January 3, 2019 ・ Written by T.J. Duane

Don’t underestimate yourself

3 steps to get back on track and get stuff done

Don’t underestimate yourself

It’s easy to look at something you’ve never done—a new job, a school project, or a new hobby—and figure that it’s nearly impossible. You’re out of your depth! You don’t understand it right away, so it must be a Sisyphean task.

But that’s usually the imposter syndrome talking. I always encourage people who feel overwhelmed by something in their career to take a step back. Even huge, complex tasks aren’t nearly as scary when you take a minute to break them down, evaluate your ability honestly, and make an action plan.

Here’s how to get back in control when you’re having a major moment of self-doubt at work or in school.

1) Do some positive self-talk.

When you’re feeling like you can’t possibly accomplish something, it’s important to examine that feeling. Is it really a lack of ability, or is it something else?

It can be helpful to acknowledge your strengths before you start to look for answers. Whether you’re at work or in school, remember that you wouldn’t be there if you weren’t good enough. You got hired or accepted because somebody out there believes in you. You should join them and believe in yourself!

Remind yourself of all the big problems you’ve wrangled in the past. Chances are you’ve accomplished many things that were unfamiliar in the beginning. This is just another opportunity to overcome something tough. You can do it.

2) Ask questions.

So often self-doubt springs from a lack of clear expectations. After all, if you knew exactly what you had to do to accomplish your goal, you wouldn’t have an uneasy feeling creeping up.

The most valuable employees aren’t the ones who always have the answers, they’re the ones who ask good questions. The missing pieces of the puzzle are often some of the most fundamental:

  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • How will we measure success?
  • What resources do I have available to me to help?

Asking questions can feel difficult. It’s hard to admit when you don’t know something. But asking the right questions will only reflect well on you. Getting clear on what’s fuzzy at the outset will save you time, prevent miscommunications, and can even help reveal unknown factors that might be standing in your way.

3) Break the project down into smaller pieces.

Ideally, your questions should lead you to concrete, manageable tasks. It can be helpful to ask “What are my next steps?” if you’re still not sure.

Sometimes it’s as simple as “Follow up on this with Jim” or “Go to the library and find the book you need”.

By taking a project on one piece at a time, you declaw it. Do one thing. Then figure out what the next one thing is.

Sometimes breaking down difficult tasks this way can reveal obstacles that nobody had anticipated. Perhaps you need information before you can proceed. Maybe it’s truly too big a job for just you. Either way, knowing the most granular next step is a powerful move forward.

Good luck on your next big new thing. And remember, you can always find help and advice from the friendly professionals from your college network on BrightCrowd.