It Doesn’t Have To Be Perfect: Overcoming Self-Doubt
Laura is a lawyer, a writer, a productivity enthusiast, and a tech geek. Married for 40 years to her high school sweetheart, with whom she’s raised five amazing kids, she’s passionate about encouraging women in their individual journeys as people, wives, mothers, citizens.
She joins Plaid Radio to share her personal story of moving from foster homes as a child to mother to attorney. And she also hosts a podcast, The Productive Woman about how to be your best self and be organized too.
We spend time discussing how Laura was scared to start her podcast. She dealt with self-doubt and perfectionism. “What if people don’t like it?” “What if people don’t like me?” She hit record, posted it and promised to come back next week and she did.
Introduction: 00:10 Welcome to Plaid Radio by Plaid for Women and the #NoMeanGirls movement. Enjoy today’s show and be inspired to change the world.
Sarah Webb: 00:18 Welcome to Plaid Radio. I’m your host, Sarah Webb and I’m with today’s guest Laura McClellan. Laura is a lawyer, a writer, and a productivity enthusiast and a tech geek. Just last week she announced that she’s been married to her high school sweetheart for 39 years and together they’re raising five children. She’s all about, and passionate about, encouraging women and their individual journey as people, wives, mothers, and citizens. Welcome to the show!
Laura McClellan: 00:44 Thank you, Sarah. I’m so happy to be here. It’s an honor.
Sarah Webb: 00:44 And Happy Anniversary!
Laura McClellan: 00:49 Thank you. Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. We look at each other and think, well, when I look in the mirror, I can tell it’s been that long, but I don’t feel old enough to have been married for 39 years. Now, in fairness, we got an early start because we were eighteen when we got married, so
Sarah Webb: 01:05 There you go. Every year for our anniversary, I make my husband sit down and look at our wedding pictures and I’m like, oh, OK. And now we’re done. Like move on back to real life because especially as I’m sure, after you’ve been married for 39 years, it’s kind of just like another day, it’s like, oh, that was nice to celebrate. But it’s the same as it was the day before.
Laura McClellan: 01:23 Something along those lines. Yeah. But, I’m very grateful to have been able to stick it out for that long. We’ve had our moments where like everybody, marriage is not fun all the time any more than anything is fun all the time, but I am very grateful we stuck it out through the tough times because he’s a pretty good guy.
Sarah Webb: 01:49 Yeah well he’s a pretty lucky guy, too. Well, let’s kind of start at the beginning, you’ve been very candid on your website, about your upbringing, you’re the oldest of six siblings and you grew up in Washington state, kind of in and out of foster homes. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and what it was like?
Laura McClellan: 02:03 Ah, sure. Which part of it? The foster homes or the oldest of six kids?
Sarah Webb: 02:08 The oldest of six, because I feel like firstborn’s kind of have their own very strong-willed personalities.
Laura McClellan: 02:12 Yeah. It was interesting. So I am the oldest of six kids and I was a bookworm growing up. I’m still a bookworm. I have kind of a lot of the tendencies of firstborns in terms of feeling kind of responsible for everybody around me and maybe, my siblings might say, maybe a little bossy. I have opinions we’ll just say
Sarah Webb: 02:36 We don’t say bossy anymore. Apparently that’s not PC. We say future leaders is what I’ve been told.
Laura McClellan: 02:43 Well then, I was a future leader and so, I had a sense of responsibility where the first four of us are all pretty close in age and then the others came along and kind of years later. But I was kind of responsible for looking after the younger ones as I got older and that’s just part of how I grew up I guess.
Sarah Webb: 03:08 And what was it like being in and out of foster homes? I mean, how long did that last?
