There are few things that can hinder a person’s professional growth more than self-doubt, yet it’s one of the most common occurrences in individuals during their professional careers. Self-doubt, otherwise known as impostor syndrome, describes the feelings of inadequacy that a person may have in some aspect of their lives, very often applying to their careers. According to a Harvard Business Review, impostor syndrome is most often experienced by high achievers and those who are incredibly successful.
In fact, a 2022 article published by Nerdwallet tells us just how common this occurrence is. According to the article, 78% of business leaders experience a form of self-doubt or imposter syndrome during their careers.
Self-doubt, imposter syndrome, feelings of inadequacy- none of these feelings are out of the ordinary. Managing all that you do on a daily basis- motivating employees, setting strategy, contributing to board meetings all the while trying to nurture your personal life and find time for you- it’s understandable that stress would be a part of the equation. Stress and self-doubt often present together as you size up how to respond to the overwhelm. However, rather than dismissing those thoughts or worse yet, allowing those feelings to negatively impact you, it’s important to spend time reflecting on how this stress impacts you and the best ways to manage it.
Why do leaders feel self-doubt in their careers?
There are many reasons why leaders may experience self-doubt in their professional careers; however, the main reasons tend to boil down to five main points.
- You recently started a new role: Nerdwallet suggests that starting a new role is the leading cause of imposter syndrome. With 58% of leaders experiencing self-doubt after starting a new position, it’s clear that this has the potential to be a major stressor which could lead to impostor syndrome.
- You made a mistake: often, our feelings of inadequacy stem from a mistake we made. From something as small as missing a meeting to something as major as a problem that put your project at risk, mistakes can stir up some unpleasant feelings about ourselves and our abilities.
- Performance reviews: looming performance reviews are sure to trigger some insecurities about job performance which may lead to feelings of self-doubt.
- Praise from peers: just as receiving critiques on your performance has the power to elicit feelings of inward criticism, so can receiving praise for your work. Often people feel the pressure to live up to the expectations of high praise, or worse yet, feel that it’s not deserved.
- Stagnant career growth: it’s difficult to feel confident in yourself and your career when you feel as though it’s going nowhere. There’s no harsher feeling than getting lost in the weeds at work with no upwards mobility or being unexpectedly let go from a leadership role. This can certainly stir up feelings of self-doubt not only in the trajectory of your career but also in yourself.
Overcoming feelings of self-doubt in your professional career.
It’s important not to let feelings of self-doubt fester or go unattended, especially when it comes to your work life. The term “career” in and of itself denotes longevity, so naturally, sustainability is key. Feelings of self-doubt can be debilitating and can lead to burnout or hinder decision-making. That’s why it’s important to not only understand these feelings but to manage them and let them fuel you in the right ways.
There are six main ways to overcome self-doubt:
- Practice self-compassion
The first and most important way to overcome self-doubt is to practice compassion with yourself. Very often, we’re our own harshest critics and serve as the arbiters of our professional demise. Though it’s important to recognize feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy in yourself, it’s just as essential to recognize just how harsh they are and question their validity.
Very often, we’re reluctant to judge our team as harshly as we judge ourselves. Why? Because we understand that a team works best when lead with compassion and encouragement. It allows them to work in safe place where they’re input is valued and ideas can be worked through for the advancement of the company. Remember to apply those same principles to yourself. Allow yourself the space and safety you give to those who work with you. As cliche as it may be, it is very important to be fair and nice to yourself. Leading yourself and your career with care and compassion is the first step in overcoming self-doubt. You are in complete control of how you choose to talk to yourself- take full advantage of the opportunity.
2. Inventory your strengths
Self-doubt tends to make us cast a shadow over our skills and strengths leaving only our weaknesses on display. During moments of self-doubt and insecurity, it’s important to remember your strengths. What are you good at? What have you achieved? How have you positively contributed to your team and work environment?
