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Help me get over my fear of inadequateness in workplace
September 9, 2009 8:48 AM   Subscribe

I'm having trouble adjusting to an environment where everyone around me seems to be leaps and bounds more advanced.

I'm working at a small tech company (with big clients). It's very technically oriented, not like a consulting firm, we just develop stuff all the time. I'm a recent hire; kind of made my way in through luck and they seemed to like some of the stuff I used to work on.

What my problem is that although I'm fairly competent (at least passable) in my field, I feel like my co-workers are just geniuses that seem to be able to do anything faster or better than I can. And it has been literally rendering me pretty much dysfunctional lately.

For example, I come up with an idea that we can all work on. Start researching for it, talk to my co-workers about it. And before I can actually start doing anything about it, like a day later, one of my co-workers excitedly show up at my desk, showing off what he did with my idea; he just implemented it in the time it took me to get my head around some of the technicalities. Don't get me wrong; I'm not jealous or mad and I have *no* hard feelings towards that guy or anything.

Stuff like this happens just keeps happening. And I feel growingly incompetent.

What it makes me feel like is just being unable to start doing anything on my own. It's to a point that I feel like if I embark on something either it's going to be way too late compared to others or just it's going to fail (and them somebody will have to finish it up).

I do not want to give up what I am doing and I know I'm in a place where I had been working for a good part of my life. I can't let this go. However, I need some help to get around my fears. Or whatever you call them.
posted by the_dude to Work & Money (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Presumably they hired you because they thought you were intelligent. The trick for you is not to show your insecurities to them; else, everyone with whom you work starts to feel very uncomfortable.

I can tell you from personal experience that when a co-worker has expressed her insecurity to me about her lack of Excel knowledge as compared to mine, it makes me rather uncomfortable. There's nothing inherently special about me that allows me to understand complex manipulations in Excel, that cannot also be understood by others.

So it should be with you: there is nothing about the more advanced people with whom you work that allows them exclusive possession over knowledge or skills.
posted by dfriedman at 8:53 AM on September 9, 2009


While you co-worker may be more technically proficciant (and that is somthing you may have to just work through in your personal time) you were the one who developed the idea. Intigrating technology is one thing... If you can continue to improve your technical aptitude and keep improving the technology through solid and appliable ideas you will be an asset to the company.
posted by elationfoundation at 8:57 AM on September 9, 2009


You are who you associate with. Don't give in. Before you know it, you'll be shaming some newb at your job.

I am sure there are multiple ways to look at any of these experiences. Your example is telling though. In your example, you thought of an idea, and it was good enough for someone to run with. But you are comparing your "failure" of production to his success of building whatever it was. You will always lose that battle. For all you know, he's sitting there wishing he could think of stuff like that. If you must compare, don't let the critic in your mind compare your failures to someone else's successes. Always force it to compare success to success.
posted by milarepa at 9:00 AM on September 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


Perhaps you were hired because all of these technical geniuses had run out of new ideas. Embrace the possiblity that your role is to come up with ideas that other team members will implement.
posted by hworth at 9:02 AM on September 9, 2009


one of my co-workers excitedly show up at my desk, showing off what he did with my idea; he just implemented it in the time it took me to get my head around some of the technicalities. Don't get me wrong; I'm not jealous or mad and I have *no* hard feelings towards that guy or anything.

This guy does not think you are incompetant, after all he just couldn't wait to show you what a great idea you brought to the team. Does competance mean you have to be better at innovating, implementing and communicating your ideas than everybody else? Or does it mean bringing something to team that improves and stregthens everyone else's contributions.

Perhaps this company realised it had great implementors, but not innovators and communicators and they thought those were qualities you could bring in?
posted by munchbunch at 9:03 AM on September 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


: For example, I come up with an idea that we can all work on. Start researching for it, talk to my co-workers about it. And before I can actually start doing anything about it, like a day later, one of my co-workers excitedly show up at my desk, showing off what he did with my idea; he just implemented it in the time it took me to get my head around some of the technicalities. Don't get me wrong; I'm not jealous or mad and I have *no* hard feelings towards that guy or anything... Stuff like this happens just keeps happening. And I feel growingly incompetent.

I have no idea whether this is something that actually happened or just an image of what it feels like to you, but here's an outside perspective: you did the important thing in this scenario. You introduced an idea that was complex enough to need some implementing and yet simple and evocative enough to spark your co-workers' imagination. It was clear and insightful enough to leave another person excited about it excited enough to devise a way to put it into motion and excited enough to come up to you and want to share his solutions.