Laura McClellan: 03:12 Well, it really didn’t start until I was high school age and they’re just, there’s a lot of reasons behind why it happened. My parents divorced when I was 13, maybe 13 or 14 and just some things happened after that that I ran away from home when I was basically freshmen aged and so spent time in foster homes. Really all the way through high school. I was really angry at my mother when I left home for something, not something that she had done but something someone else had done and fortunately over time I came to realize, well, I won’t be secretive. She had a male friend who, he didn’t sexually abuse me. He slapped me. He got angry at me for something that happened and it happened while my mother was there and she didn’t intervene and later I realized there was really nothing she could have done. He was abusing her. I knew that and that’s why I didn’t like him. I mean, he was hitting her, and I realized later, when I had time to cool off, months later that really, she couldn’t have done anything. If she had tried to intervene, he probably would’ve killed us. So it’s just one of those things. My mother and I are very close now. She actually lives like a quarter of a mile away from me, but by the time I wasn’t mad at my mother anymore. I was in a good situation, actually, a good foster home and realized if I went back, she got rid of that guy and he was no longer in the picture, but I realized if I went back to this little town we lived in, I probably would head down a path. I just didn’t want to go. I wanted something better for my life. Even at that age I could figure out, no I want something better than kind of what I was seeing my peers end up with and so my mother and I reconciled, but I chose to not go home. And so I graduated from high school, still in a foster home and the day after graduation had to move out and get my own apartment. So it was interesting. I was very fortunate to have some adults who took an interest in me, both foster parents and other adults in the church I went to and at school who really kind of came alongside me and helped point me in the right direction.
Sarah Webb: 05:41 Yeah, it does take a village and I’m glad that you’re able to reconcile with your mother and kind of see the bigger picture, but also, that experience of being in that type of relationship for a short period of time. I know that helps you connect with women that are going through that. We’ve talked about how you’ve been married for 39 years, but you come from a different background and there’s a lot of hurt there. How do you reach out to women and share kind of your story or encourage them?
Laura McClellan: 06:12 Well, I think what I’ve learned from those various experiences is that, I mean on a sort of micro level, marriage is hard no matter what background you come from. You take two individuals with their own opinions and their own way of doing things and put them in a household together and say, “OK, make a life together,” and it’s hard. And frankly, I don’t think our culture does a very good job of supporting the effort to stick it out. The media really almost encourages us to just, if it doesn’t feel good, move on to the next thing. Nevertheless, I don’t know anybody personally that has left a marriage just for frivolous reasons. And so I think when I talk to other women who’ve been in that situation, I try to do what I encourage people to do who listened to my podcast and anytime I talk to anybody and that’s extend grace because you don’t know what somebody’s been through. You don’t know what they’ve endured. Even the people we think we know well, we don’t know the whole story. And so I really think that most people are doing the best they can with the circumstances they’re given. And I try to keep that in mind no matter who I’m talking to and that if your marriage ends, that’s not the end of your life. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person even if your marriage ended because you did something bad it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. There is always a future for anybody. And I think we need to encourage each other in that and support each other.
Sarah Webb: 07:52 Well, that’s so close to what we’re talking about with the #NoMeanGirls campaign. It’s kind of being in a judgment free place of, Hey, we’ve all done things that we have been less proud of. We judged other people for whatever reason. Really, it’s about how can we support people and help them either through a difficult time or celebrate their success and all that that entails.
Laura McClellan: 08:13 Yeah. I think that’s an important thing to keep in mind because again, you don’t know what anybody else is going through. You don’t know what their story is. Even if they tell you their story, you don’t ever know the whole story, you haven’t been in their shoes so to speak, and I think we need to just give each other grace and let people live their own life and just be there as a support person if you can.
Sarah Webb: 08:41 Absolutely. So you graduate high school, you meet your husband, you get married, you have children, and then at the age of 35 you decide to go to law school. So that’s probably maybe higher than the average age of people in law school. What propelled you to do that? Did anyone tell you, “You can’t do that?” “You’re too old for things like that.” or “It’s too late in your life, focus on your kids.” Did you encounter any kind of resistance around that?