In asking yourself these questions, you’ll recognize that you have worked hard and accomplished many things. You may also realize that your experience is vast and the skills you acquired make you a great fit for your position. Sometimes, taking inventory of your strengths is exactly what you need to remember that you can count on yourself just as much as anyone else.
3. Hone your inner circle
Who you surround yourself with plays a significant role in your professional success. It extends beyond the typical advice of surrounding yourself with friends and family. Honing your circle means surrounding yourself with positive voices and perspectives. It’s important to be around people who aim to uplift you and want to see you succeed. If you don’t currently have positive sounding boards in your life, start actively looking for them. Joining professional organizations with like-minded people focused on a positive mission is a great way to bridge this gap.
It’s also important to apply this principle to your team. Make sure that those who work for and with you are competent. Make sure you feel confident in them and their skills and know that you can rely on them to execute on important projects. It’s important to be able to value their input, so that when you do receive praise from them, you know it’s well deserved.
4. Keep a journal
Keeping a personal journal can be a great tool to help overcome self-doubt. Studies have shown that keeping a journal can help you relax and further understand the emotions you’re experiencing. Journals offer you an opportunity to reflect and work through events you feel you can improve from in a visual way.
A further step includes starting a career journal in which you can record your career goals. You should also note the steps you’ll take to achieve them and the skills and support you will need along the way. This can be an important tool to keep you on track and accountable for your goals. Keeping track of your achievements also helps you remember what you’ve accomplished and just how qualified you are to be in your position.
5. Find internal validation
In order to overcome self-doubt, you have to recognize your strengths instead of falling into a pattern where you hyper-focus on your perceived gaps. Focusing on building confidence in your skills, expertise, and experience are surefire ways to remember that you’re not only competent but good at what you do.
Furthermore, you must take pride in your work. Your appreciation of your work should come from internally knowing you did a great job, not from the validation of others. While you should always take constructive criticism into account, never wait to hear the words “well done” to know you’ve done a great job. Never put yourself down when you’ve made a mistake and instead use mistakes as a means to build yourself up through reflection and growth. Every great leader through time made mistakes to ultimately pave the way to great success. Learn to dispel negative self-talk and replace it with your own positive influence to let those inevitable mistakes prepare you for the next opportunity.
6. Seek professional help
Sometimes, self-doubt and imposter syndrome can’t be overcome all on your own. It’s more than okay to need a more hands-on approach to overcoming self-doubt in your professional career. When you hit a brick wall on your journey to overcome self-doubt, it’s time to turn to a professional for guidance. There are many avenues you can use to seek help for your self-doubt.
One of the most common means of professional help for self-doubt is executive career coaching. An executive career coach is someone who works closely with you to help you optimize your leadership skills and advance your career while managing the stress of a leadership position. Their main goal is to help you innately get in touch with who you are and connect the dots about how to leverage that to overcome career hurdles and achieve your career goals.
When self-doubt has morphed into clinical depression, anxiety or an inability to drive forward momentum, a therapist is a better fit before embarking on executive career coaching.
Self-doubt or impostor syndrome is nothing new. Almost every successful leader has admitted to experiencing it at some point. The important thing is to not let self-doubt hinder your professional career. Following these tips will not only allow you to manage your self-doubt but eventually, learn to let it fuel you instead of hinder you. From practicing self-compassion to hiring an executive career coach, following these tips will allow you to overcome your self-doubt and achieve your career goals.
Swim Against the Current is a leading executive career coaching service that aims to help you achieve your full career potential. We believe that the power to enact change and achieve your career goals lies within you.
Many clients struggle with experiencing self-doubt at work but can rediscover their confidence and grow their careers with our executive career coach Amy Sanchez. With an MBA from the University of Southern California, a coaching certificate from the International Coaching Federation, and years of experience in the field, Amy Sanchez is well equipped to help you achieve your career goals while overcoming self-doubt.
If you’re ready to make lasting changes that will advance your career, then apply for a call today to see if Amy Sanchez is the right San Francisco Bay Area executive career coach for you. Amy also works with a number of leaders around the world as well.