Self-Doubt as Saboteur | Silencing Your Career Demons

Do you give yourself away? Show the chinks in your armor? Reveal the weaknesses in your game?

We spend a lot of time trying to look and act the part in our careers. Every day we show up, take care of business, wait for our defining moment, and hope we can deliver.

We showcase what we’re made of when all eyes are on us, including our own. 

We can run but we can’t hide from ourselves. We can do our best to cover our insecurities but they have a way of sabotaging us when we least expect it. I am testament to that! 

The magic of social media reconnected me last week with a woman I taught in high school decades ago. When we met for coffee, she showed me a faculty picture of myself from her yearbook. Part of the caption read: “The red rash.” 

Ah, yes, the dreaded “red rash” that would creep up my neck in class, enflame my ears, and create unsightly blotches. It would scream: 

  • “I’m not sure of myself?”
  • “What are they thinking about me?”
  • “Am I right or wrong?”
  • “Will they criticize me?” 

These self-doubts were demons that would materialize and suck the joy out of my work. 

Now, fast forward to the beginning of my corporate career a decade later. I’d been there for about a year. It was highly unusual for a staff person to deliver a proposal to the CEO and his executive team. But it was my program to defend and, if approved, to manage. 

The conference room was in the second sub-basement of a skyscraper. It was cold, dark, and dimly lit. The setting was so intimidating that my knees went weak, even though I was prepared to the nth. 

I presented my case. Mouth dry. Hands clammy. Stomach churning. The questions were difficult and unnerving. But when it was over, I realized that I’d survived the experience in spite of myself! 

As I was gathering up my materials, one of the executive VP’s said laughingly: “Good job. Didn’t see too much of that red rash today!” 

Even though the program was approved, I knew that once again it didn’t come without a personal price. This glaring sign of lapses in my self-confidence plagued me for years. Everyone knew when I was vulnerable. 

Negative self-talk erodes our confidence. 

When we tell ourselves we’re not good enough or prepared enough or fast enough, we convince ourselves that it’s true, even when there is no basis for it. 

Those awful voices in our heads are a torment that we need to silence. 

Most of the time those negative messages are incorrect, unfounded, or planted by someone else. They may be rooted in unrealistic expectations, faulty comparisons, damaging stereotypes, or irrelevant echoes from another time. Mine sure were. 

Stop the noise…because you can

One smart move to becoming business fit is staying well and that includes in your “head.” Converting the negative things you tell yourself into affirming things starts with getting a grip on what’s true and what isn’t. 

I got rid of my “red rash” after years of effort. Each time I faced a stressful situation where I felt I was somehow on the line, I’d say to myself: 

  • Is there anyone else who is better prepared to do this right now than I am? “No.”
  • Am I as prepared as I can be? “Yes.”
  • If the person who asked me to do this work is confident in me, then I should be too. “So I will be.”
  • What is the worst thing that could happen if I fall short? “Not much.” 

When you have moments of uncertainty, remember that everyone experiences self-doubt. That doesn’t mean you should hide or run from it. Instead, you need to take steps to master it. If you don’t, it will master you. And that’s out! 

When was the last time you had a “red rash” moment? How did it turn out? What did you do? Thanks for helping.

I would love to have you follow me on my Facebook fan pages: Career Strategist & Mentor Dawn Lennon and Business Fitness by Dawn Lennon. Just click these two links to become a fan. I’ll look forward to seeing you there.

6 thoughts on “Self-Doubt as Saboteur | Silencing Your Career Demons

  1. Agree that we need to master our fears, nervousness, and definitely negative self-talk. I question tho’ whether the rash or blush shows a weakness in our game. It shows our nervousness, do you think that translates into people thinking our game is weak?

    • Blushing, in my experience, is triggered by some external event; it appears and subsides. For me the rash, which creeped by the way, was obviously the result of discomfort and a degree of nervousness that persisted. When our tics become predictable to others, they start to become brand aspects. At least that’s how it translated for me and others who have shared my path. Thanks for the question…it was good to clarify this point!

  2. I struggled with self-doubt for many years. Unlike you, mine never showed up in the form of a red rash or any outward manifestation, so people usually thought I was very self-confident. Inside, my stomach was in a knot, but I was good at covering it up.

    Why is it that the most capable people are usually the ones with the most self-doubt? I have seen this again and again with colleagues and clients. It might be better if truly incompetent people had more moments of uncertainty.

    • Your last line gave me a much needed laugh! I wish I knew why “incompetent people” don’t suffer self-doubt. Perhaps ignorance is bliss, or not caring or not defining themselves by the approval of others. It’s an enigma to me!

      Truth be told, I graduated from the red rash to the stomach knot and worse. It’s the constant questioning, verifying, and concern about the wants/needs of others that wears on me. Wanting to do well by the standards of others, I think, is the real issue. As soon as I put my own standards first (since I came to realize they were generally higher than those I worked for), I felt the doubt issue waning. I’m still waiting to see if I will enjoy a truly lasting effect.

      Thanks for your great comment. I really enjoyed it.

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