Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

5 Signs Your Insecurities Are Taking Center Stage at Work (and Everyone Knows It)

man working with colleague

You’ve probably had times at work when you’ve had to suck it up, project a happy face (even though your mood was anything but), and get on with it. A little faking it to get through the work week is normal, but if you’re constantly putting on an act with the intention of appearing confident, that's a problem that needs fixing.

Feigning it on a regular basis can really just make things worse by highlighting the fact that you don’t feel confident in the first place, forcing you to over-compensate to mask insecurities, and struggling to keep up the act. Odds are that if you’re doing this, you know it—and so do your colleagues and your boss.

Unsure if this is you? Here are five signs that you’re not fooling anyone at the office.

1. You Love Being Right a Little Too Much

Wanting to always be right is something a lot of us are guilty of—but it’s not a great way to be at the office. You try to get your own way in a meeting, work to prove things how things would be better if an earlier decision had gone your way, and aim to be the one in the room to come out shining.

You’re probably doing these things for two reasons: First, because you have a desire to be seen as right (since that means you’re doing great) and secondly, because the drive to avoid being seen as wrong (which would mean you don’t have all the answers) is strong. This urge to be correct all the time is a response to the insecurity inherent in not knowing what’s going to happen. Beyond that, it’s driven by the fear of being judged.

What’s particularly unfortunate is that this need to be correct—or just perceived as correct by your peers—often comes at the cost of being happy. In other words, you spend more time and energy on proving a point than you do in pursuing what really matters. That’s not only not smart, but it’s also a clear indicator that you’re putting your confidence in the wrong place.

So, always be ready to ask yourself, “Would I rather be right or happy?”

2. You Suffer From Bull-in-a-China-Shop Syndrome

You stride into your office, insert yourself into your team, or onto your project, and then proceed to crash around and smash all the good china.

You attempt to commandeer meetings and steamroll your way through others’ presentations. You often try to dominate the conversation and find a way to make it all about you and your projects.

Behavior like this is noisy and clamoring, a blustering front designed to fool everyone into thinking you know what you’re doing. It’s arrogance masking insecurity, and the attention you get from it feels validating.

And yet, a person who possesses real confidence doesn’t need validation, and doesn’t create noise to disguise discomfort. If you have the courage to listen to others, accept feedback and own up to your mistakes, rather than pretending you never make any, your value in the eyes of your colleagues and clients will soar.

3. You’re Happy All the Time

I'm kind of an upbeat, smiley guy, and I bring a smile with me most places I go. But pretending that you don't sometimes have crappy days is like looking at the soggy grey clouds rolling overhead and thinking, damn, this sunshine is gorgeous.

I know you’ve woken up on a Monday morning feeling anything but joy and you’ve forced yourself to schlep into work with a huge grin, chirping “Morning!” to anyone whose path you cross.

And while it’s useful to sometimes suck it up and pretend that things are fine, if you’re truly not feeling good because you’re overly stressed or a certain project has you on edge, adopting a happy-go-lucky persona is eventually going to reveal itself as an unproductive avoidance strategy.

The truth is, we all feel down, burnt out, or overly stressed sometimes, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to throw yourself a pity party or whine over every little thing, but if your go-to is avoidance, eventually the confidence you do have is going to take a hit.

So, square up to the reality of the business you’re in rather than sticking your head in the sand and grinning when you feel like groaning. Be open and honest with your team when the going gets tough; they’ll respect you more for being up front.

4. Your Self-Deprecation Goes a Little Too Far

My hairline resembles a retreating ice-shelf. My tendencies toward being a control freak stop just shy of attempting to dominate others in an authoritative manner. And despite still feeling like a 20-something, I shudder at the thought that my middle age makes me old enough to be a parent of those bright-eyed world-changers joining the workplace.

I like to think that my self-deprecating humor is equal parts charming and endearing, but I’ve seen people who take it a little too far. Are you someone who’s guilty of this? You routinely mention that you don’t have the soft skills your position requires. You put yourself down at the drop of a hat, saying that your phone behavior is hopeless or that you could never give a good presentation. You say things about how you’ll never get promoted, your hard work will never be recognized—even when you don’t really believe that.

Nobody cares for someone who doesn’t know how to act with confidence or authority when the situation calls for it. And repeatedly putting yourself down when you might actually excel at your job and everyone knows it will only be like shouting, “Hey, everyone! Lack of confidence right here!”

So if you regularly use self-deprecating humor to diffuse, entertain, or connect, it’s worth checking in from time to time on whether there’s something deeper in there that you need a little confidence to deal with.

5. You’re Extrinsically Motivated

Show me someone who's motivated by getting a “Senior” or a “VP” in front of their job title, and I’ll show you someone who won’t be happy when they get it. Show me someone who’s chasing a corner office, and I’ll show you someone who won’t be content with an entire floor. And show me someone who’s motivated by respect from their peers, and I’ll show you someone who will prioritize that over doing work that matters.

Extrinsic motivators like job titles, salaries, awards, or reputation are pretty compelling, and the pay-offs can feel oh-so-good. But those things can also be a diversion from asking the big questions, like, what kind of work matters to me? Or how can I make a difference through my work? Or even, what kind of person am I becoming?

If you want to stop faking it and embrace your confident side, you’ve got to change how you’re motivated. Since extrinsic success will only ever build a hollow and temporary confidence, there’s little point in just checking off the boxes you think will lead you to the top of the ladder. Instead, invest in your professional self enough to explore why you’re doing what you’re doing and figure out how you can continue to be an asset to your organization without being disingenuous.

Chasing status and the appearance of success alone won’t help you go from faking it to making it, not by a long shot. Natural confidence is, in many ways, intrinsic—though it can be strengthened and honed if you work to make it happen. And that’s the key here. You don’t have to fake confidence because it is somewhere within you already. Now it’s just up to you to find it.

A logo with "the muse" in white text.