Careers

Imposter syndrome and self-doubt: how to stop ‘career fear’ holding you back at work

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Lauren Geall
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Is fear holding you back from making the career moves you dream of? Here’s how to get those feelings of self-doubt under control.

One of the many things the coronavirus pandemic has put on hold is our careers. Whether you’ve been on furlough or have been working from home, the last couple of months have definitely been quiet when it comes to career progression.

However, as the furlough scheme starts to phase out and many of us prepare to return to the office, it’s about time we started thinking about the future again and putting plans into action when it comes to our career goals and dreams.

If only doing that was as easy as it sounded. Because although many of us might dream about landing a promotion, putting ourselves forward for more opportunities and being confident in our abilities, doing those things is a lot more daunting than we’d like to admit. And that’s where ‘career fear’ comes in. 

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A problem which is particularly prominent among women, career fear – aka a fear of career progession and going after your goals – can not only leave you feeling frustrated at yourself and those around you, it can also exacerbate feelings of self-doubt and low self-esteem.

So where does career fear come from, and how can we overcome these fears in order to achieve our goals? We spoke to Denise Richardson, a motivational speaker, career mentor and author of the new book Cruel: One Child’s Journey To Survive, to learn more about how to manage our fear and put our goals into action.

Why is ‘career fear’ such a prominent issue among women?

A woman experiencing career fear at work
“I think a lot of women suffer from limited self-belief, and don’t believe that they deserve their achievements or deserve to be in their job.”

“I think a lot of women suffer from limited self-belief, and don’t believe that they deserve their achievements or deserve to be in their job – a lot of which is to do with imposter syndrome,” Richardson explains.

“A lack of recognition in the workplace is also a big factor – I did a survey of over 1000 women and the survey revealed that, for 44% of women, a lack of recognition in the workplace was contributing to their lack of self-belief.

“And that lack of recognition isn’t just about getting that next promotion or not seeing it go to a male counterpart as first preference, but it’s also about making women feel that they are contributing within the workplace and that they are actually doing a good job.”

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Richardson continues: “I also think a lack of female role models in the workplace is a big issue, especially as you get more senior. I did suffer with glass ceiling syndrome in my job as I was one of the only very senior females – I think I was one of two – and the rest of the team were male.

“Finally, I think the desire and the need to be seen as being successful is also a fear that brings self-doubt – as well as a fear of failure itself.”

How can we overcome ‘career fear’?

A woman experiencing anxiety at work
To overcome career fear, Richardson recommends taking responsibility for the change you want to see.

For Richardson, overcoming ‘career fear’ is all about setting intentions and goals for the future, and then taking action to ensure we’re not sabotaging ourselves along the way. It breaks down to four simple tips:

1. Take responsibility for your fear

“It’s really important to take 100% responsibility for making change in your life because you’re the only one who can do it,” Richardson says. “You can have all the coaching and mentoring and read all the magazines and self-help books on the planet, but if you don’t take responsibility for overcoming your own fear, you’re never going to change.

“You have to give yourself permission to step into your full potential.”

2. Say no to negative self-talk

“As women, we’re very good at talking negatively to ourselves all the time,” Richardson says. “We might tell ourselves we don’t look good enough or question whether we said the right thing to someone. And I think until we start to use positive language to talk to ourselves, it’s very difficult to overcome that fear.”

Check out our guide to engaging with – and controlling – your inner-critic to find out more about saying no to negative self-talk.

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3. Remove negative influences

“I think it’s really important to remove negative people from your life,” Richardson says. “You might have found yourself surrounded by negative influences because you’ve tried to be nice to them, but it can completely destroy your confidence if you’ve got someone always telling you ‘well, you can’t do that’ or ‘you will never do that’.

“Overcoming that fear is about having the courage and confidence to remove those negative influences for your benefit.”

4. Make a plan

“You’ve got to have a vision of what you want in your life,” Richardson explains. “And once you’ve done that, then you have to make plans around how you’re going to make the things you want happen.

“Once you put some baby steps into action, you will eradicate some of your career fear, because you’re able to build confidence in yourself and see the progress you’re beginning to make.”

Feeling inspired? Check out our guides to putting yourself forward for opportunities at work and making a career change during the pandemic for more information.

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