I Can’t Seem to Win at Work and It’s Making Me Doubt Myself—How Do I Deal?

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When you’re stuck in a tough spot at work—you’re *this close* to burnout, you’re wondering whether your job is the right fit, your office culture could use a serious upgrade—who do you turn to? Your mentor, who has years of experience you can rely on? Your mom, who always keeps your best interests in mind? Or your BFF, who is dependable for a killer pep talk? Put all three perspectives in a blender, and you’ve got Good@Work, Well+Good’s career advice column. See All

If you haven't had a moment of failure at work—well, then you've probably never had a job. The truth is, every boss babe's felt defeated at one point or another, even the ones who appear to be most successful. For some women, falling behind on a crazy workload can be enough to inspire fraud-like feelings. For others, it's dealing with criticism that kicks off a spiral of insecurity. But what's a gal to do when the morale-killing losses seem to happen way more often than the victories? 

In this week’s Good@Work column, entrepreneurial guru Jaclyn Johnson—CEO of Create & Cultivate (the fastest growing online platform and conference for millennial women in business) and author of new career handbook WorkParty, who is graciously stepping in while Amy Odell is on maternity leave—coaches a Well+Good reader who's struggling to keep up.

Q: How do I keep my confidence in the workplace when I'm doing my best, but my best doesn't seem to be good enough?

A: "It's about taking negative feedback and turning it into a positive."

Confidence is a real tricky beast, right? There are ebbs and flows that come with it, and I think it’s important to know that’s completely normal. But what you don’t want is to get stuck in the lows of your confidence.

You might be feeling a little bit of imposter syndrome, thinking things like "How did I get into this room?" or "Why should anyone take me seriously?" It happens all the time, and far more women than men suffer from it. The way I approach imposter syndrome is to have a mantra. Before I go into big meetings, I tell myself "You've got this, you know your stuff, you’re gonna nail this pitch," or whatever it is. That feeling of "I'm just faking it, I don't belong" is totally normal, but you have to be able to control it in order to quiet the demons.

The same goes for handling criticism. The reality is, you have to be your own biggest fan at work. You have to give yourself the pats on the back you need, and you can’t get your self-worth solely from what other people say or do or think about the work you’re doing. The first thing that creates that confidence is knowing your stuff—being able to speak articulately to any issues or explain why you’re doing things the way you’re doing them. This happens to me with employees all the time. Someone will tell me their idea, and maybe I'll say, "No, I think we should do something different." And then they’ll counter and say, "Well, actually, we did this last month and it performed super well," and I’ll change my mind. That’s what the workplace is for—it’s about debating ideas and coming to the table with the best possible solution.


You can’t get your self-worth solely from what other people say or do or think about the work you’re doing.

The other thing is being able to bounce back from criticism. If you’re getting negative feedback on a pitch or proposal or something you designed, it’s taking that negative feedback and turning it into a positive. I look back at my first boss and some of the criticism he gave me, and I remember being so frustrated, so upset, and feeling personally attacked. But now, I realize it made me a much better worker. It really taught me how to listen to feedback, make my work better, and persevere. Think of everything as furthering your education—every piece of negative feedback, as long as it’s fair, is good to learn from.

And then there's comparison—another confidence killer. My friend Maxie McCoy said it best: "There’s a reason horses race with blinders, it’s so they don’t see their competition." We get way too caught up in comparing other people's success to our own—our coworkers, our friends, people on social media—but once you decide to just be head-down and do the work and ignore what everyone else is doing, that’s when you’ll see real success.

I look back at my first boss and some of the criticism he gave me, and I remember being so frustrated, so upset, and feeling personally attacked. But now, I realize it made me a much better worker.

That said, there's a big difference between not meeting your own expectations of yourself and not meeting your boss' expectations. If you're really not performing at the level you need to be, have an honest conversation with your manager and say, "Hey, here’s where my pain points are, here’s where I need help and support." More often than not, your management will make sure you’re able to get the resources you need to get you where you need to be. I really respect employees who are willing to be vulnerable and have those conversations. We’re only human, at the end of the day.

You can also self-educate. YouTube is an incredible platform for learning more about what’s going on in your industry and improving your specific skill set. Also, finding a mentor within the company is important—someone who’s in it with you and who can help you get better at your work but is not in your direct chain of command. We all need someone we can go to and say, "Hey, I was asked to do this task, can you walk me through what it should look like?" More often than not, they’ll want to help get you to a place you're feeling good about.

And finally, if you're in a toxic work environment with an emotionally abusive boss, or you just can't see all your hard work paying off, then you really need to assess the pros and cons and decide whether it's worth staying in the job or not. At the end of the day, you have to create this little sphere around your wellbeing and know what you need in order to move forward and be successful.

Jaclyn Johnson headshotJaclyn Johnson is the author or WorkParty and the CEO of Create & Cultivate, the fastest growing online platform and offline conference for millennial women seeking to build the career of their dreams. Jaclyn has been named to Forbes 30 Under 30, a “Self-Made Woman” by LA Times, and A Woman of Note by The Wall Street Journal, among other accolades. 

Have a question for our career experts? Email goodwork@www.wellandgood.com.

More Good@Work:
Terrible jobs have extinguished my boss-babe spark. How do I get it back?
Help! I have a miserable boss—what do I do?
Did I sell myself short when I negotiated my salary?

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