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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

3 Things You Need to Remember When You're Feeling Stupid at Work

How often have you gone to work and marveled at how sharp everyone you work with seems to be? And how often does that make you feel like you’re not quite as smart as everyone else? For a long time, I used to think it was just me. But the more I talk to other motivated, successful people, the more I realize that everyone feels inferior sometimes. I suppose it’s one of the few downsides of working at an awesome company with awesome people. (The other is the inevitable weight gain from all the snacks in the kitchen.)

But, knowing that we’re all in the same boat doesn’t give you an excuse to dwell on it. So, when you’re having one of those moments (or days), remember these things:

1. You’re Your Own Biggest Critic

The fact that you’re even reading this article is a clear indicator that you’re pretty hard on yourself. After all, it resonated enough with you that you clicked. And while it’s admirable that you have such high standards for yourself, you’ll only drive yourself crazy if you only focus on what you could’ve done better.

To help you be a little easier on yourself, I’m going to suggest something that I do pretty regularly: Reserve some time on your calendar at the end of every week to review all the positive feedback you’ve gotten over the last few days. For me, I go back and read emails from colleagues and friends who wanted to let me know I did a good job. For you, that might mean taking notes about certain conversations you’ve had in passing. Whatever you decide works best for you, make it a regular event to remind yourself that everyone around you thinks you’re awesome.

2. Everyone Makes Mistakes

OK, so here’s the thing: Even those people who you’ve never seen mess anything up have made their fair share of mistakes. In fact, odds are they’ve gotten to be as sharp as they are because they were willing to face those mistakes head on and learn a thing or two from those experiences.

Hey, I get it. It’s easy to look over at the person sitting next to you and think, “That person’s grammar’s always impeccable. Why isn’t my copy as clean as hers?” No matter what you do for a living, I bet you’ve looked at someone and wondered why he or she’s so much better than you are at doing the same job. But the truth is that these people are often making as many mistakes as you are to get the end result you see. So, resist the urge to compare yourself and instead focus on learning from any errors you make along the way. That approach will only make you smarter and smarter.

3. You Wouldn’t Have Been Hired if You Weren’t Smart, Too

I know how hard it is to shake a really intense case of impostor syndrome. You look around at the people you get to work with and think, “How did I sneak in here?” But as hard as this might be to believe, you didn’t sneak in. You proved you were smart and would be a huge asset to the company, so much so that it was obvious you’d be an awesome hire.

However, knowing this on a rational level isn’t always enough. So, if it’s really gnawing at you, speak to your boss about what skills he or she thinks you can improve upon. And if the answer is, “Nothing, we’re just so glad you chose to come work for us,” follow up and ask, “What skills would I need to get to the next level?” Then, do what you need to do get to that level: sign up for a class, watch an online tutorial, find a mentor. Showing this level of initiative will reinforce your boss’ belief that he or she made the right decision to hire you, and should also put you at ease about whether or not you’re just as capable as everyone else.

A lot of the things that make smart people feel dumb tend to be self-inflicted. Remember, if you truly feel like you’re behind everyone else, you can always (always!) improve yourself. So even if it’s all in your head—which it probably is—you’ll still come out on top.

Photo of frustrated woman courtesy of Shutterstock.