How to Overcome Self-Doubt in the Workplace
‘I don’t deserve this job.’
‘All the other developers are far better than I am.’
‘I shouldn’t say what I think about the project. My opinion won’t be as good as my colleagues.’
If you’re a web developer or programmer and these thoughts sound familiar, you might be suffering from self doubt in the workplace, or more specifically, ‘Imposter Syndrome’.
Imposter Syndrome refers to a negative thinking pattern in which an employee feels they don’t ‘belong’ in their job role. They might believe that they got the job through ‘luck’, and be dismissive of any compliments about their work. This can especially be the case for foreign workers who are managing language and cultural barriers, as well as feelings of doubt.
How can self-doubt in the workplace affect your life?
If left unaddressed, self-doubt can have long term effects on your work and personal life.
Self-doubt at work can impact on your career progression, as you may be less likely to put yourself forward for promotion or new job opportunities. Your lack of confidence in the workplace might also lose you money, as high-paying jobs often require you to have a high level of confidence in your skills.
You may also find your self-doubt extends outside the workplace and into your personal life, as you doubt your decision making abilities and feel unable to take control of your life. This can lead to long-term depression and anxiety.
What can cause self-doubt in the workplace?
There can be many factors that contribute to self-doubt in the workplace, including mental wellbeing and negative past experiences. It can be a real challenge to unlearn negative perceptions of yourself, especially if they originated with previous employers and colleagues.
Another factor can be your workplace itself. If you work in a high-stress environment with a lack of support, it is natural that you will doubt your abilities and achievements. If you find yourself unhappy in your workplace, it may be time for a career change.
Although Imposter Syndrome can impact anyone, women seem to be the group most likely to be affected. Historic perceptions of how women should behave, i.e. with humility as ‘homemakers’, can mean that women struggle to speak up for themselves at work.
How can I improve my feelings of self-doubt in the workplace?
Question rigid thinking
People who suffer with self-doubt often feel a need for perfection. They become disappointed with themselves if they make a mistake, no matter how small. Whilst it’s good to have high expectations for yourself, especially in the workplace, it can also be a hindrance, as you may avoid making important work decisions for fear that your work won’t be perfect. You might fear criticisms and take them close to heart.
Similarly, you might view your level of intelligence as being ‘fixed’. If you struggle at learning a new coding language, for example, you might feel unintelligent, and that you’ll never understand it or succeed.
Intelligence is something that can be developed over time, and perfection is not something that can be obtained. Instead, it’s far better to set realistic goals and develop your skills.
Challenge your fears
If you are experiencing self-doubt at work, it can be tempting to stay inside a comfort zone. You might feel nervous about voicing your perspective in a meeting, or taking part in a new project, because you doubt your abilities.
Rather than drawing back, the best way to respond to your fears is to challenge them. By doing what you fear, you take back control over your work life.
If you stay in your comfort zone, you can’t prove your self-doubts wrong and progress in your life and career. The more you challenge yourself, the more new things will become easier to tackle. Each day, make at least one contribution that challenges your self-doubt - whether that’s raising an innovative new idea or putting yourself forward for a job opportunity.
Recognise your strengths
In the digital age, it has become increasingly easy to compare ourselves to our peers. But is this helpful?
It can be useful to evaluate how you stand in relation to others when applying for a new job, but there comes a point when measuring yourself against the successes of others can be a hindrance. This is especially true for the tech industry, where we hear stories of the successes of big tech CEOs. For programmers, there is pressure to immediately reach this level.
Focus on yourself and your own goals, rather than trying to climb someone else’s mountain. People with self-doubt will often try to downplay their achievements, and may even believe that colleagues are lying if they pay a compliment.
Keep a record of projects you’ve completed and positive comments your team have made about your work, so you can remind yourself of your accomplishments.
See yourself realistically
Self-awareness is a good skill to have, because it helps you to analyse your abilities, but this needs to be balanced. To control your doubts, it is best to move away from your own perceptions. Keep communication open with your colleagues and managers. As they work with you, they will be prime to give you another perspective to your work.
Remember that the best employees make mistakes. Rather than letting negative thinking spiral mistakes into disasters, take a step back and view them impersonally. Are there areas you could genuinely improve? Or are your feelings of self-doubt taking over?
Feelings of self-doubt in the workplace can take over your life, and learning to take control of them can be very empowering. Having extra support and guidance from a mentor can help quell feelings of self-doubt.
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