No matter how smart, successful or experienced you may be, everyone has moments of doubt or stress at work where they wonder if they're doing enough, if they could get fired, if they're qualified to handle this task.
But how you manage these feelings can define your entire career trajectory.
Experiencing some anxiety about job performance and career path is healthy, says psychologist Marla Deibler, executive director for the Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia. Those concerns can keep us motivated, actually get us out of bed in the morning, and warn us when we may be straying into dangerous territory with our workplace choices.
But sometimes we can let those worries get the better of us. Consistent self-doubt can derail our ambitions and lead to underperformance, undercut professional development, and damage relationships with coworkers and managers.
Here are four of the most common fears people encounter during their career and strategies you can use to overcome them:
Maybe you took the first job you could find after college, or maybe you've realized your dream job isn't quite as perfect as you thought it was. Whatever the reason you ended up in the current gig, you know it's not the one.
Most common among younger workers early in their careers, this fear stems from feeling like you're destined to remain on an employment path you're unhappy with or feeling you're being overlooked for promotions, says therapist Brandon Smith, who specializes in workplace dysfunction.
It can zap you of motivation to perform your job well, it can lead to complaining and whining, and that pent-up frustration can even result in blow-up behavior like suddenly quitting or angry confrontations, adds Smith — all things unlikely to help you advance or get hired by a new employer.
How to deal with it:
This fear really comes down to agency and feeling like you have some control over your employment options, says Smith. If you do want to get a new job, move up the ladder, or change industries, you need to create a plan for how you intend to do that.
It could be going back to school to get another degree or obtaining a certification that will show you're qualified for the job you want. You could start a blog or website to showcase the knowledge or skills you have that might not be apparent in your current role. Or you could sign up for organizations and networking events in the industry you want to join to get on the radar of companies and hiring managers.
You could also talk to your manager about how to improve your performance and what concrete steps you need to take to advance to a more senior role or earn more responsibilities.
"Fear can lead us to unproductive choices. I see people feeling this way who end up waiting to be rescued or for the role to change for them. But the antidote is to come up with your own measured plan to achieve what you want," says Smith.
Also known as perfectionism, falling short is a common fear among people who set unrealistically high standards for themselves. When they fail to reach those impossible goals, says Deibler, they worry about being let go or seen as incompetent.
This fear of imperfection can lead to rarely feeling truly accomplished or fulfilled. It can also backfire in the way perfectionists most fear. Instead of turning in good work, a fixation on every small detail can lead to missed deadlines and isolation as coworkers avoid working with them on projects.
How to deal with it:
We all want to do the best work we can and no one feels good about turning in an assignment with clear faults, but sometimes simple problems can seem, in our own assessment, like enormous obstacles.
"We all have an inner narrator that is constantly analyzing and judging," says Deibler. "It's meant to help us, but that voice is often more negative than positive in its feedback. It's easy to get caught up in all the negative, especially if we're already worried about something, but just because our mind is telling us something doesn't mean it is true." She adds that the best thing people can do is try to think critically about that inner dialogue.
If no one else on the project is concerned about a detail, should you really hold it up to make a small tweak? Are these fixes improving the product or nitpicking?
And remember, if you're receiving good evaluations or praise from your boss, then you're likely already a solid performer handing in work that meets or beats expectations.
Impostor syndrome is a challenge for many new to leadership roles.
"People can begin to doubt their own abilities and accomplishments. They think they aren't experienced or good enough to perform the job and feel that others will find this out about them, learn that they are a fraud," says Smith.
The worst part? Feeling ill-prepared or incapable can so deeply impair our ability to function that it then makes us the poor manager or leader we feared we are.
How to handle it:
Anyone starting out in a new role will struggle a bit at first. You have to learn new processes, a different culture, new teammates. "You won't hit the ground running on day one," says Deibler. "But communication is key. New jobs come with unfamiliar tasks. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Talk with colleagues or supervisors if there is something you're not getting."
If these feelings persist past the first few months, gain confidence that you're qualified for this new role by seeking to fill whatever skill or knowledge gaps you think you have. Take a continuing education course or certification. Or sign up for the managerial courses your company offers. Ask for a one-on-one session to master that new tech tool.
And finally, the most important thing you can do to combat fraudster feelings, says Smith, is to find a mentor. "Having someone whose opinion you trust say 'You're really good. You're ready for this. I believe in you.' can remind you that you're right where you are meant to be and that you can figure it out."
Workers later into their careers typically worry the most about disruption and being replaced, says Smith.
"People fear change. They get a routine and rhythm going for a number of years and worry they won't be successful in a new one." He adds tied to that is the idea that they are replaceable; they can easily be fired for not leaning into that change. "People can feel disposable, no longer valued," adds Smith, who feels ageist hiring and artificial intelligence have only fueled those concerns.
How to handle it:
If you're experiencing general concerns about being fired or replaced, take a moment to remind yourself of your achievements at the company. It would be extremely rare for an employer to fire a team member who is producing good work, playing well with other employees, and addressing issues proactively.
If your fear is rooted in more pressing issues like potential layoffs or big technological changes, preparation can help. Craft a new resume, update your LinkedIn profile, rejoin or become more active in professional organizations, reach out to recruiters, and finally work on building that emergency fund. This way if the worst does occur, you're ahead of the game on the job search and have financial security while you hunt.
For deeper issues tied to your general sense of self-worth in the job market, you may need to do some hard work.
"You need to take yourself out of your comfort zone," says Smith. If you're in a field where you need a new skill set or all the newer hires know X and you don't, it might be time to crack the books open and master it. Or it may be about repositioning the knowledge you already possess. For instance, effectively managing people typically takes years to perfect and few young workers have such strong soft skills or maturity.
You can also try looking for industries or companies where the pace of change is slower and the number of older workers is higher. "Such places recognize the value of a seasoned worker and that can rebuild your confidence and ease fears of being replaced," says Smith.
When to get professional help:
If your fears continue to overwhelm you despite the proactive steps you may be taking to combat them, consider visiting a therapist or psychologist.
Says Deibler: "If you notice a negative impact on your everyday function, if you have trouble sleeping or with your appetite or mood, notice problems in your social relationships, start trying to avoid work, maybe by taking sick days too frequently, or are coping by isolating yourself or turning to substance abuse, these can all be signs you need help managing your anxiety."
Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!