Resilience lesson #4: overcoming doubt

How four women persisted, despite both self-doubt and doubt from those around them

19 Nov 2019

Facing down doubt is a part of any worthwhile journey. Sometimes it's self-doubt you need to overcome. Other times, the doubt you feel from others can feel crippling. Senior reporter for The Wall Street Journal and host of WSJ's “Secrets of Wealthy Women" podcast Veronica Dagher has interviewed hundreds of women about their moments of doubt. Today, we hear from four of them: Tennis pro Maria Sharapova, advocate Loreen Arbus, entrepreneur Sheila Johnson and CEO Rana el Kaliouby. They share these four pieces of advice.

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts about resilience, highlighting the stories of women featured in the UBS-sponsored Wall Street Journal e-book “Resilience: How 20 Ambitious Women Used Obstacles to Fuel Their Success."

Regroup and recommit

Maria Sharapova

Tennis pro

When five-time Grand Slam titleholder Maria Sharapova served a 15-month suspension from tennis after testing positive for a controversial banned substance, she received a lot of criticism on and off the court. By that point, she was also a successful business owner of a candy company (Sugarpova) and had many brand endorsements. She had risen from practically nothing (as a child, she and her father had moved to the U.S. from Russia with only $700), and worked her way to the top of the tennis world. The setback of the suspension made her question her path forward. “The question I kept asking was how much do I still want this and how much do I still love this and how much do I want to fight for it?" she told Dagher.

Sharapova realized that so much of what drove her was inspiring other people, and she decided to recommit to that—and to return to tennis, despite her critics. She’s also continued to take an active role in her finances and boost her financial knowledge, something she feels is very important for women to do.


Don't let critics get in the way of your commitment to something. "Confidence comes from consistency," she says.

Get out of your own way

Rana el Kaliouby


Five years after Rana el Kaliouby, an artificial intelligence (AI) expert with a doctorate from Cambridge, co-founded the AI startup Affectiva, the company was looking for a CEO. Though Dr. el Kaliouby was functioning at the CEO-level, fundraising and representing the company publicly, she still questioned her abilities. “I thought to myself, they should probably give this [job] to a guy who has done this before," she told Dagher. Her mentor helped to remind her just how qualified she was to do the job and was able to convince Dr. el Kaliouby to go for it. It made her realize how often she didn't advocate for herself—and how often women in general may not advocate for themselves or passup opportunities because they think they aren’t qualified. She’s also an avid journal-keeper, and whenever she needs a reminder of how she has survived challenges in the past, she re-reads old entries.


Dr. el Kaliouby says the greatest doubter she's ever had to overcome was herself, and she advises women to stop putting obstacles in their own way.

Be persistent

Sheila Johnson


Sheila Johnson co-founded Black Entertainment Television with former husband Robert Johnson. Following a long and bitter divorce, she bought a 340-acre property in Middleburg, Virginia, where she hoped to create an equestrian-oriented resort. She spent millions of dollars trying to bring the idea to fruition and was continually turned down by investors.

Johnson knew what a fight looked like though, having faced segregation and discrimination during the course of her lifetime. Her father was one of the few African American neurosurgeons in the US, and was turned away for work numerous times. Her family had to move constantly. On the road, restaurants often wouldn't serve them or hotels wouldn't give them a room. It was frustrating and humiliating, but her parents never stopped believing in their own worth. Johnson learned the value of persistence and faith in yourself. Although lenders didn’t take her seriously, she eventually prevailed in her dream to build the resort, which has since created more than 300 jobs for the town. Her hospitality business, Salamander Hotels & Resorts, now has five resorts and hotels throughout the country, with more in the works. Johnson told Dagher she used the name Salamander for her company because of the amphibian's reported ability to be able to “walk through fire and still come out alive."


Johnson repeats the words “perseverance, courage and fortitude" to herself every morning.

Remember where you came from

Loreen Arbus


A national advocate for women and people with disabilities, Loreen Arbus has always been committed to supporting people who have been marginalized. Growing up with an older sister with cerebral palsy, Arbus and her family often felt ostracized or shunned when they went out in public. Her sister passed away in 1973, but Arbus has never forgotten her memory. In fact, it's inspired the work she has done and led her to create real change in how people with disabilities are treated. Because she was born into the family who built the ABC television network, people often wrote Arbus off as entitled, but she was determined to achieve success on her own merits. She worked longer and harder than most of her male peers, and used the feeling of being underestimated as motivation to succeed.

Now, she is president of The Loreen Arbus Foundation and The Goldenson-Arbus Foundation, was a two-term governor for the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and served on multiple boards, including Women Moving Millions and Women in Film. Giving back is a core part of her identity and has become her greatest purpose. She's glad she didn't listen to the naysayers.


Use the feeling of being underestimated as motivation to succeed, Arbus says. “You worked so hard, often twice as hard as the men, so take credit,” she says.

Next in the resilience series: Embracing Risk

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