It is normal to feel as if your accomplishments pale in comparison to your coworkers once in a while. But consistently feeling this way might signify that you have unrealistic expectations of yourself, struggle with self-criticism, or are blindsided by unhealthy comparisons.
Feeling inadequate at work can interfere with your productivity, so it is important to identify and nib the problem before it sinks your career.
If you’re struggling with low self-esteem because of a lack of career satisfaction or issues with your competency at work, this article will help you develop strategies to overcome the problem.
But first, I’ll outline the common reasons people struggle with inadequacy in their careers and signs that clearly say you’re feeling inadequate at work. Once you identify the common causes and signs, it becomes easier to work out a solution.
Possible Reasons and Signs of Feeling Inadequate at Work
1. Dwelling On Past Mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes, from the least productive to the most successful people. Interestingly, highly successful career people make more mistakes than mediocre people.
However, constantly focusing on past mistakes can be incapacitating. That’s because doing so keeps you from moving on from past negative experiences.
You might be shooting yourself in the foot and getting in the way of your career trajectory if you allow past mistakes to stop you from taking on new and challenging projects.
Signs You Are Dwelling On Past Mistakes
Here’s how to know if you’re stewing over past mistakes:
- You struggle with constant performance anxiety each time you take on a project.
- You shy away from new projects because you are afraid of making mistakes and embarrassing yourself.
- You spend several hours brooding over mistakes at work.
- You try to please others at work or tend to walk on eggshells around superiors to get in their good books.
2. Not Taking Initiatives
Taking on an entirely new project can be daunting for anyone. But stepping out of your comfort zone is a great way to increase your confidence and improve your career prospects.
However, if you are feeling inadequate at work, it might be because you are ignoring opportunities to prove your worth. The sick feeling of self-doubt is a self-fulfilling prophecy, preventing you from seizing opportunities for career development and, in turn, keeping you stuck in a rut!
Signs You Are Not Taking Initiatives
Here are a few signs of this problem:
- You prefer predictability ― sticking with what you know rather than rocking the boat.
- You don’t volunteer for opportunities or take on challenges because you worry about your capabilities.
3. Seeking Reassurance
No doubt, feedback is essential for improving performance. However, excessive reliance on reassurance is a sign of low self-esteem and might indicate a feeling of inadequacy in the workplace.
Signs You Are Seeking Reassurance
Not sure if you’re overly seeking reassurance? Here are a few telltale signs:
- You feel you are not as good as your coworkers
- You are overly sensitive to feedback
- You are not happy when your coworkers receive recognition or achieve success. Instead, you feel envious
- You constantly check in with others before making any decision
- You always want confirmation from your boss or coworker that you’re doing a good job
4. Unclear Values
No one feels fulfilled unless they align with their life’s guiding compass. Your values ― guiding compass ― help you create goals and purpose in your career, relationships, and other aspects of life.
In other words, if you are unclear about your career values, you’ll hardly enjoy fulfillment or create a sense of accomplishment in your work.
Signs You Are Unclear About Your Values
Here’s how to know if feeling inadequate at work stems from unclear values:
- You don’t find your career meaningful
- You feel stuck in a job you don’t enjoy
- You prefer other people to make major decisions about your work for you
5. Unrealistic Expectations
A feeling of inadequacy may stem from expecting too much from yourself or overestimating your abilities. You may be great at what you do, but spreading yourself too thin by overpromising can significantly strain you and make you doubt your capabilities. It can also cause work related stress to build up.
Signs You Have Unrealistic Expectations
Having unrealistic expectations show up in the following ways:
- You often over-commit and find yourself under-delivering
- You are constantly failing to meet deadlines
- You spend too much time and effort seeking perfection and end up achieving too little
How to Overcome a Feeling of Inadequacy at Work
Identifying the reason for feeling inadequate at work is a good first start. The next step is consistently taking action to build your confidence and steer your career in the right direction.
Define What Success Means to You
What is your definition of accomplishment and success? You’ll always feel inadequate if you measure your progress against someone else’s definition of success.
For this reason, you must re-evaluate your definition of success, especially if you cannot meet certain goals, no matter how hard you try. Perhaps you have unrealistic work-related goals and beating yourself up for not attaining them.
You might need to simplify things a bit to allow you to record more successes. The more small goals you can smash within a short period, the better you’ll feel about yourself and want to do more.
Identify Your Values
Identifying your values is essential to living more intentionally. And as already mentioned, you’re less likely to feel useful, fulfilled, and happy if your work negates your values.
You might need to self-examine what’s important to you and how to channel your work goals to align with those values.
It is okay if you can’t put your finger on your values at this red-hot minute. Sometimes, it takes several soul-searching sessions to pinpoint these things.
