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Take This One Easy Step to Conquer Self-Doubt

Take This One Easy Step to Conquer Self-Doubt

A friend of mine shared a story with me about a recent project at work. She was asked to work with the data analytics team on a key phase of a longer-term initiative. The problem for her: She has minimal experience with data analytics and had no idea why she was chosen to be part of this effort.

Immediately, the tell-tale signs of Impostor Syndrome kicked in. Thoughts such as, “I don’t belong here,” “What value do I have to offer?” and “There must be some mistake,” ran through her mind. Initial conversations with the team triggered intense anxiety as she struggled to make the connection between the goals of the project and the value she had to contribute.

I hear variations of this story regularly. So many of us, when presented with new challenges and responsibilities, panic. Even if we’ve raised our hands and asked for the assignment, once it arrives, strong feelings of self-doubt often emerge. “Can I really do this?” “What if I fail?” “I’m going to let my team and myself down.”

[Related: Harnessing Courage to Overcome Fear]

Here’s where my friend’s story gets interesting. As someone who is generally confident and willing to speak up, she kicked off an early team meeting with a pretty bold statement:

So, I’m clearly the weakest link on this team.

Watching her with confused looks, they asked her to explain:

Well, I’m not a data analytics expert. As a matter of fact, I don’t really have any meaningful experience with data analytics. In my role, I create stories out of data; I don’t actually analyze the data. So, I’m not sure how helpful I can be on this project.

The team immediately grasped her concerns and responded by clarifying:

That’s why you’re here! We don’t expect you to do the data analysis. That’s our job. You’re here to help us make sense of the data before we bring it to the next phase.

With extreme relief and satisfaction, she embraced her new role, rolled up her sleeves, and dove in. Clarifying the expectations empowered her to leverage her unique skill-set and overcome her self-doubt.

Too often, when we find ourselves in these situations, our tendency is to hide our feelings. “If I speak up, others will realize that I don’t belong here,” we worry. “If I work hard enough, I’ll figure it out,” we tell ourselves. Then we anxiously maneuver our way through the stress and uncertainty of our new situations, hoping that, with time, our clarity and confidence will improve.

[Related: How I (Finally) Escaped the Confidence Trap]

What I so deeply admire about my friend’s approach is that she shared her feelings out loud. By labeling herself the weakest link, which brought humor to the discussion, and candidly expressing her confusion as to where she fit in, she created the space for open conversation. In the process, she learned exactly why she was there and what she was expected to contribute.

The next time you find yourself in a situation where your role is unclear, resist the temptation to fly under the radar and figure it out all by yourself. It’s highly unlikely that the decision makers who selected you made a mistake. It’s far more likely that they had very clear reasons for engaging you. It’s your responsibility, and opportunity, to clarify those reasons when they are unclear.

Here are some questions you can ask to clarify expectations and manage self-doubt:

  • I’m very excited for this project/role. To ensure that we are on the same page, what do you see as the greatest opportunity for me to add value?
  • I would love to contribute but I’m not entirely clear how I fit in. Please let me know where you see the connection.
  • I’m very grateful that you selected me for this opportunity. Can you tell me what it was about my background or experience that made you choose me?

When we don’t immediately see the connection between our skills and the role we’re expected to perform, our natural response is self-doubt. Empower yourself to overcome that self-doubt by asking questions and getting the information you need up front.

[Related: Three Secret Impostor Syndrome Triggers (That Aren't About Self-Confidence)]


Kim Meninger is an executive coach and consultant who specializes in women’s leadership. She is passionate about helping women in traditionally male-dominated fields to build their confidence, visibility, and influence.

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