5 Subtle Signs Self-Doubt is Crushing Your Career Potential (and How to Break Free)

woman stressed at desk


Profile Picture
Stacey Back194
Founder | Career Strategist + Leadership Coach

Self-doubt is one of the biggest barriers to career progression. You feel like a fraud despite evidence of your accomplishments. Imposter syndrome leads you to disregard your successes and avoid stepping outside your comfort zone.

Your lack of confidence stops you from showing up in a meaningful way. You begin to see your self-doubt as a sign you’re truly incapable. All this keeps you stuck and out of action.

This has major consequences for your career. Self-doubt holds you back from speaking up in meetings, so you fail to get noticed. You’re held back from developing relationships with senior stakeholders to grow your career. 

Self-doubt stops you from asking for the pay rise or promotion you know you deserve; applying for the job you want or starting your dream business; making yourself visible to clients to build your network.

Here are five signs that self-doubt is crushing your career — and how to combat this doubt to build confidence and reach your full career potential.

1. You’re striving to be perfect.

Do you set incredibly high standards, then beat yourself up if you fail to reach them? Perfectionism is often a major source of self-doubt holding you back in your career. 

You’re obsessed with what others think and worried about getting perfect results. You become so overwhelmed by the size of the goals you set for yourself you procrastinate. In extreme cases, you never share your ideas with others.

You struggle to let go and tend to micro-manage. You believe no one can complete a task as well as you and it’s easier to do it yourself. 

To break through this, commit to taking imperfect action. Realize there’s no such thing as perfect and no ideal time to start. Nothing can ever be 100% complete, so do your best and aim for good enough.

Start celebrating your successes and reframe failure as learning. Write down your accomplishments and learnings daily. Acknowledge your progress towards completing your goals.

2. You’re “shoulding” all over yourself. 

Do you ignore what you want in favor of what you think you should do? If you put everything and everyone ahead of yourself — at work and in all areas of your life — this is another sign that self-doubt is limiting your career potential. 

You tell yourself, “I should,” “I have to,” “I must” and “I can’t.” Limiting language which leaves you feeling powerless, like you have no choice. 

People pleasing and trying to do it all stems from a deep need to feel liked, appreciated and validated. 

Practice self-compassion and acknowledge who you are, your best qualities. Give yourself space to say no, set boundaries and prioritize your needs first.

3. You’re a workaholic. 

Do you push yourself to work longer and harder than everyone else? Are you regularly the first or last person in the office, even though you’ve completed your work and don’t need to be there? If you work remotely, are you online longer than your coworkers?

You try and prove yourself to others by overworking. Deep down, you’re worried you’re not good enough. This self-doubt leads to burnout and negatively impacts your important relationships.

Stop seeking the approval of others to feel good about yourself. Validate yourself first and you’ll know where to draw the line with overworking. Take time out to combat stress, burnout and bring yourself back into balance.

4. You need to be the best. 

Growing up, were you praised for your intelligence or things which came easily to you? If so, you may have developed the belief you need to achieve things quickly and easily. If it takes time to master something, you experience self-doubt and feel like you’ve failed.

You’re naturally competitive and believe you need to be the best — without a lot of effort. If you don’t get it right on the first go, you quit. You may even avoid trying new things or refuse to ask for help.  

Realize we all have strengths — and weaknesses. The most successful people operate from their zone of genius and get help from those who have strengths where they don’t. Focus on your next best step instead of quitting or putting pressure on yourself to get things right immediately.

5. Your inner child is running wild. 

Do you constantly compare yourself to others? Are you frustrated by your lack of progress because it seems like everyone is getting to where you want to be — and faster? Do you feel inadequate, lose confidence and stop taking action towards your professional goals?

When you’re experiencing career comparison, your inner mean girl, guy or person will be running rampant. Use the achievements of others as inspiration for what’s possible for you too. But stay focused on your lane, not whether you’re behind or ahead.

To stop comparison, collect evidence of your unique strengths and achievements. It can be positive feedback from clients, your boss or performance reviews. Put that feedback in a place you can easily access and review it anytime you experience self-doubt.

Self-doubt can be crippling to your career and stop you from reaching your full potential. My hope is these insights help you identify the ways it holds you back and know exactly how to overcome it.

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice on overcoming self-doubt? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss'ers!


This article was written by an FGB Contributor.

Stacey Back is a career strategist, leadership coach and Founder of Profile Careers. She helps high-achieving women at a mid-career crossroads find the work that lights them up, increase their income, impact and create a career + life on their terms.

Stacey also supports leaders to transition from their corporate job into their own consulting business. She works virtually with individuals based across the globe.