How to shake off the failure feeling and stop sabotaging yourself
You’re all set up to start work, coffee in hand, but you pause to have a quick scan of your Twitter feed. As you scroll down, you spot a tweet by an old acquaintance announcing an exciting new project they’re working on.
It might be a not-so-subtle humblebrag, but you know that they deserve their success. As you log off social media to focus on your own work, though, you start to question what you’re doing — and why you’ve not done more in your career. Before you know it, your motivation has dwindled and you find yourself staring dejectedly at your laptop, feeling like a failure.
It’s a situation many of us have found ourselves in, even if we are happy with our work and the direction our careers are going in. So why do we do it — and how can we stop these negative feelings from sabotaging our own success?
There are a myriad of reasons why people feel like they fail at work, says organisational psychologist and career coach Alison Wilde, who runs the career consultancy organisation for women Birdsoup.
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Imposter syndrome, the fear of being outed as a fraud at any minute despite overwhelming evidence saying otherwise, is a common problem that can lead to feelings of failure. One recent survey found 90% of women in the UK suffer from this, yet only 25% are actually aware of it.
“First coined in 1978 by Dr Pauline Clance after she studied a group of high achieving women, she found that despite recognition and validation from colleagues of their achievements, this group of women was unable to acknowledge or accept this positive feedback,” explains Wilde. “People who experience Imposter Syndrome often feel like frauds,” she adds. “When given work-related tasks, they immediately start to feel anxious or worry about completing it.”
Whether you’re prone to feelings of failure or self-doubt can also depend on whether you have a “fixed” or “growth” mindset. “If one has a fixed mindset, then comparing oneself with others can act as confirmatory evidence of a long held self-belief,” she explains.
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“People with more fixed mindsets often believe that they have limited ability or talent, so will often describe themselves in black and white terms. For example, saying they are not very clever. A person with a growth mindset would think ‘I’ve just not learned everything yet’.”
Additionally low self-worth, perfectionism and anxiety can lead to feelings of failure. Sometimes, our experiences in childhood can also play a part in negative thinking patterns too.
“The underlying reasons are often established in a persons’ past and over the course of their life to date,” Wilde says. “Feelings of failure are strongly linked to self-esteem and self-belief and the good news is there are things you can do to develop or change those things with the right support.”
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Many of us feel like we’ve made a mistake, missed out on an opportunity or failed at something at some point in our careers. But the problem with frequently feeling like a failure is that it can lead to unproductive and damaging behaviours, like spending too long over-preparing or procrastinating.
“These behaviours are all underpinned by feelings of anxiety, stress and depression — all things that undermine your mental well being and can lead to burnout,” Wilde says.
So how can you shake these failure feelings off?
First of all, social media can be problematic when it comes to our confidence. Whether it’s a friend with a promotion on Facebook or a former colleague launching their own business, we are constantly invited to compare and critique ourselves against others.
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It can help to limit the time you spend on social media and remember that what you see online isn’t necessarily a real insight into someone else’s life.
Wilde also advises being more aware of your triggers and working out which situations make you feel like a failure. “It won’t be as many as you think,” she says. “If it’s a particular person, then knowing that allows you to prepare yourself. If you know what causes your negative feelings then you can start to work on how to change your response.”
Focus on your strengths instead of your weaknesses, too. “We will always compare ourselves to others so by focusing on what you have instead of what you perceive you’re lacking will make any comparison exercise more positive,” Wilde says.
“Self-belief and self-esteem are two key resilience resources and there are many more you can draw on to build your resilience up. Getting feedback from trusted people in your network is a good way to do this.”