How to Get Over "I Have No Idea What I'm Doing" Syndrome
If you’re one of those people who knows what you’re doing at all times, feel free to stop reading. You probably have a meeting, a project, or a team that needs your unfailingly perfect insight.
On second thought, perhaps you should stick around. Because nobody—seriously, nobody—knows what they’re doing 100% of the time.
In fact, “I have no idea what I’m doing” syndrome is something almost all of us can relate to. The deep fear that you really should have things sorted by now, and wouldn’t it great if a real grown-up came along to tell you what you should be doing, is often inescapable.
Unfortunately, even if it’s sporadic, it leads to the kind of confidence-stripping self-doubt that can really have a negative impact on your professional life. Since I’d guess you don’t want to be second-guessing everything you do in your work, this is the perfect time to learn how to deal with it. Ahead, three ways to combat the derailing thoughts.
1. Stop Thinking Everyone Else Has it Nailed
Sitting at work and feeling like everyone else knows exactly what they’re doing can be rough. There’s the person who always seems to run great meetings, the colleague who’s always ready to make a decision and rally people around it, and the co-worker who always seems to find a way through a thorny situation and land on a great end result.
Yeah, sometimes it feels like everyone is better at what they do than you are. But, guess what? They’re not.
Thinking that all of your colleagues have the whole professional game figured out isn't an easy feeling to contend with. Comparing yourself to others and worrying that you don't measure up only stands to hold you back at work and take a hit at your confidence.
So try this: Next time you notice yourself wondering why everyone else seems to be better than you, just ask yourself, “How is this serving me?” Then look for a positive thought, one that puts your worrisome mind at ease. That new way of thinking could be “Everyone is doing the best with what they have” or something along the lines of “I don’t need to compare myself to others any more." Look for something that puts the breaks on the downward negative spiral.
2. Stop Believing You Have to Have Everything Figured Out
When I start writing an article, I literally have no clue what direction I’m going in. I begin with a blank page, the title looming large at the top of all that white space. And then I just write. I don’t know where it’s going to end up. I don’t always know what my point will be. Heck, I don’t even know if, by the time I finish, it’s going to be anything more than a heap of incoherent ramblings.
But you know what? Sentences form. Distinctions take shape. Ideas flow. I may not hit the mark every single time, but I trust myself with that blank page, and I allow myself to see where it takes me, and it inevitably takes me somewhere. And here’s the thing—it’s not true that knowing what you’re doing all the time is better than not knowing.
Doing things you haven’t done before—obtaining more responsibility, leading a team, starting a new job in a new place, switching careers, starting a company or even just a website, taking on a complex and scary new project—requires a certain amount of uncertainty, otherwise you’re just rinsing and repeating until your brain atrophies in your cubicle.
Being willing to figure things out as you go and to face new obstacles with curiosity is how you learn and grow. That’s how you get to create real value.
So, the next time you get concerned that you’re screwed if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, ask yourself, “If I didn’t need to have all the answers, what would I do next?” And then act accordingly.
3. Stop Thinking You’ll Be Found Out
One of the big fears of feeling like you’re operating with less than 100% certainty is a little thing called imposter syndrome. You worry that your boss will call you into her office and give you a run-down of all the ways you’ve messed up and all the ways you’re in trouble. You think that when you complete this piece of work everyone will turn around and wonder just how the hell you’ve been spending your time, or worse, laugh you out of the room. You fear your colleagues will have to pick up your slack and label you the weak link in the machine.
Worrying that others will discover you’re a fraud will have you running around in circles secong-guessing every move, doing your work simply in an effort to tick off boxes and please everyone else. And that, as I’m sure you can see, is not a great way to spend your time.
Instead, how about noticing the next time you feel afraid of being found out and ask yourself, “What would I do now if I was at my best?” Because, when you’re at your best, it simply means you believe in yourself to take the next step knowing you’re already good enough to take it.
Thinking “I have no idea what I’m doing” is rarely true, or at least, it’s not what matters. It's OK if you don’t have everything figured out—it's unlikely that even your boss has all the answers. What everyone might think or say doesn't mean anything. Confidence is the ability to choose your behavior with implicit trust, so even if you’re doing something for the very first time, like running a team or starting a company, your faith and conviction will carry you. Whether or not you make mistakes along the way (and you will make mistakes because that's the nature of life), isn't the point.
What matters is giving it your best shot, learning from what happens, and then making your next choice based upon new knowledge and awareness.
Doing your best is what counts. If you can do that, you'll stop fretting about not knowing what you're doing.