Conquering Self-Doubt at Work for Yourself & Employees

Whether it’s feedback from a manager, comments on a blog post or that internal critic in our heads, it is hard not to feel judged throughout our careers. This can lead to self-doubt and a lack of confidence in our own skills. In my experience both in the corporate environment and now as a business owner, I regularly wrestle with self-doubt. If I make a mistake, I am especially hard on myself and sometimes question if am working hard enough.

This kind of self-doubt is something we often deal with silently. On the few occasions I have talked to others about it, I am always surprised when someone responds, “Yes! I struggle with that too!” How do we conquer this feeling of self-doubt, and how do we keep it from getting in the way of success?

Feeling like an Impostor in the Workplace

Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes first wrote about the impostor phenomenon in 1978. They determined that despite positive feedback from people, accolades and successful projects, successful people can still feel like they are not really the experts they make themselves out to be. Even the great writer Maya Angelou, struggled with this. Angelou once said, “Each time I write a book, every time I face that yellow pad, the challenge is so great. I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.’”

Looking at the body of work that Angelou left, it is hard to believe that a woman like her could feel like an impostor. Seeing that someone of her caliber struggled with such strong feelings of self-doubt shows how widespread this feeling is for many professionals.

Contrary to the evidence in front of me, I sometimes feel like someone is going to one day point out that I do not really know what I am talking about when I write and speak about HR. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and think to myself, “I don’t know what I’m doing and somebody is going to let me know it.” I share Angelou’s feeling of self-doubt even though I have a decade of HR experience, am a certified HR professional and have colleagues I trust telling me than in fact, yes, I do know what I am talking about.

Recognizing your own Successes

Conquering self-doubt starts with telling the internal critic to shut up. The next step is recognizing your own successes. This can be as simple as making a list of achievements or giving yourself visual reminders of your successes. Remember how it felt to have your parent put your A paper on the refrigerator? Why not do the same with your glowing performance review?

Don’t shy away from a bit of boasting about your accomplishments. Celebrate your successes with your friends and coworkers. If someone tells you that you did a good job, accept the compliment without making excuses like, “Oh, it wasn’t really that hard, and I had a lot of help along the way.” Simply say, “Thank you.” Accept that someone is complimenting you, which is proof that you are not an impostor.

Focus on the Supportive People in your Network

There is incredible power in sharing your story of struggling with self-doubt. As I mentioned, when I have talked to others about this, I am surprised by how many people can relate. Being open about our self-doubt is also a vehicle for reminding each other that we are not impostors.

Find the people in your network who think you are awesome. For some reason, many of us put a lot of energy into the naysayers and doubters. We let their words gnaw away at our feelings of success and self-worth. In reality, we need to ignore what the negative people say, and put our energy into the relationships with the people who are our cheerleaders. And remember to be a cheerleader for the amazing people in your own network.

I left my corporate job a little over a year ago and started working on my own business last fall. My business partner is a big reason that our business is growing the way it is because he regularly reminds me that I am indeed an industry expert and that I have much to give to the HR community. The more we hear such things from our supporters, the more we start to believe in ourselves.

If we let the feeling of self-doubt overpower us, we may end up selling ourselves short. We make excuses about why we can’t take risks because we do not think we are capable or we fear failure. This can lead to missed opportunities. Remember that even when your self-doubt is at its worst, you are not fraud. Nor am I.

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Stephanie Hammerwold

Stephanie Hammerwold, is the founder and director of Pacific Reentry Career Services, a Southern California nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated women find and maintain employment. She also blogs on a variety of HR topics as the HR Hammer. When not volunteering for her nonprofit, Stephanie has a day job in HR at a tech startup in Irvine, CA.


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