of Lorraine April
about 4 years ago

I loved this post and as a mum of a Teenager who listens to this internal critic and doubting twin all time I have felt strongly about setting up a collaboration of inspiring speakers to speak at Secondary schools to help them find the 'twin' voice of positivity and guidance and guidance to the feeling of yes, I can do this .....


Go to the profile of Judith Leary Joyce
about 4 years ago

Hi Lorraine - I totally agree with you and have often thought of going into schools to talk about the Doubting Twin. I'm sure there are loads of inspiring women who would be willing to support an initiative like this. How about suggesting it to your daughters school? Let me know if I can help.

Go to the profile of Bianca Corganiser
about 4 years ago

I always apply for jobs that I believe that are more than capable to perform but because they are paid more I never turn up to any interviews because I am scared of failing. 

Go to the profile of Judith Leary Joyce
about 4 years ago

Sounds as if your Doubting Twin is doing a brilliant job of putting you down. On one hand you know you're more than capable, while on the other hand you think you will fail. Failure is such a tricky one - if you never want to fail, you have to step back from everything. Maybe worth considering what failure means to you and exactly what you're afraid of - you might get some clues about how to manage it differently. It would be such a loss - to you and a future employer - if you never had a go at what you know you can do!