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  • Writer's pictureSusan Carr

How do you stop second guessing

Updated: Jun 16, 2023

These squirrels keep second-guessing me. They don't completely trust that I mean them no harm. They're still timid when they come down from the tree to enjoy their peanuts.

But they're warming up to me.

After yoga the other morning, I stayed outside a bit longer, and this brave one decided to come down to the table, not minding that I was still present.

I guess for squirrels, second-guessing is paramount to survival.

Second-guessing becomes second nature when you own a business, especially as a freelancer.

I think this is especially prevalent when your work involves editing the content of others.

Being an editor requires you to bring three things to the editing table:

  1. Your experience working with words.

  2. Your experience working with people.

  3. Whichever style manual or guide the author wants you to use.

And even then, even after you’ve put your own blood, sweat, tears, and HOURS attempting to help an author weave their words into their readers' minds (and sometimes, hearts), you will still second-guess your efforts.

Especially when faced with this:

**** Rating is 4.8 out of 5

"She is skilled and professional, but I expected a deeper and more thorough line editing."

**** Rating is 4.6 out of 5

“No feedback provided.”


These two reviews were posted during the same week, and needless to say, I was more than a bit disappointed.

Especially because during the editing process with both of these clients

  • the feedback was 100% positive

  • there were brainstorming sessions on how the authors could provide even more value

  • the praises and accolades for my work flowed

So what the heck?

“Kind of bloodthirsty, don't you think, Charles?" said John.

"I'm an editor," said Charles. "I have to make decisions like that all the time.”

― James A. Owen, Here, There Be Dragons

Granted, I had 13 other 5-star reviews this week, with encouraging and applauding feedback on my work.

But still.

And so I second-guess my abilities, my knowledge, and the training I’ve undertaken. I am an overthinker, so I spend way too much time trying to figure out

  • What went wrong?

  • What went right?

  • How I can do better next time?

There may be answers to all of these questions, just one or none.

But sometimes, all you can do is your best.

With editing, if I feel I have fallen short in my work, I can go through an analytical process and try to improve how I do things. But, there’s a difference between second-guessing to change something and ruminating in unhealthy thought patterns, resulting in negative self-talk.

When this happens, I try to do four things:

  1. Stop the rumination.

  2. Accept that I may have missed the mark on this one.

  3. Redirect my thoughts to be productive.

  4. Work on a solution to improve.

This flow allows me to find specific areas where I may need more training, should seek out advice from a more experienced editor, or maybe that type of editing isn’t one of my stronger areas. If this happens to be what I discover, I don’t give up in that area, but I look for ways to start smaller jobs to understand it better and then work my way back up to larger projects.

I'm experiencing the same kind of second-guessing with decisions concerning the care of my mom, who has moderate-stage vascular dementia.

As her dementia progresses and worsens, she exhibits behaviors that can damage her health, like not sleeping. For three days. Or sleeping during the day and staying "busy" all night.

My mom has always been a night owl and a 5-6 hour a-night sleeper, so this isn't completely new territory.

But sitting in a dining room chair or on the couch and falling asleep for 2-3 hours is a bit different. The most concerning thing is that she may fall onto the floor and injure herself.

So, this behavior and some other red flags have our family trying to figure out if she needs more care during the night in addition to the care already provided during the day.

And this makes for constant second guessing

  1. Would a new residence help her? One where people are aware of her movements 24 hours a day.

  2. What if we brought in an overnight caregiver?

  3. If we have the right tools, can we handle it?

And in this situation, unlike the one with my work, if I ruminate too long in the unknowns, I could find myself entering a depression. Or worse, increasing my chances of developing a dementia-related condition because I am not properly handling the stress of being a caregiver.

So, as I continue to learn more along this journey, maybe those four steps I take to improve my work will help here too:

  1. Stop the rumination.

  2. Accept that there is no perfect answer, and maybe not even one right or wrong.

  3. Redirect my thoughts to be productive, educate and learn more about the condition.

  4. Work on a solution to improve my mom's life and ours as her caregivers.

Because sometimes, all you can do is your best.

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