However, one way to identify what’s important to you is to find the opposite of what you dislike. For example, it is safe to say honesty and humility are two of your values if you don’t like dishonesty and arrogance.
Acknowledge Your Strengths and Recognize Your Limits
Overcoming a feeling of inadequacy or self-doubt at work doesn’t necessarily involve taking on more responsibilities.
Instead, it requires honest self-appraisal to understand your strengths and weaknesses. Learn to set boundaries with the projects you take on, ensuring they are within your capability.
If you feel inadequate because your skills aren’t enough for a particular project, your best bet is to plan for professional development (I’ll cover that in a bit) to acquire the right knowledge and skill.
Going above and beyond is great, but doing so when you are not properly equipped is crossing your limits. And that may further increase your feeling of inadequacy, especially if you make mistakes.
Reflect on Past Achievements
If you’re in the habit of downplaying your achievements, you might be struggling with imposter syndrome, and that’s not good for your career.
Take time as often as possible to think about all the things you’ve accomplished to get you to your current level.
Here’s a simple but effective two-step exercise I recommend anytime you feel inadequate at work.
- Get a journal
- Before you get busy in the day or before you turn in for the night, identify and write down three or more major work-related accomplishments you are very proud of
It will be helpful if you adopt a gratitude approach with this exercise. The most important thing is to permit yourself to bask in your past glory, particularly when your confidence has taken a hit.
It is okay to lean on others for support once in a while, but you don’t need to constantly check in with others for reassurance.
Each time you feel the need to seek reassurance, pause and ask why you need external reassurance.
Instead of looking for external reassurance, turn inward and use the power of positive affirmations to nudge yourself forward. Here are some powerful affirmations you might want to check out.
Ask Questions and Seek Feedback
Excessive reliance on reassurance is not healthy, but asking the right questions and seeking feedback is necessary for overcoming a feeling of inadequacy.
No one has all the answers, regardless of their role in the workplace. This is why you shouldn’t feel embarrassed to ask questions, especially if you don’t have all the necessary information to complete a task.
Asking questions equips you with the right information to do a proper job, and asking for feedback on your performance can help you become better at what you do.
Pursue Professional Development
A lack of skill in a specific area can make you feel inadequate at work. Thankfully, this is one of the problems with a more straightforward solution: consider developing yourself professionally.
Pursuing professional development may involve attending a couple of workshops or even returning to school to gain more knowledge and hone your skills.
Equipping yourself with professional know-how improves your competency, opens you to better opportunities at work, and increases your overall confidence.
Sometimes, you don’t receive any team or company-wide recognition for your efforts, which can make you feel inadequate. But you can turn things around for the better if you take more initiative in your role (without necessarily coming off as too competitive).
Here are some ways to take more initiative:
- Volunteer for opportunities
- Take on challenges
- Offer useful opinions
- Reassure your superior that you can handle even the most critical projects within your role
Focus on these things instead of worrying about your capabilities. You might falter and fail, and that’s okay. Simply channel your time and energy into learning the important lessons because that’s the surest way to ensure your career is moving in the right direction.
Align With Supportive Coworkers
It is normal to have negative, jealous people in the workplace. Still, some positive coworkers can motivate and mentor you, support your career goals, and nudge you when you feel less confident and doubtful.
Identify these positive allies and spend more time with them during work to increase your chances of becoming successful.
Embrace the Growth Process
Come to terms with making mistakes. Accept that they are an integral part of growth.
Of course, no one enjoys being wrong or making erroneous judgments. Still, individuals with positive mindsets learn from their mistakes and move on as quickly as possible. They understand that growth in every facet of life (including career) can be a bumpy ride, but that’s never an excuse for mediocrity.
It is okay to feel depressed once in a while, especially when it seems you’re on a losing streak at work. However, dwelling on temporary failure won’t make you feel any better.
Be compassionate to yourself, even when you mess up big time in your work!
And don’t let your fear of mistakes lead you down the path of timidity, self-doubt, and self-criticism. Practiced over time, these negative qualities can result in a pessimistic outlook on your work and personal life.
Understand that you’re not alone if you’re feeling inadequate at work. Many people go through periods of self-doubt, negative thoughts, and uncertainty once in a while.
But you don’t have to feel that way just because others experience the same problem. The key to overcoming this common career issue is to reframe your mindset, build your confidence, and work toward professional development.
It might be necessary to seek professional help or therapy, especially if you’ve tried to go the self-help path alone but didn’t see any significant results and still have this inadequate feeling.
Whether you work with a mentor or coach will depend on the type of push you need. (By the way, a coach and a mentor are two different professionals.) I recommend reading this article to help you decide on the most suitable professional help for your career needs.