How to Overcome Insecurities at Work

Some bosses micromanage and leave you feeling like you’ll never live up to their standards of perfection. Promotions challenge you to take on new responsibilities, but you don’t feel equipped for the task. Outside conditions contribute to your insecurities, but the underlying issue is the fact that your self-image is disempowered.

The worst criticisms attack from the inside, as negative self-talk plays like a broken record. It’s hard to fight that kind of negativity, but you need to accept you’re a valuable player at work who does their best, has succeeded in the past and will do so again.

1. Accept That Insecurity Is Universal and Natural

At some point, everyone experiences insecurity at work, and many of the largest successes have been achieved by those who felt deeply insecure with themselves and their circumstances.

Insecurity isn’t a direct reflection on you or your abilities. It’s not linked to your strengths or your happiness. There’s at least one person in your life who sees your personal and professional strength and admires you for your talent, and chances are they’ve pointed it out to you before.

2. It’s OK to Ask Questions

Asking questions or for help doesn’t mean you’re incompetent at your job. You might be new, and the six-inch-thick training binder of information isn’t sticking easily in your head. Applying transferable skills between departments, as a part of a new promotion, may not be as easy as you thought. Everyone experiences brain fog and fumbles from time to time.

Ask questions, but remember to take notes. Keep a cheat sheet of strategies and solutions, so you won’t find yourself asking five versions of the same question a year later.

3. Get Curious to Be Courageous

In The Wizard of Oz, the Cowardly Lion spends the whole story looking for courage. The Wizard’s remedy ends up being a placebo, as the Lion finally takes action and discovers the courage that was within himself all the time.

Instead of talking yourself out of something, transform those insecure thoughts and negative self-talk into statements of curiosity, and let your actions finish the unfinished sentences in your head. What if I led the meeting? What if I spearheaded this project? What if I learned programming? Don’t assume you can’t accomplish anything, and act instead of reacting.

4. Perfectionism Is Tiring

Whether you’re trying to live up to your own ideals of perfectionism, or those of your coworkers or boss, it’s exhausting to attempt to be perfect all the time. You’re ultimately setting yourself up to fail because there are so many possibilities.

By trying for a certain kind of perfection, you’re failing to see other ideas and avenues of action that could bring better success to the situation. Free yourself from perfectionism to take advantage of better opportunities.

5. Innovate Your Way

Now that you’ve ditched perfectionism, consider other ways of going above and beyond on your next assignment. What about securing new markets or clients? What about following your gut on developing a creative campaign for a longtime client? How will you do this?

When you go the extra mile, do it in your style. Innovate your way.

6. Get Feedback

As time goes by, your boss may not give you as much feedback, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing — it doesn’t mean your work isn’t contributing to the company.

Ask for constructive feedback, and the answers may surprise you. For example, acknowledge to your boss there were several routes you could’ve taken on a client project, and ask them to evaluate how you handled it. Your boss should be able to tell you what you did well with your approach and may suggest other avenues that could’ve also had beneficial results. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Getting feedback on a project as you take it step by step also helps reassure you that you’re making progress and meeting or exceeding expectations.

7. Gather Allies

If you’re new to a city or coming out of your shell, the professional world can seem a little lonely, and you might feel insecure about developing your career and your skills. As the hero in your professional journey, you’re not without allies. Look to your network for support, and if that feels empty, gather allies.

Write a thoughtful email to an old mentor, and ask to meet for coffee and new connections, clearly outlining why you’re getting in touch to avoid awkwardness when you get together. Let go of the Negative Nancys in your life, and make real allies who will support you, instead of trying to sabotage you. A quality few is better than having 100 professionals who give back nothing.

8. Get Into Character

Do you feel like an imposter? A twist on “faking it until you make it” is getting into a professional character. Part of that is smiling, making eye contact, being accessible and dressing well. Looking the part doesn’t have to mean acting how you think someone else would approach your role. It’s about how you’re going to do well in this role.

Change up your look, but still keep the base elements of your essential style. It’s OK if you’re introverted, but make an effort to invite a new person to a coffee date to grow your network.

9. Be True to Yourself

If you’re not fully satisfied with your job, it’s not necessarily your fault. If your employer fails to appreciate or take advantage of your talents or skills, it may be time to move on to an opportunity that’s a better fit. Even if you quit your job, don’t burn bridges — give your notice in a timely and professional manner.

Permit yourself to be you, personally and professionally. Look at your career, and ask yourself if you’re going somewhere you earnestly want to be. Will you be happy? Will you enjoy the work and contribute at your best level?

If you’ve just lost your enthusiasm for the work, it may not be because you lack the ability, but because you no longer have the desire driving you to pursue this path professionally.

10. Recognize Your Achievements for Yourself

Invest in yourself professionally. Whether you are or aren’t getting recognized for your successes at work, it’s important to honor and celebrate your achievements for yourself.

Create a personal incentive program. Keep a journal of these successes, and track your goals. Reward yourself with a new blazer, espresso maker or professional development class.

Your self-image is important at work, too. Know that everyone experiences insecurity, and negative self-talk is hard to shut down. It’s better to ask questions, get feedback and get involved in acting, instead of reacting, to that negative self-talk.

Doesn’t perfectionism get tiring after a while? Gather allies, innovate your way and put your best foot forward. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for help or to offer a hand and a smile. Be true to yourself and honor your achievements because you’re doing just fine.

What insecurities hold you back at work? Share your plans for overcoming negative self-talk at work in the comments and subscribe to Punched Clocks for more career tips to fuel your professional growth.

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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