Tackling career self-doubt head on

By Sue Parker

Thursday November 18, 2021

Self-doubt can stymie us. (Antonioguillem/Adobe)

Self-doubt in all its nuances is a natural human condition. It is omnipresent across all levels, generations, genders and roles. Rarely will any leader or professional in the public or private sector be exempt, albeit at varying degrees.

But there are some people who are ensnared under the Dunning Kruger effect. In such cases, they greatly overestimate their knowledge and competence with an inability to recognise any deficiencies.

Given the spotlight on the public sector broadly, many will hide self-doubt under a suit of confidence bravado. But rest, assured their doubts chip away beneath.

Self-doubt is ubiquitous at the best of times, But the turbulences and changes over the past two years have shaken confidence levels for many as they grappled with difficult and unchartered waters.

Reflection and performance analysis combined with nervous energy to succeed is also part of human existence. But trouble emerges when self-doubt crosses over the line from reasonable self-deliberation into destructive immobility. Decision paralysis and feelings of inadequacy fuel the rumble keeping professionals stuck.

Difference between low self-esteem & self-doubt

Self-doubt and low self-esteem are different but often intertwined. Self-doubt is characterised by uncertainty when faced with new challenges, responsibilities and crises. It magnifies when focussing on past failures. Low self-esteem is a lack of belief in one’s whole capability and intrinsic value.

It is reported in Psychology Today that 85% of the world’s population has low self-esteem. The Victorian government’s Better Health Channel lists some of the root causes as negative feelings, fear of trying and judgement, perfectionism and low resilience.

Navigating the road out

There are eight areas to consider and redress on the road out of self-doubt. Once beliefs are tackled and reframed, doubt and inaction moves to trust and action. I can assure you that even the most senior of leaders struggle at times with some of the below.

1. Reality truth bomb — appearances can be deceiving

The appearance of seamless success and confidence can be an illusion. Be very aware that appearances can be a pretence. It’s critical to never assume without knowing the reality. Many embrace a ‘fake it till you make it ethos’. It’s worth remembering that all that glitters may not be gold.

2. Share to diffuse — silence destroys but sharing strengthens

 Doubt thrives on the misapprehension of silence and shame. Sharing that you are feeling unworthy or a fraud can break the negative energy cycle.

Irrespective of whether you are a solo worker or a leader of thousands in the public sector, give yourself and others permission to accept that you are all part of a moving train of responses and feelings.

3. The jam jar — reality statements are not value judgements

When we are inside our metaphorical jam jar we cannot see our own label. But others can. Inviting others who support you to share perspectives of your value is critical.

Self-judgements can be incorrect and not shared by others. Do you need honest feedback and recalibration if your opinions are true? Mostly they are not.

Facts are facts and not judgements.

4. Owning your brilliance — you did it, you rocked it — you own it!

Everyone has skills and values that are uniquely brilliant. Communicating with honesty and owning your value is not showing off or bragging.

Backing yourself and controlling your brand narrative and successes are essential. It is not bragging to share achievements, yet many (especially women) in the public sector shy away from communicating and owning their power and success.

5. Comparison rabbit hole — no one does exactly what you do

If you are comparing yourself with others please just stop as it’s a rabbit hole of angst. Embracing your unique differentiation is essential. It is impossible that anyone else does exactly what you do in the exact same way you do it.

The only evaluation of importance is comparing what you did yesterday to what you did today and to keep learning.

 6. Perfectionism — is a fairy tale without a happy ending

Expecting yourself to be 100% perfect, 100% of the time is not only balderdash but a mental health slippery slope. Procrastination sits in the centre of perfectionism thwarting action and progress.

Give yourself a break, you are not a robot but a human. As Ita Buttrose famously once said, ‘Done well is enough’.

7. Self-sabotage — quit the nonsense excuses that keep you small

Self-sabotage manifests in many pernicious ways. Resisting the help and services needed is a form of self-sabotage. If you don’t believe you are worthy of success and support you may refuse or cancel the exact help needed to get you there.

Fear of success intertwines around low self-esteem and self-doubt. Check the real motivations of your decisions or indecision.

8. Just dive in — never miss a chance

 Susan Jeffers, author of ‘Feel the Fear Feel and Do It Anyway’ shares in her truths of fear that:

 “Not only are you afraid when facing the unknown, so is everyone else! This should be a relief. You are not the only one out there feeling fear. Everyone feels fear when taking a step into the unknown. Yes, all those people who have succeeded in doing what they have wanted to do in life have felt the fear – and did it anyway.”

 Action is the only way to get into the flow and lose the self-doubt. Practice, persistence and courage are the fuel to knock fear away.

New foundations

Australia has faced incredible challenges over the last few years. For some, this has exacerbated existing self-doubts and for others, a tranche of new self-doubts emerged.

As we move into a more positive 2022, it’s timely to navigate and eradicate the self-doubts that stymie. This will lay a new foundation for happier and more fulfilling careers and lives.


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