I spent most of my engineering career thinking “If I can just get to the next level, then I’ll know I’m good at it.”
I was constantly trying to prove myself to others to make sure I was doing a good job. I’d watch my colleagues thrive at certain skills and move ahead of me while I remained stuck trying to prove my worth in the workplace.
My solution was to try and figure out what I was bad at and work on getting better at them. Surely if I could show I could do these things well, then I’d get that praise and validation I was so desperately searching for.
But this totally backfired. I spent zero time working on the stuff I could thrive at and focussed purely on my weaknesses.
Putting a magnifying glass over everything you’re bad at is an awful experience. Imagine spending years doing just that? All this second guessing of myself was putting out a bad vibe. You see, I couldn’t even trust myself. How could I expect others to have faith in me?
I gradually realised I had it all back to front. I was trying to gain confidence by receiving more praise and acceptance. I now know that no amount of external validation could have increased my own sense of self worth.
When I learned the fundamentals of how to grow my confidence, all of that changed. Everything felt easier and lighter. My focus was no longer on how others perceived me and my work. I focussed the win-win solution: Giving my employer the best of my skills by doing the things I was good at and enjoyed.
Throughout this transformation, I came to 3 realisations that I want to share with you:
1. I Wasn’t Bad at Time Management.
Instead, I was working extra hard to compensate for my perceived lack of ability. I spent years thinking I was slower than other people around me. It felt like I took longer to learn certain skills, I was slower at writing reports and I got distracted by things more easily.
Because of this belief that I wasn’t as good as everyone else, I felt I had to put in extra hours and spend more time perfecting my work. It was a classic case of incorrect diagnosis.
I believed my time management skills needed improving so I read books on how fit more in my day. There were all sorts of time management hacks I implemented just to “catch up” with the speed at which my colleagues were working.
What I really needed was to read books on how to increase my confidence. My time management wasn’t a problem. I just thought everyone else was better than me so I had to do more work.
2. I Wasn’t Worse Than My Colleagues at Doing Good Work
As I mentioned before, I truly believed that all of my colleagues were better than me in every way possible. They were born smarter than me and naturally more efficient than I was. How unfair!
I accepted my fate as an inferior engineer and felt I should get to work on all the things I was bad at. The list was huge. The worst thing was — it looked so effortless for my work mates to do this stuff.
I can now see with 20/20 vision that my colleagues weren’t better than me at everything. What they were better at was identifying the things they were good at and using their strengths to their advantage.
I was so focussed on convincing people I wasn’t bad at my weaknesses, that I was blind to the fact I was offering them the worst of my skills. It wasn’t until my manager encouraged me to do more of what I was good at that I realised work didn’t have to feel like trying to sweep water up hill.
You don’t need your manager’s permission to help you increase the use of your strengths though. There is always a choice you can make to make this happen. Send me a message if you’re not sure how!
3. I Didn’t Need to Prove Myself to Feel Worthy in My Role
This was the equation I was living by:
Getting more praise = Improving at job = Feeling of self-worth
I truly felt that I could prove I was doing good work if I got a promotion or good feedback. That’s how I measured my sense of self-worth as an engineer.
Don’t get me wrong, a promotion and good feedback are wonderful things to receive. But it felt incredibly disempowering to rely on these external factors to make me feel good. I couldn’t control whether someone had the time to give me praise or not. I certainly couldn’t control when my workplace was handing out promotions.
What I COULD control was whether I could rely on myself to do the right thing. If I really knew I had done good work, did I really need someone else to tell me?
I started living by a new equation:
Living in accordance with my values = Knowing I’ve done the right thing = Feeling of self-worth
Praise and promotions feel good at the time, but I never gained any confidence from receiving them. It was only when I learned that I could trust in and rely on myself to do the right thing that I felt worthy.
If you only take one thing away from this article…
It’s that self-worth has nothing to do with the perceptions of other people. Stop trying to prove yourself to your managers and colleagues. It’s time you made YOU believe in your own abilities.
If you’ve read this far and you’re wondering how you can implement some of these learnings to grow your own self-confidence, you might be interested in watching the recording of my web class for women in STEM: Self-Confidence Simplified.
Let me know if you’d like access in the comments below and I’ll send you the details!