A lot of thoughts tend to go through your head when you’re worried that you’re not good enough for your job.
You might be convinced that your boss asked to see your most recent project again because she’s finally figured out that you’re terrible. Or maybe you wake up with the sinking feeling that you weren’t invited to happy hour last night because your smarter colleagues wanted to talk about how dumb you are.
There are plenty more, of course. But as a card-carrying member of the “Impostor Syndrome Forever Club,” I can tell you there’s one humongous lie that the majority of club members believe on a regular basis.
And because it’s often really hard for people to put it into words, I’ll do it for you.
I’m one mistake away from losing my job.
You’d have an incredibly hard time finding someone who’s never made a mistake at work. But while some people are good at moving on and focusing on the next thing, you and I often can’t shake this sinking feeling without assuming the worst.
Personally, I’ve lost count of the number of times I made an administrative mistake and figured that it wouldn’t be long before someone from HR came down to my desk and politely asked me to never show my face around the office again.
But the good news is that unless someone has come to you and explicitly said that you’re on thin ice, most people understand (and accept!) that even the smartest people slip up. And that also applies to you.
You might be thinking, “Rich, this sounds great, but I’m still pretty sure that if my next email to my boss doesn’t have flawless grammar, she’s going to send me packing.” And trust me, I had that thought at least 25 times as I wrote this article, so I get where you’re coming from.
But like most instances in which you feel insufficient for your job, putting yourself at ease is often as simple as asking for additional feedback on whatever’s worrying you.
Here’s how it works: Find someone you trust and ask for their honest take. In this case, you might ask a co-worker to read over the email before you send it; in others, maybe you ask a small group to hear a trial run of your presentation, or to give you input after a meeting you led. You might not love everything you hear—but take it from me, a little constructive feedback can help you move forward because you’ll have the knowledge you need to tackle any real issues. (And if asking for honesty’s making you nervous, try this feedback trick.)
Plus, you’ll find out how your colleagues feel about you and your work—and often times, that’s a quick fix for imposter syndrome. After all, half the battle is fighting back thoughts that everyone thinks poorly of you.
So if you’re currently stuck in this “one slip-up and I’m out” mindset, you need to memorize this sentence (and keep saying it until you believe it): “Smart people make mistakes, too—and they also know when to ask for help.”
Photo of worried person courtesy of Marc Romanelli/Getty Images.
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy or follow his blog.More from this Author