Laura McClellan: 09:10 Only internally. Nobody really discouraged me and it’s funny because being a lawyer is something I had thought about way back when I was in high school. In fact, one of my teachers suggested, my high school teacher suggested I should consider it and I remember at the time thinking, well that would be awesome, but only rich kids go to law school. I’m not one of those kids. That’s not an option for me. And then Mike and I met, we got married less than a year after graduating from high school and then… so, we were eighteen and then twenty when we had our first child and, and it just kind of got set off to the side. But when I went back, and I did my first two years of college earlier on in our marriage, and then I had a 10 year break. I do everything different, Sarah. There was a 10 year break basically between my sophomore and junior year. And when I went back to finish my Undergrad, we already had four kids. Our fifth child was born a week before finals, or week after finals of my junior year. And as I was thinking about what to major in, I was homeschooling the kids at the time, the older kids. And I thought, oh, I should get a teaching degree because that might be useful, but I really was interested in political science. That’s what I majored in. And I talked with one of my advisors in that first year about it. I said, “I’m sort of interested in law school, but I just don’t know if that’s a possibility.” And he really encouraged me to consider it and I went home one day thinking about that and was talking to my husband who was at the moment underneath one of our cars working on it and I was leaning over the open hood with the engine talking to him through the car. And I said, “Dr. Kerwin thinks that I should consider going to law school. I’ve really kind of always wanted to do that.” And he, without missing a beat or quitting what he was doing, said, “well then you should go to law school.” And I was like, “I should? I can do that?” And so that’s what I did and I have an amazing husband who very much encouraged me to go for it. So we moved our whole family from Nebraska where we lived at the time to Ithaca, New York, where I went to Cornell Law School.
Sarah Webb: 11:34 Amazing. Well, when you talk about that internal voice was holding you back, what was it saying and how did you push through that? Was it like, Laura, you can’t do this. Laura you have your own kids?
Laura McClellan: 11:45 It was all. Yeah, all of the above. It was you are 35 years old and you have five children. You’re insane to think you could do this. You should just stay home and take care of your kids. Because that’s what I’d been doing at that point. Other than going to school, I had been home with my kids for the better part of 10 years and I knew I was smart enough. It wasn’t that, it was just, this is not for you. You’re too old. It’s too late.
Sarah Webb: 12:12 And so you went to Cornell and you graduated. How long did you practice law or you’re still practicing?
Laura McClellan: 12:17 I’m still practicing law! It’ll be 20 years in May that I graduated from Cornell Law School and we moved out here to Texas for me to start my law practice at one of the big firms here in Texas and that was just another one of those things. It really, it was an amazing experience and I say all the time that… people say, how could you go to law school, much less an Ivy League law school, with five kids and a husband in tow? And I said, “I don’t know how anybody does it alone.” They supported me. They gave me perspective because law school is very demanding and very demoralizing at times. You get called on and if you don’t distinguish yourself, you feel like you’ve humiliated yourself. And for those students who, that’s all they’re doing is just going to school and they don’t really have a life outside of that, I don’t know how they get the perspective that I would get when I would come home and a husband and five kids were happy to see me and didn’t care if I had said something dumb in class. It was like, OK, I can do this another day because that’s not the most important thing. That’s not the only thing and it’s not the thing that matters most.
Sarah Webb: 13:38 I think that is important. You did all this, you have this amazing career, you’ve got a beautiful family and then you decided to start a podcast, The Productive Woman. It’s a community where women are encouraged and supported in all aspects of their lives, the good, bad, ugly, all of it. But like what propels you to do that? I feel like you have like, there’s like this map or maybe like a board game, like Candy Land. It’s like, do this and then you do this. And then like, Laura’s map is like, no, I don’t want to do that. I erase these lines. I did this and jumped over here. So what propelled you to do podcasting?
