In a recent post, Do You Avoid Things You Don’t Want To Do At Work?, we learned about the sneaky unconscious mind. And how it can lead us to make changes, including switching jobs. But what if it’s something obvious, like feeling incompetent at work?
Over my many years of answering comments on career sites, one of the most common themes was feeling inadequate in some way. Readers wrote to tell me they often felt they were in over their heads. Or simply not good enough, even with no bad feedback yet. They worried that one day it would finally catch up with them.
And, of course, there were also those people who had already gotten some bad feedback. Perhaps a poor review. Or a yelling boss. And they were left feeling even more helpless to turn things around. And feeling even more incompetent at work they wanted to do well.
Are YOU feeling incompetent at work?
Are you perhaps feeling inadequate in the job you have and thinking about leaving to find a job more suited to your skills? Of course, you may be right in your assessment. Sometimes we just don’t have the skills for a certain job.
But before leaving, it’s important to make sure that what you feel is really about the job. Are you giving it your all? Have you asked for help? Do you let fear get in the way? Is a low self-image the problem?
In my post about avoidance, I wrote about someone who decided to leave just in case they got put in a position where they might feel incompetent. She didn’t like that thought.
In fact, she didn’t like it so much that she talked herself into leaving a job that had a lot of good points. And she did it by giving far more weight in her mind to the bad points.
The thing about feeling incompetent
Feeling incompetent at work is something you may carry with you wherever you go. No matter what the job. And it leads to all kinds of related feelings. Because at its core, it reflects deep doubts you have about yourself. So why not deal with it here and now and find a way that works for you?
Now I need to say loud and clear that there are times when your feelings of being unable to do a job are totally valid. You might not have the right training. Or enough training. Or you may get thrown into something way beyond your level of experience.
And if that’s the case, it’s worth trying to work with your boss to get some guidance. And the help you really need. There’s no shame in that. Asking for specific help and clear goals can be useful. Not that you have to get it all in one day, but even slow improvement can help. They just need to know as soon as you realize what’s going on.
⇒ EXTRA: I Can’t Stop Feeling Like a Failure
At least give yourself a chance
In most cases, either the employer can help train you or they can live with your learning curve. This feeling is more common than you may think. Just don’t do it alone. Make sure you enlist the help of your boss and willing co-workers. As well as any self-learning through networking and available online information and courses.
If you show eagerness to succeed and willingness to work hard, you can often gain just enough additional competence to feel ok about trying for more. It takes time. And faith in yourself to eventually get there. And if you can’t, at least you know you’ve tried your best. That’s all anyone can do.
If it still doesn’t work out, you may have gained something you can take with you anyway. And at that point, you can leave feeling good that you tried your best. Not every job fits every person. I’ve had jobs where I just wasn’t cut out for it, and still excelled in many other ones. Still, it pays to at least give where you are your best shot — with some support from those around you.
⇒ Why Do I Always Pick the Wrong Job?
A bit more about feeling incompetent
So all that said, before rushing into a new job and hoping that it’s better, have the courage to face your own insecurities right where you are. In the very job that’s bringing on all these self-doubts.
If you can overcome your insecurities where you are, then you will be better able to handle a new job, should you still want it. Whatever it is. Wherever it is. You have nothing to lose and much to gain.
But if you just move on without tackling your fears where you are (even if you fail), you’ll only come up against them again in the next job. And this time your feelings of inadequacy may even be stronger because you let them grow by giving in to them.
⇒ EXTRA: Boss Treats You Badly? It’s Not Your Fault!
Some more articles to help
Workplace Blues: Something Needs To Change
Are You Always Feeling Angry At Work?
Real Problem (Maybe) If Your Job Feels Wrong
Should You Actually Leave Your Job?
Do You Feel You’re Not Appreciated at Work?
Workplace Solutions: The Whole vs The Parts
My Boss Tries To Control Everything!
What To Do If Your Boss Takes You For Granted
AND IF YOU NEED IT:
Job Search Resource Center
I feel inadequate in every job I’ve ever done, but I also feel inadequate to face my own insecurities, I’ve tried to tackle them and always feel like I’ve failed. I always try my best and always work as hard as I can but targets and measures always make me feel like crap. I always feel the more I try and the harder I work the more inadequate I feel. I only experience these feelings in the workplace and they have such a horrible effect on my mental health. Reading this has made me feel worse as this makes it feel more like there’s something wrong with me, I don’t know if I can cope with another 30 years of working, the thought of it fills me with utter dread, and if I’m honest makes me contemplate suicide. But when I’m not in work I’m a completely different person, I have hopes, I laugh, my wife makes me feel like the greatest person. But work plagues me, and every moment I give to thinking about work makes me want it all to disappear. I hate feeling like this, you could call me work shy, apart from I’ve never not had a job in my adult life and have always been in work. But never did I imagine how fucked up it makes me feel.
Ronnie Ann says
I haven’t forgotten you, Philip. Have been thinking about what you are feeling and have much to say. I can relate to some of what you wrote. I also see so many strengths in your words, despite what you are going through. Will respond more soon.
~ Ronnie Ann
Ronnie Ann says
Hi again, Philip!
There’s no way I can do a good job of responding to all you shared in just a comment. My heart goes out to you. Especially since your words “But when I’m not in work I’m a completely different person, I have hopes, I laugh, my wife makes me feel like the greatest person.” tell me there is a wonderful side to you that for some reason does not YET get a chance to shine in the workplace.
All too often, for whatever reasons, jobs bring out and magnify any early insecurities, and many jobs are just not built to get the best of us. The same person who doesn’t do well in certain job environments, might find a place that feels better — especially if it is a place where skills you enjoy most can be used and appreciated. I don’t know your situation. I just hope something can help. A career or other counselor may be able to get you to the kind of job you might enjoy — at least more.
For me, what helped was finally starting my own business, consulting in IT. Not for everyone, but it allowed me to offer skills I felt good about. And clients I actually enjoyed working with. That was not always the case for much of my career!
I’m so sorry my post did the opposite of helping. Here are a few more that I hope can do a better job:
Career Coach Yourself? Two Exercises To Get You Started
Why Do I Always Pick the Wrong Job?
I Can’t Stop Feeling Like a Failure
I know these are just articles, Philip. I wish I could do more to help. But I hope maybe something in at least one of them sparks a thought that gets you to a job / career you actually can feel good about.
Best of luck! ~ Ronnie Ann
I’ve been in my current job about 5 years after being transferred from a job I loved. This job doesnt quite match my education and experience. I still feel like a newbie and find myself feeling inept. There has been very little training – more learn as you go. My previous job was new territory and I thrived on learning new things. Any thoughts?
Ronnie Ann says
One question comes to mind … what is keeping you from looking elsewhere? I’m not saying leaving is always the answer. It’s not. But after 5 years, sounds like you deserve a job that stimulates your mind and creativity.
If you’ve tried everything to get your boss to give you more interesting projects (or at least some decent training), then why not open up to finding something better for yourself? You could once again put your unused talents and energy to good use — by wholeheartedly going after a job that lets you shine!
~ Ronnie Ann
Thank you so much for this article. I’m actually experiencing the topic of the article. And I thoroughly agree with your article.
Ronnie Ann says
I’m so sorry you’re going through this, Puseletso. You are definitely not alone. Glad the article could help.
I wish you good luck!
~ Ronnie Ann