No matter how ambitious or motivated you are, there may have been a time in the past where you were burned by the feeling of incompetence. Maybe you compared yourself to your more experienced peers. Perhaps the feedback you received on a project or presentation was less than favorable from a client or from your own boss.
This happened to me last year when I was presenting my Ph.D. thesis in hopes of getting the stamp of approval from the faculty in my department. And I got burned, bad.
We all go through something that makes us want to avoid, withdraw and escape from feeling incompetent. As I write this, that feeling is seared into my ego still raw and fresh as yesterday (in fact, at the time of writing this post, it was yesterday). For myself and many top performers, this feeling of incompetence rattles us -- we can't sit with it and it makes us want to bury ourselves into more work, hoping that more sacrifices made will lead to more success. But avoiding and withdrawing from the world, as protective as it feels, is an isolating and lonely dead end after a while. So, what is one to do?
1. Acknowledge your feelings
In situations where we don't receive the approval we seek, it's natural to feel ashamed, guilty or upset. Rather than escaping these unpleasant feelings, it benefits us to tap into the experience and talk it out with a good friend or coach, because otherwise, you risk it turning into hateful self-talk. The key is to express them in ways so that they don't stay inside and become toxic thoughts, which may in turn become limiting beliefs. Even unpleasant emotions are healthy to have because they are part of the human experience, and so it's important to express them rather than keeping them bottled up inside and letting them fester.
2. Challenge and reframe your thoughts
To reframe your thoughts, you need to do a little detective work and ask what the thoughts that cause to feel ashamed, guilty or unworthy. For instance, my own thoughts were that all the distinguished professors in the department thought I was undeserving of a Ph.D. For a few days, I couldn't walk through the halls and be seen by others because I felt like a failure and believed that everyone would think so too. But when I challenged those thoughts by seeking feedback from professors, they actually did believe in my abilities and re-directed my energy on what to focus on so that I would do better the second time around. Rather than letting those thoughts weigh me down, I turned them around and fueled my eventual success.
3. Begin again.
It may seem like the world has ended, but patiently ask yourself: what could you have done better? What did you learn from the experience? It may feel like the solution is to bury yourself into more work to make up for the lack of experience or knowledge, but that's a sure way to burn out and likely to be counterproductive in the end. Instead of avoiding others and withdrawing into more work to prevent future failures, seek out support and take the next step. I had partnered up with my good friend, Nicholas, who was going through similar challenges with his own Ph.D. career, and we held each other accountable for our next steps. When we take action, we begin again, one step at a time. Every day and every project we work on is a new opportunity to begin again.
By confronting and digesting your feelings about failure, reframing your thoughts and getting the support you need to begin again, you can find the light at the end of the tunnel towards the success you crave in a way that is less hurtful than it needs to be.
Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like you didn't know enough? How did you deal with it? Leave a comment below, I want to hear about it!
Catherine Chen, Ph.D., is a speaker and Health Coach who believes that you are important, no matter what you achieve. She works with high-achievers to move past the guilt, frustration, and overwhelm towards having a stellar career without sacrificing your life.
If you would like to invite Catherine to your conference or organization to give a workshop on being your best coach towards a life of more balance and less stress, visit her speaker page here
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This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power," which took place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.