Have patience! Building something great almost always takes time. Much like learning a new language, or training for a marathon, most things worth achieving or building will take many small steps over the course of months or years. Try to zoom out, and keep the long-term picture in mind.

Starting something new is scary. Learning to believe in yourself can be a critical precursor to starting a new initiative. Why is it so important to learn to believe in yourself? How can someone work on gaining these skills? In this interview series, we are talking to business leaders, authors, writers, coaches, medical professionals, teachers, to share empowering insights about “How To Learn To Believe In Yourself.” As a part of this series we had the pleasure of interviewing Tara McGrath.

Tara McGrath, LMFT is a licensed psychotherapist in San Diego, California. Her two-decade career in mental health spans a broad range of experiences, but her passion is for helping those in the queer community with identity issues, stress and anxiety, relationship issues, and grief. She emphasizes self-compassion in her work with clients, and explores the interplay between interpersonal relationships and mental health.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Absolutely. I grew up as an only child in the middle class suburb of Orange County, California. I give my parents a lot of credit for instilling in me the belief that I could be or do just about anything, professionally speaking. At the same time, growing up in an evangelical Christian church in the 80s and 90s really skewed how I saw myself and my personal life. As a child and teen I was taught I would find my fulfillment in life through religion, marriage (to a man, of course), and motherhood. Purity culture had a big influence, and being gay, bisexual, or queer in any way was not even on the drop-down menu of options. As a result, it took me a long time to come to terms with my sexuality and to be fully out.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

As many therapists will tell you, as a kid and teen, my friends steadily came to me for support with their problems. But as an adolescent, I actually wanted to be an astronaut! I entered university thinking I’d study chemistry or another science as a path to NASA, but once I was taking classes, psychology captured my attention and felt like a better fit for me. Even now, after meeting thousands of clients, I find people endlessly fascinating.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Sure. Let me preface this story with a little fact about therapist grad school: they really drill the law and ethics stuff into you. And I am naturally a rule-follower, sometimes to a fault. One of the ethical rules for therapists, unlike many professions, is that we’re not supposed to accept gifts from our clients. So, when I had my first internship as a bereavement counselor, one of my clients very kindly brought me a smoothie, having bought one for themself before our session. And I, believing that accepting gifts of ANY kind was “wrong,” adamantly refused to accept it, saying something like, “I’m so sorry but I can’t, it would be unethical to accept this.” How rigid I was! This was 20 years ago and I still cringe at the ridiculousness of my rigidity, and how hurt the client must have felt. Discussing it later that week with my clinical supervisor, I learned I was taking the concept too far, that the intent of the ethical guideline is to prevent the corruption of the therapist-client relationship, and that “gifts” generally referred to items of significant value, or a pattern of bringing things, not a one-off smoothie that cost a few dollars. I learned how important nuance is, especially when dealing with individual human lives and relationships. I learned that this would have been an opportunity to have a discussion about how the therapist-client relationship is different from other relationships, and how I appreciated the gesture but I won’t accept further gifts.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I’m helping folks in the queer community who are sorting out their identity after leaving religion, or who are recovering from religious harm. This is an emerging area of focus in the therapist community. As a society we tend to think of religion as a positive thing. But for many people, it has been a source of distress, confusion, and even trauma.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to believe in yourself? Can you share a story or give some examples?

The path to success always includes mistakes and detours. Believing in yourself will help sustain you through those imperfect moments. A less elegant way to say it: We have to remember that it’s okay to screw up. It’s okay to suck at something before we get good. And even when we are great at something, we will have off days or make mistakes! We cannot let it stop us from keeping going. No one becomes great without having bad moments and pushing past them. There are countless examples in pop culture of great people who had to believe in themselves through failure and adversity. Steven Spielberg, at one time, couldn’t even get into film school. All great athletes, from Serena Williams to Michael Phelps, have needed a coach to get past blocks or to realize their potential. My favorite example is about Lady Gaga. If you’ve ever seen her perform, you know that she puts on a truly athletic, artistic, well-oiled machine of a show. So one day, my wife was taking us down a Gaga YouTube rabbit hole, and we came across a performance of hers that was a little peculiar. It was from a festival of some kind, maybe Coachella. Anyway, she was just… off. Still amazing by any standard, but different for her. And it stuck with me in the best possible way — even Lady Gaga has off days! And if this wildly talented, successful powerhouse of a woman can have an off-moment, we have to believe that off days are part of any success journey.

What exactly does it mean to believe in yourself? Can I believe that I can be a great artist even though I’m not very talented? Can I believe I can be a gold medal Olympic even if I’m not athletic? Can you please explain what you mean?

I think there is a difference between believing in yourself and being delusional about your potential. Given my age and stage in life, it’s unlikely that I could “believe” myself into becoming a pop music superstar or a NASA astronaut. So I do think it’s important to get to know yourself well, and understand your strengths and limitations, as well as the limitations of the world we live in. I think believing in yourself is, at its most basic level, trusting that no matter what happens, you are capable of figuring it out. Sometimes that means changing directions, and sometimes it means just holding on through tough times.

