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Are You a Second-Guesser or a Re-Thinker?

As they shape their characters, every writer is especially mindful of the subtle – yet quite powerful – differences between being a re-thinker and a second-guesser. It’s a crucial distinction because the first trait moves a character forward, while the second holds them back.

Yet for our own career stories, most of us don’t realize how these two contrasting thought-processes are worlds apart:

  • RE-THINKERS have a positive impact at work.

Being a re-thinker equates to agility, resiliency and being open to possibility and opportunity. A re-thinker recognizes that everything is dramatically changing and accelerating in unprecedented ways. Thriving within that landscape requires a re-thinker’s continuous improvement, growth and refinement mindset to achieve optimal results. In short, re-thinkers are good for business and deliver better results. Why? Because they’re constantly assessing, eager to optimize their actions and operate from a position of strength.

  • SECOND-GUESSERS have a negative impact at work.

Being a second-guesser equates to anxiety, insecurity and fearfulness, especially when dealing with uncertainty or new situations. A second-guesser is mired in self-doubt, lacking trust in their abilities to make the right choice. This can result in hesitancy, overthinking, flying under the radar and in some cases, even a refusal to be accountable. In short, second-guessers are bad for business, exhaust themselves and deliver mediocre results. Why? Because they’re constantly judging, afraid to act and operate from a position of weakness.

Because second-guessing can keep us in neutral – or worse, in reverse – let’s find out how a writer turns down the noise in their characters’ heads so that they can progress. Here are some tips that make the characters in stories move forward despite their doubts:


There are hundreds of examples of books or movies where the protagonist starts off clueless but then gains insight into who they are to transform into their best self. We’re all on our own inner journeys and the first step toward awareness and evolution is reflection through self-inquiry.

To begin, understand that your identity has been molded by the stories you attached to your experiences, so be on the lookout for those hidden stories that you tell yourself. We often self-protect with stories that justify our actions or experiences. But much of what we whisper in our own ears is only partially true at best, or at worst, a lie that we can’t – or won’t – see.

Because our own fears and insecurities can make us unreliable narrators in our own stories, it’s common to have blind spots that prevent us from seeing ourselves clearly. Since awareness is key, start by simply asking:

  • Do I find myself in the same type of situation no matter where I work or who I’m with?
  • What am I missing about myself or my actions?
  • What can I change or leave behind to be able to move forward more confidently?

Then identify a work situation where, in hindsight, you were indeed correct but were reluctant to express your point of view at the time. Ask yourself:

  • How would I be different now if I had spoken up then?
  • What is the worst thing that would have happened if I were wrong?
  • How can I take more ownership going forward?


Deepening your understanding so you can better weigh the options is a surefire way to minimize second-guessing and maximize re-thinking. These two writerly tips will help you to get there:

  • Expand your horizons through continuous curiosity. Being a lifelong learner bestows the opportunity to be in a constant state of discovery, improvement and growth. This will help you operate from a position of strength – getting to the best-considered decisions and being more comfortable with your conclusions is easier when you’ve done advance exploration.
  • Before developing any solutions be sure you understand what the real problem is. Go deep to get the context around any issue and uncover its root cause. Figuring out the problem first always puts you in a better position to generate the best solutions. That means brushing up on the historical backstory to understand why things are the way they are. Also, dig for how the challenge or a similar one was approached before and what happened. Knowledge is always power – the more you know, the more confident you’ll become.


To determine which path to take or what to try next, take the reins and plot your own risks and rewards. That’s just what an author who is weighing different scenarios and plot points does. Almost any writer’s office is plastered with colored sticky notes of all sizes, index cards galore and erasable whiteboards. These necessary tools help to plot scenes, create new possibilities and monitor consequences to get to the ending they envision for their story.

So use whatever tool you’re comfortable with to storyboard “scenes” for whatever you need to decide. As you ponder, consider the obvious intended consequences of each choice. And be sure to also anticipate what the unintended consequences might be. Just as in any story with an unexpected twist, every decision that anyone makes will have both intended and unintended consequences. Making a list of what might happen as a result – both good and bad – is akin to a business decision matrix or scenario model that narrows down choices. You’ll then be able to arrive at the best considered decision that you feel most comfortable to move forward with – and you’ll diminish the need to second-guess.

Interested in becoming a Featured Contributor? Email topics you’re interested in covering for GovLoop to [email protected]. And to read more from our Spring 2021 Cohort, here is a full list of every Featured Contributor during this cohort.

Deborah Burns’ story has always been about invention and reinvention. She’s lived those two keywords throughout her career as a women’s media chief innovation officer (CIO), a leader of brands like ELLE Décor and Metropolitan Home, an industry consultant and throughout a creative pivot that led to the award-winning memoir, “Saturday’s Child.”

The experience of becoming an author illuminated the path to her second book, “Authorize It! Think Like a Writer to Win at Work & Life.” Now, Deborah combines her business and creative expertise in professional development workshops that improve outcomes and help everyone invent, reinvent and live up to their career potential.

You can connect with Deborah on LinkedIn or at her website. You can also read all of Deborah’s previous Featured Contributor blogs here.

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