Jobs and the Future of Work

How to overcome self-doubt at work

Jan Johnston Osburn
Talent Acquisition Executive, Lanmark Technology Inc
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When I was young I loved my little Golden books, the popular series of children’s books. As I read the stories, mental images danced in my head. I tried to understand what was really happening as the stories unfolded. (Yes, even as a child I would overthink everything – including stories in little Golden books.)

One book I had told a story of two little girls. One good and one bad. And, shocker, at the end of the story we found out they were actually the same little girl. I tried to imagine how the story could describe two very different little girls when they were actually the same.

Like I said, I overthink.

But we do often have two personalities that carry with it a different set of skills or competencies. Some traits are great. And some things, well, they’re not so hot. Self-doubt is one of those.


Self-confidence and Its Evil Twin, Self-Doubt

There is research that exists that tells us that confidence, not talent, is a driver of success. Researchers at the University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business found that those who were more confident experience greater success than their peers, despite their talent. Whether you believe that or not, it’s hard to argue that confidence is not important.

Being confident changes things. People take notice. You can spot confidence from the minute it walks into the room. Confidence changes our relationships, how we communicate, how we approach new networks, our ability to meet goals and the success we can have in the workplace.

Confidence helps to free us from fear.

It helps us move out of our self-restricted boundary known as our comfort zone. It helps us control any situation, circumstance, or outcome.

Self-doubt can be detrimental to your career. It can make you feel inadequate and insecure.

If you have doubts in your abilities, so will others.

And that can seriously impair your performance and advancement at work. It also weakens your ability to make decisions. But, ultimately, the problem with self-doubt is that it prevents us from expressing our true selves. We may rely on others too heavily and other people don’t always have our best interest at heart!

Richard Branson famously said:

“If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”

If you’re experiencing self-doubt, you probably would not embrace Sir Richard’s remarks. Self-doubt overpowers your confidence for approaching and testing out new things.

Self-doubt becomes problematic when it paralyzes you.

If you experience self-doubt, don’t think you’re alone. Everyone does from time to time. One study by the European Institute for Leadership and Management revealed that 50% of female managers and 31% of male managers admitted to experiencing self-doubt on a regular basis.

How We Can Move Beyond Self-Doubt

Stop worrying about how you look. Really, stop worrying about this. Don’t wonder how you will look in front of people or worry about failing. Focus on what you are trying to achieve and how you WILL achieve it.

Build your confidence – The best way to let go of self-doubt is to build your self-confidence but you’re probably thinking that’s a no-brainer. Educate yourself in whatever it is you are trying to accomplish. Take a course, attend seminars, workshops, and network with industry professionals. The more you know, the more empowered you feel and that will help to remove those doubts.

When we grow confident in our abilities, we don’t allow fear to rise within us and we are able to block self-doubt.

Set realistic goals – Stretch goals are great but if you experience periods of doubt, don’t set unrealistic goals. You don’t want to fall short. That’s a real confidence-breaker. Accomplishments build confidence and worries of the unknown subside. Stretch yourself but break down tasks into meaningful and actionable steps. You need victories to build confidence.

Be aware of who is in your inner circle – Surround yourself with people who will support you and help you succeed. Your social network can either increase or minimize your self-doubt. If you’re embarking on a new undertaking, have super supportive people around you. Success begets success.

Challenge what you say to yourself – Garbage in, garbage out. What thoughts do you put in your mind? Are your thoughts all negative? Are they sneaking in and hijacking your positive thoughts? Critically assess your situation so that your view is balanced.

Handle your setbacks and your criticism – Disappointments happen. Setbacks happen. It’s part of the thing we call life. Use the setbacks to improve your game plan. Don’t let it throw you for a loop. This is not the time to sulk and doubt your efforts. Be tough. Get some feedback from an expert in the field, make the necessary adjustments and keep on moving forward.

You will face feedback and even criticism. It happens to everyone. Make it key to your professional growth. Don’t internalize. Learn from it and move on.

Find a mentor – This one is important. You can’t always handle things on your own. You can’t always recognize your patterns of self-doubt but others can. A coach or mentor can help you identify unhealthy beliefs, patterns, doubts, and unrealistic expectations that weaken your performance. Don’t be afraid to invest in your career. So often we will splurge on material items that make us feel good. Why not invest in your future?

Mentors can help you determine the sources of doubt so they can be resolved.

What are you doubting in yourself today? What scares you? Don’t continue to allow your doubts to control your destiny.

This article is published in collaboration with LinkedIn. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Jan Johnston Osburn is a Talent Acquisition Executive at Lanmark Technology Inc.

Image: A stockbroker looks at stock index numbers on his computer screen at a brokerage firm in Mumbai August 6, 2007. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe. 

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