Laura McClellan: 14:14 Well, it really was kind of one of those, I discovered podcasting because a blogger that I liked a lot said, hey, I’m going to launch a podcast, and at the time I was like, well what’s a podcast? But I thought, well if he’s doing it, I like his blog so I’ll listen to his podcast too. And I would listen to those when I was out jogging and got to thinking, well that might be kind of fun to do that. And I was really looking for something to do that had nothing to do with practicing law because people always say, well are you going to do a podcast about legal stuff? No. I spend a lot of my time, energy and attention on practicing law and I wanted something unrelated to that. And so, as I thought about, well I just thought this would be something kind of fun to do on the side. Maybe my mom will listen to it because she likes me, but I had no vision of having some huge platform or anything. It just was something to do outside of my law practice. And as I thought about, well, what would I talk about? Well, I’ve been a productivity nerd since I was in high school or before, that’s terrible. I would go to the library and pull all the books on time management off the shelf and sit and read them and make charts and lists and stuff.
Sarah Webb: 15:32 What were you having to time manage in High School?
Laura McClellan: 15:34 I don’t know. I mean you asked my family and they’ll tell you. I always was doing charts of who should do what and it’s just ridiculous. But I just enjoyed studying that stuff and certainly as I got older and started to have a family, that stuff I had learned came in handy. And then when I started practicing law and still had a family, it became even more important that I had developed some habits and routines that really stood me in good stead. And so I thought, well I can talk about that. And it just. The funny thing is though, because I want to make sure I do things well or try to do things well. I took a class, there’s a guy named Cliff Ravenscraft who’s known as the podcast answer man, and he used to, he just recently quit doing this, but he had a 30 day kind of online course in podcasting that took you from, what’s your idea to actually having your first episode recorded and so I signed up for that and did all the stuff. Got my music figured out. My husband wrote that for me. Got my artwork. Got my gear. Outlined my first episode, had a list of other things was already to go by the end of that month and that was December of, I want to say 2013. Yeah. Planning to launch the first week of January 2014 and then I spent literally six months coming up with all sorts of reasons why I wasn’t ready yet and not launching. And finally six months in, I’m trying to condense the story, but this is really important because I think a lot of women deal with this, I realized that the reason I wasn’t launching, all the excuses I had come up with really were masking the fact that I was terrified. I was afraid that I would put it out there and people would say, well, that’s a dumb idea, or who are you to talk about this kind of stuff, why should I listen to you? And I was so afraid of what other people would think that I just talked myself out of doing it until finally I kind of had an epiphany and literally walked into my walk-in closet with my iPad and recorded a five minute episode that’s still up in iTunes that says, OK, this is who I am. This is what this podcast is going to be about and I’ll be back next week with a real episode and that was July 1st of 2014 and I’ve been going ever since. I missed the last three years, I’ve taken the last two weeks of December off, but other than that I’ve had an episode every week.
Sarah Webb: 18:15 Putting it out there, I’ll see you next week and then you hit end and you’re like, -gasp- I got to come up with something for next week. I mean, I think that’s one of the things about podcasting and the fear thing. The fear holds women back. I think it holds people back personally, but I think women, we have this risk intolerance, we’re always putting other people first. It’s like, Oh, I can’t do that because my kids need me, or my husband needs, or my dog needs me or what my best friend needs me, and we’re always put ourselves last and I think that’s one of our ways of mitigating fear and risk and that we’re not going to put ourselves first. We’re going to take care of other people and hopefully nobody will just kind of notice what we’re doing over here.
Laura McClellan: 18:55 Yeah, that’s exactly right. It’s very easy for us to set our stuff aside and to justify it on the basis of, well, I don’t have time because I’m taking care of my husband, my kids, my mom, my siblings, my best friend, the church, the community, random strangers on the street. Anything to fill up our time so we, we don’t have to sort of face that fear we have of what if I can’t do it? What if people think it’s dumb? What if I fall on my face and I still have that fear, Sarah. Every week when I sit down to record, I think, OK, this is the one where they’re going to finally figure out, I have no idea what I’m talking about and I’m an idiot. That’s our lizard brain trying to protect us from risk saying, “don’t do that. That’s risky. That’s scary there. There’ll be dragons that way.” And you have to just talk to yourself and say to your Amygdala, your lizard brain, thank you so much for your concern. I know you’re just looking out for me, but I got this. It’s going to be OK.
