Are you mad at yourself for making a mistake at work? Are you hesitant to take on another project lest you make the same mistake again? Do you feel that you are not as competent as your employer seems to think you are?
Everybody has feelings of self-doubt at some point in their career, but it can become a problem if a lack of confidence persistently prevents you from taking on challenges or moving out of your comfort zone.
This article explains what insecurity at work looks like and why it can be devastating to your career if not controlled. We suggest ways to understand the causes of your insecurity, manage it, and how to use it to your advantage.
No one is immune to feelings of insecurity. Insecurity is fundamentally a lack of confidence in some area or another, often due to a lack of self-esteem. Someone might be a rockstar at work and the best coder on the team. They might feel confident in their ability to build out a tech deck, but they might freeze among co-workers because they fear their co-workers dislike them.
What causes insecurity can stem from events in the past, like being bullied at school or experiencing an abusive relationship. Because of past experiences, people have negative thoughts that lead to self-doubt. When we doubt ourselves, we feel nervous and hesitant, which can hold us back from taking advantage of opportunities.
Most of us can relate to personal insecurities. People can feel insecure about their self-image or underestimate their self-worth. Almost everyone experiences relationship insecurities too, where we worry that the object of our ardor may not feel quite the same way. But what does insecurity at work look like? It depends on the person.
If you find yourself full of self-doubt when assigned a task, you feel insecure. Remember, you were hired because you were considered capable of the tasks you would be expected to perform, so that alone should give you the confidence to take them on.
Some people suffer from imposter syndrome. People who suffer from this syndrome fear their employers made a mistake when they hired them, and they will soon be exposed as a fraud. This syndrome can be incapacitating and stop people from having the courage to take on tasks. Imposter syndrome is common among high-achievers.
Feeling insecure is damaging to your career, your mental health, and your physical health. People with insecurities are more likely to experience anxiety and depression. How can we learn to overcome feelings of insecurity? The first step is recognizing those feelings and understanding what is causing them.
Some introspection is required to identify the causes of your insecurity. If you have significant trauma in your past, you might find professional counseling helpful. That said, even something as simple as being passed over for promotion can be damaging to your self-esteem and undermine your confidence.
Research shows that up to 40 percent of our happiness depends on our recent life events, so think about what could have triggered insecure feelings. It could be an upset with a friend or a family member or a disappointing performance appraisal.
If you are finding it difficult to figure out what is causing your anxiety, lack of self-confidence, or feelings of insecurity, consider consulting a career coach who can help you work through career-related issues and offer an independent perspective.
Related: "Bad Performance Review? Here’s How to Handle It"
Everybody’s insecurities are different, but here are some general ways to address them and overcome them.
Feeling insecure is not such a bad thing. In fact, you can use it to your advantage. Find that voice in your head telling you negative things and turn the message into a positive one instead. Tell yourself, “I can do this if I take it one step at a time.” Find determination amidst the insecurity. Learn to live with it because everyone does.
We may find ourselves frozen and unable to move ahead because we fear the worst. We might constantly strive for perfectionism and beat ourselves up if we fall short. We might fear being fired if we don’t meet performance targets. But such subjectivity is not helpful. Even if you are fired, does that mean you’ll never find a new job? Take control of your thoughts and be rational in your thinking because that will reduce your level of anxiety.
Just as a tennis player must focus on the ball and not their own body movements, stop focusing on yourself and look at the bigger picture. Think of how your work benefits your teammates, the company, and its clients. Think of how managing your insecurities will lead to new opportunities.
It will take time to learn new skills and build confidence. Give yourself the latitude to fail, just keep taking one step at a time to reach each new goal. Take your time, and celebrate each achievement. Continue to gradually move out of your comfort zone by taking on new initiatives, and then return to your comfort zone to process what you have achieved. Do this repeatedly and, slowly, your insecurity will diminish.
An insecure person can feel more confident if they ask for advice. Find a mentor at work who you can go to when you need help. That will give you confidence in your decisions. Learn to speak up for yourself and to be assertive. Ask your manager for feedback on your performance and find out what areas you need to work on. Don’t be afraid to hear constructive criticism because that’s how you will advance.
Common workplace insecurities can center around job insecurity, salary, and promotions. Ask your manager to address your concerns, particularly during performance reviews. Gain clarity, and you will have a better idea of what steps to take to achieve the next promotion or pay raise.
Build a support network and surround yourself with positive, encouraging people who care about your well-being. Build strong work relationships and talk to others to hear how they overcame insecurities. I guarantee everyone has a story to tell.
For tips on building a network, "Building Your Professional Network to Land a Job"
It’s normal to have an inner voice that undermines our confidence. When our self-esteem is low, our self-talk sounds like “You never get anything right,” “You’re a failure,” or “You’ll never achieve A, B, or C.” The trouble is, if you listen to that voice, it is likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Instead, silence your inner critic and give yourself a chance. Tell yourself that you are talented, brave, and competent. Try new things one step at a time, and you’ll build confidence as you reach your goals. Nothing is as empowering as facing your fears and beating them!