You can do it: Overcoming self-doubt in career progression

Most of us will have done it at some point - talking ourselves out of applying for a job because we think we’re underqualfiied, or just not up to it. Charlotte Lakin explains how she overcame those voices of self-doubt to ultimately propel her into an in-house role.

It’s strange to think how different things could have been. Certain choices put us on certain paths. I believe that it is better to have tried and failed, even if it means failing a thousand times, than to have never tried at all. 

Let me take you back to late 2016. I was working as a property paralegal at a medium-sized law firm in London. Having previously worked for a large, well-known firm, I had taken a leap of faith in joining this particular practice. I’d weighed up a number of factors including location, salary and the prospect of securing a training contract, all of which led me to make that all-important decision to move. However, after several months in the position, it became apparent it wasn’t the right fit for me, and so the job hunt began…again. 

I vividly recall scouring LinkedIn for job opportunities, desperate to find a suitable role; and then I found it. As with other things that have made a real impression on me, I know what day it was, where I was, who I was with, and how I felt. It was Boxing Day at my now-fiancé’s aunt’s house. I was sitting next to his mother and I felt elated that a newly advertised role for an in-house property paralegal at the John Lewis Partnership (JLP) had just been posted. 

The elation I felt turned to a desire to apply. However, the more I pondered, reading the role description over and over again, I was overcome by that feeling. I’d be surprised if you have never had that  feeling: that you are “underqualified” for the role (even when you aren’t). That because you have never worked in-house, they couldn’t possibly see you as a suitable candidate. Let us also not forget that all-important question about commercial awareness. “What do you even know about that?”, I told myself.

Just like that, my self-doubt had spoken. Loud and clear.

It took me a few days to start the application. When I first saw the role I shared it with my mother, who said “Best get on that application”. She’d then ask me every day afterwards whether I’d applied. To which I would casually respond: “Yes, yes I will.” I secretly wanted to, but lacked the confidence to even put myself forward.

After several days of making the same excuses, it because apparent to my mother that something was holding me back. It was then that I confessed all. My lack of confidence, fear of failure and rejection: everything that was preventing me from applying. My mother then began to tell me a story. A story I hadn’t heard before, probably because it wasn’t relevant until now.

The story was all about how my father had seen a position in the paper and wanted to apply, but wasn’t going to, because he felt he was underqualified for the role. Sound familiar? As the story went, my mother encouraged him to apply anyway. Why? Because she knew  he had the skills for the role (even if he didn’t), and because if he didn’t apply, then he certainly wouldn’t get it!

Just like that, with some motherly wisdom, I knew what I needed to do. That night, I applied. I had the sudden realisation that whilst everyone else can doubt me or even believe in me, if I don’t believe in myself and my ability, it doesn’t matter. I will always be the first voice and, to be honest, the only voice inside my head that matters. If that voice is one that discounts me from opportunities or roles, even before I have had the chance to have to apply, then I am really the person holding myself back. I can’t push that blame onto anyone else. 

As Mae C. Jemison famously said, “[n]ever limit yourself because of others’ limited imagination; never limit others because of your own limited imagination”. I would go one step further and say “just never limit yourself!”.

Self-doubt can be just as powerful as self-belief. It can stop you from exploring, achieving and finding happiness.

To those wondering what happened next, my application was followed by a few tests and an interview, and I did end up getting the role. The role then changed everything for me, because it was during my time at JLP that I decided that I wanted to train in-house. Now, a few years later, I am  training in-house and feel grateful that my choices led me to where I am now.

My recommendation is to shrug off those “I cant’s” and replace those with “I can”. As my secondary school taught me all those years ago: “I can do it and I will do it”. So can you!