“You can’t manage this campaign! It’s too big, it’s too complex. You’re not organised enough and you certainly don’t have the authority to keep the team on track.”
This was typical of the ‘supportive’ rhetoric I used to receive from someone I worked with on big projects and small.
It’s not very nice is it? Nor was it helpful. Do you know who it was? Me!
For most of my life I’ve done pretty well at things I’ve put my mind to (OK, horse riding, not so much). I’m not the smartest person you’ll meet, but I’m not too silly either, and with the excellent work ethic I inherited from my parents, I’ve opened doors to fantastic career opportunities.
But in the last five years or so, in a job where the pay was great and the work was better, I often found myself afflicted with crippling self-doubt. I’d put my hand up to take on a challenge I knew I was ready for, get all excited about it, and then do everything I could to postpone what I thought was the inevitable delivery of a failed project.
This irrational fear was paralysing. I’d put off starting, and therefore failing, by doing all the other little things on my to-do list. I’d write endless plans instead of doing the work, then wake up at 2am, wide-eyed, breathing harshly and unable to fall asleep again.
I would hold off and delay until the last possible moment, when by some miracle, I would find clarity, tell myself I was being ridiculous, commence a frenzy of activity and late nights, and finish just in the nick of time. And everything was fine, just a lot more stressful than necessary.
This occurred often enough that I noticed the pattern and wondered why on earth I was sabotaging myself. Was it because I had moved into a new industry and a managerial role? Maybe things were moving too fast. Maybe I just wasn’t good at this type of work. But I cast my mind back to my days as a journalist and remembered all those sleepless nights before publication, going over the stories I’d filed in my head, wondering if I’d got it right, and if I’d done justice to the people who’d given me their stories.
So why was I putting myself through this?
A while ago I was watching TV and saw a story about successful people who suffer from chronic self-doubt and feel inadequate in the workplace. I listened carefully and heard the panel of experts talking about … me.
And strangely enough, since I heard it discussed and realised I wasn’t the only one going through it, I’ve been much better at controlling it. I also have a supportive manager and the luxury of some life coaching classes to thank. But in my last 12 months in the workplace I really managed to rein in that critical hag and put her in her place. And by doing so I’ve finally realised my dream of starting my own business and working for myself. It might fail – but at least I will have given it a go!
So, what are my top five tips to myself and to others going through the same thing (because I know you’re out there) …
1. Paralysing fear is always more prevalent when my to-do list is out of control and deadlines are closing in. So don’t be afraid to say no to a project or task. Be honest if you don’t have the time or capacity. Or if it’s something you haven’t done before, let people know and ask for some support. After all if you don’t do the project now, you might never get the experience.
2. Acknowledge that no one is going to get hurt if you don’t get things 100 per cent right (this one probably won’t work if you’re a paramedic).
3. Identify setbacks early on and work with the team to find a solution. Don’t take it all on your own shoulders.
4. When you do make a mistake, acknowledge it, apologise and mean it, and learn from it.
5. Have faith in yourself, because clearly a lot of other people do. And they wouldn’t if you hadn’t given them many reasons to. Because truly, you are amazing, and if you can’t do it yet, you’ll soon be able to!
Do you have any tips to share?