At some point you’ll be asked to or want to do something you’ve never done before. The territory may be unfamiliar. The outcomes may be unknown. This new stuff can be exciting. It can also be scary.
Most of us have been in this place. We want to move ahead but feel unsure of our capabilities. This often leads to self-doubt.
Self-doubt first appears as a voice in your head repeating a string of “What If…?” questions.
What if I can’t do this? (Failure)
What if others think I’m wrong? (Criticism)
What if I don’t know what to do? (Incompetence)
What if my boss realizes I don’t have the skills? (Found Out)
Since “What If” questions have no predictable answers, listening to your self-doubt voice can freeze you in place.
Certainly, the path of least resistance is to pull back to what’s familiar and comfortable. That’s easy. But, by doing so, you forget that this ‘comfortable place’ was once unknown territory that you successfully conquered.
Until you talk back to the voice in your head and address the “What If?” questions with action, your self-doubt voice will continue to repeat….and win out.
You may not be able to make the voice disappear.
But, you can drown it out with action.
Here are some suggestions.
Let’s say you’ve been asked to lead a project or work on something new. It’s because the person asking probably believes you will succeed. Start by acknowledging to yourself that you’ve already demonstrated that you have the skills or the decision-making ability to accomplish the task; that you’ve shown potential.
Before jumping into your new work, set yourself up for success by asking;
1) What do I need to learn to get the job done?
Identify gaps in your technical skills. Look for professional development opportunities or resources to help you fill in the gaps. Learning a technical skill or understanding the capabilities of a system will help you ask better, more informed questions as the work unfolds.
2) How do I relate to others?
Once you’ve got a plan for the technical skills you will want to assess how you build and maintain relationships with colleagues. The technical skills are easy to quantify, but the interpersonal skill may be more vague. Take a deep breath and ask colleagues you trust for feedback. Be sure to ask about your communication style, accountability, collaboration and transparency. Listen objectively to what your colleagues are saying so you can more effectively capitalize on your areas of strength and work on your weaker ones.
3) Who are the people most likely to help?
For you to succeed and keep self-doubt at bay, you’ll need help from others. Think about whose expertise will be valuable to you and the work. Get together and talk about if/how they would like to be involved with the project. Make decisions about the best way to communicate. Make sure this includes agreement on how you will communicate when things don’t go as planned.
Doing these will give you a strong start in your new work.
When Roadblocks Appear
But, as with most new things, surprises and obstacles are bound to materialize. This is where self-doubt reappears with its “what if” questions, except now, the circumstances are real. Move quickly past this doubt by keeping the following in mind.
Trust your values and your experience. They will provide the direction you need for making decisions. Bring in your colleagues and be transparent about the issues you are facing. You’ll get past the roadblock faster with help.
Embrace Incremental Progress
When you’re in new territory take smaller steps. Plan your overall timeline, and especially at the beginning, schedule more frequent check-ins. As you move ahead, ask an outside colleague to stress-test your progress. Have them take a devil’s advocate position to ensure that you are on the best path.
Give yourself a break
New is hard. New takes more time. New has uncertainty. New is exciting. Keep moving towards what you want to look back on with pride.
It takes focus and persistence to answer the questions raised by your voice of self-doubt. It’s worth the effort.
After all, what’s new and scary today
are your success stories for tomorrow.
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