Self doubt: A plan of action

And you may ask yourself. Well…how did I get here?

I mentioned in my weeknotes that I’ve been doing a bit of doubting.

Last year my role changed. On the surface it looked as though it changed only by name as I was ‘doing the things’ anyway, but the new name attracts expectations, as names often do. These are expectations I want to live up to, and I’m trying, but want to reflect on whether I’m doing it right.

I also made a decision when I got this new name to think and work as openly as possible, because I’ve found it the most helpful and interesting when other people have been candid with how they think and work. That means posts like this one where I’m airing my brain’s dirty laundry and trying to overcome my failings in public. If it misses the mark, well that may be the point. I’m only going to know by trying.

So yes, I’m doubting myself. And shaking my own foundations has been pretty disruptive. It’s happened a lot more these past few weeks, which is why I’m now looking it square in the face, having so far hidden the brussels sprouts* under a cabbage leaf.

It may be that jet lag has exacerbated it. It might be that I personally feel I’ve let colleagues down a couple of times recently and that’s started a chain reaction. It’s also possible the ubiquitous impostor syndrome could play a part.

But I just can’t rest on any of that.

At some point it’s wise to investigate whether the voice in my head which says “what if you don’t have the ability to deliver what is required of you?”, is correct. It’s not impostor syndrome if the lack of skill is reality.

Before launching into the doubts, there are a lot of things in my role I’m not concerned about. There’s a bunch of (generally outward-facing) stuff which does not interrupt my sleep. There are skills I’ve worked hard at and have spent time developing and improving. And these are good things.


What troubles me in the witching hour:

  • Am I a textbook example of the Peter Principle, have I reached the level of my own incompetence?
  • Can I actually think big enough in the way the company needs?
    (this might also be worded ‘am I clever enough?’ which I have only just realised is my own, personal, right-back-from-childhood-insecurity-rabbit-hole)
  • Am I actually a supportive colleague and providing leadership?
    (Even writing that one. Ack. “Leadership”. Ack. I still struggle to put myself in the same sentence)
  • How do I know if I’m on the right track? Am I measuring the right things?
  • Do I have the right brain tools to fix the things which need fixing?
  • And if not — for any of the above — am I even the right person to do any of this?

I need to explore this stuff properly.

What are my options then?

  • I can give up and give in to the doubts, retreat to the safe place of the stuff I know I can do (where I can be just about clever enough)
  • Or I can try and improve, learn from other people, and assess how to measure success (feels scary, but I might become cleverer)

I choose trying. I choose more clever. I point blank refuse to have (potentially) reached the level of my own incompetence and not do anything about it.

Here’s the plan:

Roadmaps: I got shown how to do roadmaps a while ago and it’s been a revelation.

They’re mostly used in product progression, but they’re useful for tackling a lot of other things. It helps me to work out all the sharp edges and what we’re really aiming for. I throw in every idea for where to get to, filter them down, and then arrange a timeline with every micro-action on the way laid out and linked. I’ll need help in lots of places, but that’s ok, that’s the point.

Pragmatism comforts me and if this isn’t a pragmatic approach then I don’t know what is.

Mentoring: Fellow #weeknoters have spoken about mentoring. It’s not something I’ve experienced in my work life so far and maybe I’d benefit from one. If anyone has the time and would be up for chatting about it, I’d like that.

Feedback: I need to hear candid feedback. I ask for it in 1:2:1s with my colleagues, but maybe in a too generalised way. I’ll start phrasing feedback requests more specifically e.g “I don’t think I did a great job with x and I want to improve, can you suggest three specific things which will help me get there?”
If I begin by voicing my perceived failings first then I’m not asking someone else to call me out on them unguarded.

A big concern is being the problem but not finding out until someone leaves, or when I’m still trying to surmount the same things another year down the line. I really don’t like wasting time.

There’s certainly more I could do than just those three things, but I prefer getting started to making lists.

I desperately don’t want to be the wrong person in the wrong role. I don’t want to limit what other people can achieve because my ego or lack of self awareness got in the way of asking difficult questions. I want to be better than that.

I reckon I can do this. I have to believe I’m the right person, but I’d love some help.

  • The temptation to write “brussels doubts” here was very strong
    *adds ‘willpower to resist puns’ to the list of stuff I can do*