9 Tips for Overcoming Feelings of Inadequacy at Work

It’s not that I have no business playing my role; I’ve been at this for quite some time now with a proven track record. However, there is not always definitive right or wrong answers in my field. Unlike being a doctor, for example, no one lives or dies based on my choices. In short, I make a lot of stuff up as I go along using carefully combined measures of data and experience. And then I ultimately let my intuition take over.

Fraud is an extreme term, and chosen to make a point. I’m going to suggest many of us, regardless of how well-educated or experienced we might be, suffer from feeling like we are an imposter in our roles at some point. Sometimes, this is minor. Maybe you get incredibly nervous before speaking to a client because you feel you don’t know their business, or yours, well enough. Maybe it’s more significant. Perhaps you manage a team and you question your ability to successfully lead them to accomplish your goals.

Start at the beginning. Determine when the feeling started, and the times at which it appears to surface. By doing so, perhaps you end up reflecting on an early adolescent memory, or a tough early work experience. Maybe it had to do with the way you presented a report in front of your high school class, or the outcome of a project you led. With a little self-diagnosis, you just might be able to identify exactly where these negative feelings of self-doubt came from. If so, move to step 2.

You’ve done some detective work to determine where some of these feelings originated. Now, compare and contrast them to what you are experiencing in the present day. If speaking up in front of your class was filled you with dread, it’s no wonder you might feel slightly panicky at the thought of presenting in front of your whole team today. Think hard though. Surely, you’ve had to speak up in front of people since those scary high school days. Reflect on other experiences, and consider the outcomes. Chances are, you made it through, and even though you might have been nervous, you powered through to a satisfactory outcome. Maybe it even went well.

Years ago, on Saturday Night Live, a character named Stuart Smalley would stare into his mirror listing affirmations to pump himself up. While entertaining, it’s not far off. Taking an inventory of your accomplishments leading to your current job is a great confidence builder. Education, classes, internships, business connections. It all counts, and it all led up to the job you have now. Recognize and embrace all the hard work you did to get there.

Starting to feel a little more confident? Good. Now think about your role. Consider what success looks like. Perhaps ask your boss and colleagues for their opinions too; sometimes those versions differ from your own, and it’s far better to be aligned. Once you’ve created a solid model of what success looks like, you can focus your energies working towards that. People often share the “I feel like a fraud” when they focus on self-doubt, or believe they need to have all the answers. Reality check: NO ONE has all the answers. It’s how you approach the problems, find answers, and learn from mistakes that matters.

While we might intellectually understand that no one is perfect, the insecurity that makes us feel like a fraud can sneak up on the best of us. We all want to bring our best selves to work, and feel respected and supported. There is not one successful person alive that hasn’t stumbled along the way, and wondered if they were living up to expectations. Take a deep breath. Thriving in your job or field is a significantly different focus than “being perfect” in it. Want to thrive? Go back in time, determine where the doubt started, and then celebrate what’s got you to where you are now. Work hard to edit those behaviors that are getting in your way, and celebrate your victories.

Feelings of inadequacy appear when you feel like you don’t measure up to your coworkers, but these thoughts you’re having may not reflect reality. Unhelpful comparisons, self-criticism, poor coping habits, and unrealistic expectations can often play a key role in how you currently feel.

How to build confidence at work (what to do when you feel dumb or stupid at work)

Signs you’re feeling inadequate at work

There are various symptoms you may observe in yourself if youre feeling inadequate at work. Here are a few of those signs explained:

9 things you can do to overcome feeling inadequate at work

There are various strategies you can use to overcome feeling inadequate at work. Here are nine actions you can take to build your confidence, reframe your perspective and shift toward a growth-oriented mindset:

1. Redefine success

If you feel inadequate at work because you havent been as successful in meeting your goals lately, you can try to overcome this by redefining your idea of success. Consider your current definition of success and examine whether its realistic to have such expectations for yourself. If your current definition isnt attainable, try to set other, more reasonable goals that you can work toward to achieve success.