Sarah Webb: 20:03 Well, and I always… My lizard brain, I tell them my lizard brain, like, what’s the worst thing that can happen? Well, the worst thing that could happen is that only my mom listens to this or only my mom reads this and I’m like, she loves me and maybe even the worst is even my mom doesn’t listen. So I get it you kind of have to push forward and one of the things you’re going to pushing forward with. And she had this dream of writing a novel, which I feel is very similar to podcasting for certain, but I feel like it’s got a lot more eraser, like you can go back and like I feel like if I was to write a novel versus podcasts and some other things, it would take me longer. I mean there’s more to it. But then I would, I think I’d have a lot more self-doubt around that because it’s not easily, quickly done. Tell us a little bit about that.
Laura McClellan: 20:50 Yeah. That’s something I think I mentioned. I’ve been a bookworm since I was old enough to read and I’ve always wanted to write books in general, but fiction in particular, and it’s another one of those things that as much as I wanted to do it, I just didn’t for years and years and years and I own shelves full of books about how to write. And I’ve gone to lots of conferences and things and I filled notebooks with just scribbles of ideas. But I just always would have good reasons why I couldn’t yet sit down and write this book and my husband, bless his heart, would… he’s so supportive, but every once in a while, he would kind of say, “well, when are you going to quit reading books about writing and just go ahead and write it?” “Well, I’m not quite ready yet. I need to learn this one more thing.” And finally, I was into my forties when I thought, “OK, I don’t want to die not ever having tried this.” I realized that the reason I hadn’t done it again was fear that if I try, I might discover I don’t have the ability to do it. And then that dream is dead forever. If I never try, then it’s always, it could have happened, but I wasn’t… when I realized that’s what I was doing to myself, I just thought, “you know what? I’ll take that risk, I guess. Maybe I don’t have any talent. Maybe I don’t have any creativity to write a novel, but I’m going to at least write something so I can say I did it. I don’t want to reach the end of my life and never have finished one.” And so, I just started, I picked an idea and started writing and eventually I got a few chapters written. I thought, I don’t know, maybe this is garbage. And I went and found a published writer who would sit down with me and look at it and, and I said, “I’m not looking for pats on the back, just tell me am I wasting my time here?” And she said, “no, there’s something here. Keep going.” She gave me some ideas and so I just kept writing and you do it one word at a time, which is the hard way. I wish I could just like plug a USB cord into my head and just download what I’m thinking instead of having to come up with one word at a time and have to worry with every word that it’s the wrong word because I have a really loud, obnoxious internal critic.
Sarah Webb: 23:21 Please do not wish for USBs attached to our brains. I feel like where we’re headed towards that direction. So, what advice would you give to someone thinking about writing a book? You kind of sat on the sidelines for a while. Did you feel like all those courses and those books that you read prepared you for that or do you think you should just pick up a pen or a keyboard and just start?
Laura McClellan: 23:40 I think the only way you’re ever going to get a book written as if you sit and start writing it. I think it’s important to learn about the craft. There is some sort of, I hesitate to call them rules, but kind of guidelines for various genres and stuff like that and you need to know all that stuff if you want to get published. But if there’s somebody who’s listening who’s always wanted to write a book, I would say sit down and do it. Just start writing words and, and don’t worry about getting it right. Just get it written and then. Because you can edit anything but you can’t edit what you haven’t written yet.
Sarah Webb: 24:22 That sounds very encouraging. I like that. You can’t edit which hadn’t written yet. So it is just important to get it out there and then you can improve upon it. It’s about getting that idea documented somehow so that you can refine it and craft it even more.
