It can happen in a moment: you’re assigned a new task or project, maybe even a stretch assignment. You haven’t done anything like this before, and you’re not confident you possess the knowledge or skills to do a good job. Suddenly you feel completely out of your depth.
Feeling insecure about your ability to perform well is a problem many of us struggle with at some point in our careers. However, it’s important to know that you have to step out of your comfort zone in order to grow. As William Macaux writes in his Association for Talent Development article “Making the Most of Stretch Assignments,” business leaders know that high potential employees can be coached to higher growth by consistently challenging them with increasingly more difficult assignments. Every new challenge adds to their resilience and resourcefulness, which propels them forward until they’re capable of fulfilling a more senior position.
The same principle applies to your situation. Though you may feel that your skills are inadequate, feeling out of your depth is actually a great opportunity to challenge yourself to grow. Fortunately, there are a number of strategies you can implement in order to lose the feeling of being out of your depth and instead, regain your self-confidence and control of the situation.
- Remind yourself of your achievements. The single best way to start feeling more confident is to remind yourself of everything you’ve achieved in your career and your life so far. In her MindTools article “Building Self-Confidence: Preparing Yourself for Success!” Caroline Smith suggests creating an “Achievement Log” to record the things you’re most proud of, such as passing a difficult exam, earning a promotion, or winning a high-profile account. This helps build your self-esteem because as Psychology Today contributor Richard E. Cytowic M.D. points out in his article “The Key to Self-Esteem? Accomplishment,” the knowledge that you’re capable of achieving things remains satisfying throughout your life.
- Gain an objective overview of the challenge. Oftentimes, challenges seem more overwhelming until you take a step back and examine them objectively. For example, if you’re charged with landing an important client, the realization of how much revenue this client could bring in might overwhelm you. But when you evaluate what conditions would need to be met in order to win the account, you can begin to see things in perspective. In this example, it would be useful to focus on the fact that your company is well positioned to deliver the desired services and that you possess or can acquire sufficient knowledge to convince your client to select your company as its vendor.
- Determine how the challenge plays to your strengths and weaknesses. This is crucial to regaining control of the situation. Using the same example as before, let’s say that giving convincing presentations is one of your strengths, while gathering data on which to base presentations is one of your weaknesses. Knowing this, you can conclude that you probably should allocate a significant amount of time for the research, as well as possibly request that one of your colleagues or your supervisor double-checks the data for you.
- Create a roadmap to completion. Building on the previous step, you can break the challenge into smaller assignments and determine how much time and what sort of resources you need. For example, in order to win the account, you need to assemble all of the data about what the prospective client’s target market is and how your company’s service can help them reach it in a cost-effective manner. You need to compile all of that data and make sure it’s put into an appropriate format such as a PowerPoint or pdf. And you need to prepare for giving the presentation, probably by practicing it with a colleague.
- Ask for assistance. If there’s a step in the roadmap that you don’t know how to do or aren’t experienced in, ask for help. In the example above, you could ask your supervisor where best to look for the necessary data and request that the company’s designer create a slide presentation or pdf with the data you compile.
Next time you feel out of your depth, remind yourself that you’re being given a learning opportunity. Then use the strategies above to work through it, and watch how you’ll start to achieve more than you believed you were capable of.