2. Reflect on your achievements

It can be easy for professionals to overlook their past accomplishments and instead focus on the obstacles theyre currently facing. Despite this, doing this can make it challenging for you to recognize your abilities and affirm your skills. Therefore, if youre feeling inadequate at work, try to reflect on your experiences and make a list of your past achievements to gain an accurate perspective of your performance.

3. Take initiative

If youre feeling inadequate at work because you havent received external recognition for your efforts, try taking more initiative in your role. You can offer your help to your colleagues, step in with assistance in periods of high demand or propose innovative changes to current processes. Your coworkers and supervisor may notice your initiative and offer positive feedback.

4. Solicit feedback

Professionals sometimes feel inadequate at work due to a lack of feedback. When you dont know how well youre meeting expectations or whether youre succeeding, it can be challenging to feel assured in your abilities. Therefore, you may be able to overcome feelings of inadequacy by asking your supervisor for feedback on your performance.

5. Establish a support network

Feeling inadequate at work can often cause professionals to withdraw from social or collaborative environments, which can sometimes exacerbate their challenges. Instead of withdrawing, try to establish a support network of colleagues and friends who can listen to you and offer their own perspectives. With the help of your support network, you may be able to gain helpful insight into your experiences and overcome your feelings.

6. Make a plan for professional development

If youre facing a challenging period at work because of a lack of skills or competency in a particular area, you can fight feelings of inadequacy by pursuing professional development. Consider taking a workshop or class that can help you hone your skills and offer the level of knowledge you need to succeed in your role. This can show your supervisor that youre taking initiative and help you overcome any hurdles to progress you may face.

7. Know your boundaries

Taking on too much responsibility at work can sometimes result in professionals feeling inadequate about their abilities. This is because overpromising often results in under-delivering due to a lack of time and energy. Therefore, try to recognize your limits and set boundaries with your work so you can succeed at whatever you do.

8. Accept that growth is a continual process

Often, achieving growth can be disheartening for professionals, as the process is continual and often involves making mistakes. While this process may lead you to feel inadequate at times, you can overcome your feelings by accepting that growth isnt linear. Try to welcome the mistakes you make and face obstacles with the belief that you have the ability to get past them.

9. Acknowledge your strengths

All professionals have strengths and weaknesses. With this, its rare that one person succeeds at everything they do or try. Despite this, weaknesses can make many professionals feel inadequate about their work. Try to reframe your perspective about your weaknesses and instead think of them as areas for improvement. From here, acknowledge your strengths and use them to your advantage.


How do I stop feeling inadequate at work?

9 things you can do to overcome feeling inadequate at work
  1. Redefine success. …
  2. Reflect on your achievements. …
  3. Take initiative. …
  4. Solicit feedback. …
  5. Establish a support network. …
  6. Make a plan for professional development. …
  7. Know your boundaries. …
  8. Accept that growth is a continual process.

Is feeling incompetent at work normal?

As you embark on a new job or take on a new task, feeling discomfort regarding your abilities is normal. As you learn these new skills, concepts or behaviors, you move through four stages of competence.

What causes feeling inadequate?

Most often, feelings of inadequacy are rooted in childhood experiences, like having had overly critical parents, cruel peers, shaming authority figures, or, perhaps, having not had opportunities to engage in positive, challenging experiences that help children gain feelings of competence and adequacy.

What do you do when you feel insignificant at work?

Feeling Unappreciated At Work? 10 Ways To Cope When Undervalued
  1. Recognize Your Value. …
  2. Learn How To Set Boundaries. …
  3. Reframe Negative Thoughts. …
  4. Look For Underlying Signs Of Appreciation. …
  5. Show Appreciation For Others. …
  6. Ask For What You Need. …
  7. Lean On Your Support Team. …
  8. Take Time For Yourself.

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