Laura McClellan: 24:36 Absolutely. And that’s true in anything you do. It was the same thing with launching the podcast. My commitment to myself was if I wait until I could do it perfectly, I still wouldn’t have recorded an episode. So what I told myself is I’m just going to put it out there and try to get a little bit better every week and whether it’s writing a book or creating a podcast or painting a picture or I don’t know, running a race or anything you want to do, just start, just do something and commit to yourself that you’re going to get a little bit better every time you do it.
Sarah Webb: 25:16 Absolutely. Well, we’ve talked a little bit about the #NoMeanGirls campaign and it sounds like you’re right there about women being their authentic selves. Why do you think that we still have mean girl treatment to ourselves? We refer to that as the mean girl in the mirror. Why do you think we talk down to ourselves around that?
Laura McClellan: 25:33 Boy, that’s such a great question. I think, if I knew the answer to that, I’d probably be a rich woman. What I find interesting is kind of a lot of us feel like we suffer from imposter syndrome and what I’ve learned, I actually did an episode about this several months ago and in doing my research I discovered some studies that highly accomplished women are more prone to impostor syndrome than anybody and I don’t know why it is. I don’t know if it’s, if it’s the culture we live in, I don’t know that we can point a finger at what causes it and as I do find it interesting that it seems to be… women seem to have more of that self-doubt and question their ability and beat up on themselves more than a lot of men do. And I don’t know the answer to it as far as where it comes from, but what I try to tell myself and my listeners and anybody I get a chance to talk to is the start to fixing it, is to become aware of it, to pay attention to what you’re saying to yourself and then ask yourself, would you say that to anybody else? And maybe you would, but most of us are nicer than that and we’re much more unkind to ourselves than anybody else and we’re very good at identifying what we’ve done wrong, where we lack. We’re not very good at giving ourselves credit for the good things we do, the effort we make or any of those things. And so to me, part of the answer is to really start being aware of what it is you’re saying to yourself and start to be intentional about giving yourself credit for the good things in you. And we all have them. We don’t see them very well, but if you’re somebody who really struggles with that, who has a lot of self-doubt and feels incompetent and all those kinds of things then my prescription is always have a notebook where every day you write down something you appreciate about yourself.
Sarah Webb: 27:51 I think that’s a very good recipe and I say that, too, about, “if I wouldn’t let my best friend say this about herself, whether the way she looks or the mother, what she did on a project, why would I let myself say that about myself?” So, I sometimes pretend that I’m my best friend and I’m like, “well she wouldn’t let me say that about myself. So, I’m going to kind of stop the cycle” and it’s all internal and I draw little circles around my head like I’m crazy. But because it’s this voice that kind of keeps coming back and at our… this year our #NoMeanGirls Conference is September 21st and 22nd and our keynote is Karith Foster, she’s a humorist, and we’re going to talk about that internal broken record of You Are Enough. We need to change the record, you need to change what’s going on in reflecting some more of those positive affirmations. Laura, this has been so great. Thank you so much for sharing with us. How can our listeners learn more about The Productive Woman or connect with you if they’re interested in learning more about you?
Laura McClellan: 28:46 Well, the best way to kind of find out about the podcast and about me is on the website that’s at https://theproductivewoman.com/. That’s where you find the show notes for the podcast and player there so you can actually listen to it. There’s an About Me page where you can learn all about me and see some pictures of my family and fun stuff like that and there’s a Contact Page where folks can send a message. I mean I can give you an email address and all of that if you want to, but the easiest thing to remember is just go to https://theproductivewoman.com/ and click on that contact page and send me a note. I love hearing from people.
Sarah Webb: 29:23 Excellent. I’ll be sure to link that in our show notes as well as I’m going to go track down that imposter syndrome podcast because I think that would be interesting to our listeners as well. Thank you so much for joining us and that’s a wrap for Plaid Radio.
Laura McClellan: 29:23 Thank you.