In the current climate, it's easy to start thinking that 'genius' is something that moves along at a pace nobody else can match; but that's not real intelligence, it's just ADD. (Take it from somebody who actually has ADD.) Real contemplative thoughtfulness, the kind that comes up with good ideas, sometimes looks plodding and slow on its surface: it moves from one idea to the next, it gradually takes in all sides of a problem, and it tries to account for every variable. But that's the kind of contemplative thoughtfulness that's most useful, that comes up with the most well-formed ideas. Knowing that you might not have the technical skill that your co-workers sometimes do can be an asset; it probably leaves you more capable of seeing what's going on in the larger frame.
posted by koeselitz at 9:16 AM on September 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


What hworth and munchbunch said. You're catalyzing them. That's great! You seem to be providing a vital piece of the puzzle for them!
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 9:17 AM on September 9, 2009


You're catalyzing them. That's great!

Yup, and beyond that, given your acknowledgment of the "extreme competence" of your new co-workers, what an excellent environment for learning, shifting your own skills to a whole new level! To use a sports analogy, this is like being the star player from a minor league team who gets moved up to the majors. You can either get all intimidated by the situation, or you can use all the expertise around you to really "go to school".
posted by philip-random at 9:25 AM on September 9, 2009


Sounds like classic impostor syndrome. I definitely had it when I started working in the real world with some incredibly smart people, and I had it a bit when I was in grad school. I eventually figured out how our skills complimented each other's, and how I could learn from the crazy smart people.
posted by zsazsa at 9:26 AM on September 9, 2009


Google "Impostor Syndrome."
posted by u2604ab at 9:28 AM on September 9, 2009


You are new and more importantly you can't be amazing at everything. Nobody is.

What specifically can they do that you can't? Ask them to explain it. Some people love to explain things, teach and coach others. Look around your for people who want to share their expertise.

It sounds like there is a pretty nice team atmosphere if your colleague was excited to show you his work based on your idea. It seems like the sort of place that would encourage the team to learn from each other. So do it.
posted by Gor-ella at 9:30 AM on September 9, 2009


My view of your situation is that the person who build your idea was simply so excited to bring life to the idea that he went ahead and build it. It is not an issue of showing off his dominance in the field nor denying you the opportunity to build it yourself, I presume your idea was related to your company, thus for others to implement it is the natural thing to do.

You have the skill to think up new ideas, these guys have the super skills to produce your ideas in no time. I would suggest you embrace your ability to create ideas! In this economy, let alone in your career regardless of time, this is really a great thing. It's rare to have someone who can think up an idea and also communicate it well enough that a coworker can take it and implement the idea in a day! I do believe that your fears of adequateness can be alleviated in part by acknowledging that idea creation is a rare skill, and you are in no way failing your company by not being able to code it out in a day, you are providing much more value to the company by fast tracking the pipeline of idea -> prototype.

Of course, I am not saying abandon your desire to code at all. You can in fact learn a great deal from these coworkers and I have no doubt they'd love to help you if you get stuck. It's just your idea was great enough to fast forward it. If you want to hone your skills and level up, take on a pet project and make it known that it is a learning endeavour for you versus a commercial project idea.
posted by Meagan at 9:31 AM on September 9, 2009


It sounds like that guy was trying to impress you. I'd take that as a huge compliment!
posted by peep at 9:35 AM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Another consideration is their improved sense of the tools and organization of the company that stems from their extra experience in that particular office. I find that whenever I start at a new place, my productivity is at a crawl for a few months while I get acclimated. It's a little scary and makes you feel like you've lost your mojo, but it all snaps together once you are used to the environment.
posted by nomad at 9:43 AM on September 9, 2009


Do you have any idea how many people *dream* of having a team of smart people to implement their ideas?

You've won, baby.
posted by amtho at 11:34 AM on September 9, 2009


Do you have a supervisor or co-workers you could speak to and get some feedback?

Its not clear how long you have been there, but if you are feeling like you are lacking some professional skill or work style, find out from your boss - or colleagues - if your impression is accurate. Maybe you do work in a slower or less "genius" manner than is expected in your office. Where I work there is definitely an expectation of "genius" style work - you gotta come up with quick, fast ideas, and get them implemented. Methodical, accurate work is less celebrated, definitely.

Or, you may be totally off and you are doing great. Best way to know is to ask around and figure out a way to fix it, or feel better about your current work if you are doing well.
posted by RajahKing at 11:39 AM on September 9, 2009


Would you rather be the smartest person, surrounded by a bunch of incompetent morons?

Use this an opportunity to learn from the people around you. If someone is really good at something that you wish you were good at, ask them how they developed that knowledge or skill. People are usually happy to share resources or even spend time tutoring or mentoring someone who shows a genuine interest in learning what they know.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:48 PM on September 9, 2009


Lucky, lucky, lucky.
posted by telstar at 1:05 PM on September 9, 2009


Heh, my job is like this. I'm clearly low on the totem pole compared to everyone else. I usually try to find something else to do that nobody else in the group is doing and try to "specialize" in that rather than try to compete technically with those who are inherently better at it than I am.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:22 PM on September 9, 2009


Become the idea person, let your more technically adept coworkers implement your ideas, win win.
posted by zentrification at 3:08 PM on September 9, 2009


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