What am I even doing here?
I remember thinking that nearly all of the time during my first internship as a young journalist. I questioned whether I was good enough to be there, despite it being a competitive program with hundreds of applicants. That thought still occasionally creeps into my head, even as a professional with a degree and a job that requires a special set of writing skills which I possess.
But I now recognize that my worth, in part, comes from asking that question and acknowledging why I’m asking it. Sometimes it’s because I’ve hit a creative snag, or I start comparing myself to my talented colleagues, or I’m disappointed because I didn’t meet my own expectations.
When you are someone who is self-aware and self-reflective, it is only natural that occasionally you will wonder if you are doing the best work you can and if you are the best possible version of yourself. Self-awareness is not something to shy away from, just because it can bring up uncomfortable questions, though; it is part of what makes you great already.
The trick to knowing your worth — whether at an internship, in school, or as a professional — is that there is no real trick. It’s hard, and questioning your value can be difficult.
Taking a step back and examining why you are questioning your worth can help you grow, however. If you find yourself asking yourself the same question I typically do or something similar — like what you have to contribute to your team or whether you deserve a raise, promotion, or more responsibility in your role — don’t push it aside.
Instead, ask yourself these questions:
- Is this feeling based on something I did or something somebody else did?
- What are the outcomes of continuing to feel this way?
- What options are available in reversing this feeling? Are they necessary?
- What evidence is there to show my value? (hint: there’s always something)
From there, there are a few other secrets in re-discovering your worth. But prepared for it to feel a little uncomfortable.
Secret 1: Knowing your worth takes practice
The No. 1 secret to knowing your worth is to know that it takes practice. Sometimes lots of practice. It is not something you are likely to ever be completely done with.
Questioning my worth comes in waves, and sometimes it seems sporadic.
Make note of what factors are influencing this thought and why it may be different from what you’ve felt in the past. We’re constantly growing and changing in our knowledge and experience, so it’s possible that wondering about your value is happening now because of a different reason than last month or last year.
However, it’s also possible that it’s part of a pattern.
The best way to tell the difference is to think about what happened right before you started questioning your worth.
- If you notice that it usually happens after similar types of events (eg. receiving negative feedback, doing something that feels new or uncomfortable, etc.) then you might have a habit cycle. Noticing your triggers now will help you avoid falling into this trap again in the future.
- If the latest situation is different than previous times that you’ve questioned your worth, then you’re likely in a period of growth. Wondering if you’re good enough can often be a normal part of expanding your abilities; reviewing other times you’ve felt this way and overcome the feelings through experience might help you ride this one out too.
I’ve come to find that my value is fluid -- it expands and changes in different roles and environments -- so recalibration is a normal part of life.
In addition, I recognize where I lack skills or talent. How I handle those shortfalls is where I hold a huge part of my value (particularly in my career) because I want to face those challenges and work on them, instead of sweeping them under the rug.
Secret 2: Keeping track of your successes is important
Keep track of the things you consider “wins.” Did you complete a hard project? Earn praise from your manager? Win an award? Bring up a valuable idea? Sometimes those moments can be small, but they all add up.
I like to make note of the ideas I was able to execute. I do this weekly to remind myself that my ideas have value and they ended up being more than just ideas. There’s a box for this in the Ink+Volt Planner’s weekly planning page, which makes it easy to create a simple record of wins both big and small.
Not every week will have a huge, concrete win, but there are lots of other things you can track to create a visible record of your successes:
- Times you gave input in a meeting
- Projects where you were happy with the outcome or the recent progress you made
- Reasons why you are doing what you do
- Moments where you stepped up or challenged yourself
- Moments where you felt proud of yourself
- Positive feedback you received from a peer, manager, customer, etc.
Secret 3: Asking for help helps
Asking for help is different for every situation and workplace, but pretty much universally there are a few things that are important to remember when asking for advice or support.
First, be specific. My boss and colleagues aren’t there to make me feel good about my work, so I shouldn’t turn to them every time I need a pep talk. However, they are there to help me get to a place where I’m successful, a team player and, ultimately, confident with what I bring to the table. Ask for advice or help about a specific thing — like how to handle a particular question you get from clients or what their long term vision for a project is — because those answers will provide clarity and direction for you.
It’s also OK to say you’re stuck. If I’m feeling particularly uninspired, I will present an idea for feedback, even knowing that it isn’t fully formed yet. The idea is to get my thoughts moving again. Even if the feedback isn’t what you had hoped, it doesn’t mean there wasn’t value in asking. No person will have 100% good ideas, and it’s okay to be vulnerable by asking for feedback on something you know isn’t yet perfect.
Having the courage to ask for help is not only beneficial to you (because you get the help you need), but it also shows the people around you how much you care about improving and doing your best.
Secret 4: Be real about criticism
Things won’t always be as good as you hope they will be. There will be criticisms -- but they should provide some foundation for what’s next. Presenting an idea that is less than perfect is part of life, and if you can process criticism maturely, it can be the basis for something better. Not being “good” doesn’t mean you are bad.
It can be difficult not to get down about something not panning out, especially when there was real work put into it.
But look at what you’ve completed and try to objectively consider what parts need improvement. Odds are some parts of it are good, and the remaining parts just need some help to get on track. What is missing? What questions do you need to ask to align with the project goal?
Sometimes the worst criticism for a project comes from yourself -- even in spite of a general positive reception by other people. I have an almost instant reaction to some things I create, where I immediately start thinking about where I could have done better.
This instinct can sometimes be helpful if it helps you to be more innovative and efficient in the future. However, if it’s consistently taking the wind out of your sails over projects that other people seem to consider successes, then it is worth trying to overcome that instinct.
Try making a list of all the things that went well in a project. Putting your wins in a concrete, visual format makes them a lot harder to ignore than when negative thoughts are swirling around your mind.
Secret 5: Eliminate unhealthy comparison
It’s really tough to just focus on your own work sometimes, especially in a team setting.
“I’m not as good as that person,” is a thought that sneaks its way into my own self-worth thoughts sometimes. But I’m quick to remind myself that is such a vague statement. There’s no way that “not as good” is all-encompassing.
The easiest way to pivot around that doubt and comparison is to focus on what strengths you bring to your position and team. Maybe it’s your ability to keep all the people and things organized, or maybe it’s a very specific technical skill that nobody else has.
Try not to be negative about the other person; in other words, don’t try to find their flaws in order to make yourself feel better. The best attitude you can have for a successful career is that the more talented people you are surrounded by, the better. Instead, focus on what makes you great. Be specific, and understand that your unique blend of skills is what will make you successful.
A team wouldn’t work if everybody had exactly the same abilities. Realizing yours is the secret sauce in knowing your worth.