Was there a time when you did not believe in yourself? How did this impact your choices?

There have been many times along the way that my belief in myself has flagged. For a long time, I did not think that I could be a business owner, and as a result I was convinced I would be working for other people until I retired. That belief really limited me and kept me stuck in a bad job for a long time.

At what point did you realize that in order to get to the next level, it would be necessary to build up your belief in yourself? Can you share the story with us?

In 2021 a combination of things created a perfect storm to get me out of that job. I was doing a lot personal work on myself, by taking control of my own thoughts and behaviors, and learning to be honest and kind with myself about my feelings. Simultaneously, my bad job was only getting worse, as they were requiring me to do things that felt unethical and inappropriate. Getting out of there was the first step. I wasn’t sure if I was jumping into the right project, but change is always a risk and I had to use one of my favorite affirmations: “Whatever happens, I’ll figure it out. I always have.”

What are your top 5 strategies that will help someone learn to believe in themselves? Please share a story or example for each.

1 . Have patience! Building something great almost always takes time. Much like learning a new language, or training for a marathon, most things worth achieving or building will take many small steps over the course of months or years. Try to zoom out, and keep the long-term picture in mind.

2 . Find your cheerleaders. Success never happens in a vacuum. We benefit from having people to encourage us and to keep us focused on our goals. It helps to have a support system for the days when imposter syndrome flares up. This can be a family member or partner, a good friend, a professional growth group, or a mentor — anyone who really believes in you and isn’t afraid to tell you so.

3 . Practice self-compassion. This is a big one and a cornerstone of my work with clients. Practice being non-judgmental about your own thoughts and feelings as you observe them with curiosity. Notice, without judgment, when you are feeling frustrated, making mistakes, lacking motivation, etc., and remind yourself that these experiences are a fact of every human’s life.

4 . Give your negative voice a name. Everyone has that voice in their brain that’s ready at all times to tell us how terrible we are. That negative commentary will influence our emotions and our behavior if we don’t put it in its place. And wishing it away doesn’t work. So, it can be helpful to imagine that voice as an actual character. Examples I’ve seen include naming the voice “The Wine Witch” (if you’re fighting the urge to drink), “Old Sh*tty” (for just general negative self-talk), or subbing in, as an avatar, an inept or ridiculous bad guy from popular culture (think Joffrey from Game of Thrones, Beetlejuice, or Biff from Back to the Future). Externalizing this criticizing voice can help diminish its power.

5 . Tap into main-character energy. Remember: you are the protagonist in your narrative. Whatever adversity you encounter, detours you must take or mistakes you may make, this is your story and it is still unfolding.

Conversely, how can one stop the negative stream of self-criticism that often accompanies us as we try to grow?

The first step is to recognize that it can’t be stopped. We are wired to go negative, and that voice isn’t going away. So what often gets people stuck is wishing it away instead of learning to work with or around it. It isn’t helpful to get upset with ourselves for having negative self-talk. If I am having negative self talk about my negative self talk, that’s not going to be helpful either.

Are there any misconceptions about self-confidence and believing in oneself that you would like to dispel?

People sometimes think that self-confidence is a thing you attain and just possess from that point forward. But like most things in life, it is about maintenance and management. Even the seemingly most self-confident among us have days where they question their abilities, decisions, work product, etc.

What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with imposter syndrome?

My advice is to remember that it is a side-effect of being human; literally EVERYONE has imposter syndrome at times. Except maybe the narcissists. So let your imposter syndrome be a reminder that you’re not a narcissist!

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

As part of my focus on self-compassion, I want to normalize crying. I want to change the way we talk about it. Nearly everyone cries. And most of us do it a lot more than we let on. I want us to be kinder to ourselves and others about this very normal experience. I want us to remember that we can believe in ourselve through our tears! And in our society we use this term, “breaking down,” which I just despise. Because it implies that crying is failure to function. And it’s not. It’s just a part of being human. I understand it’s not anyone’s idea of a fun time, and that it sometimes happens at inconvenient moments, but it’s not a sign that anything is broken in you. Sometimes my clients will apologize for crying in our sessions, and that just breaks my heart. If you can’t cry in therapy, where can you?

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

Well, you might guess based on my earlier story that I’m going to say Lady Gaga. In addition to all of her musical talent, she’s a huge advocate for mental health issues and has helped to normalize seeking help. She’s shared about her own mental health struggles too. Recently she performed at the Oscars and, while introducing her song, she said something that stuck with me. She spoke about how we all need love, and heroes, and said “You might find that you can be your own hero, even if you feel broken inside.”

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow me on Instagram at @theagnostictherapist, or check out my website taramcgrath.com.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.