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How have you improved job-related self confidence?
June 2, 2014 5:16 PM   Subscribe

I've only very recently identified a recurring behavior/thought pattern in myself. In hindsight, I am surprised it's taken me this long to realize what I'm doing. I guess I'd just call it a lack of self confidence when it comes to work, but there may be more at play. I doubt this is totally unique, so I'd appreciate any advice people have had on improving it.

This problem manifests itself in a few ways. For example, in a previous job, I was absolutely sure I was going to get a bad performance review. I could think of numerous things I'd done poorly over the year, and several times that my manager had been annoyed with me. I had slacked off pretty regularly, and not done my best work at several points. Yet, when I got the review, it was very good, and came with a large raise and a hint at more responsibility coming soon. By that point I had already accepted another job anyway, partially because I thought I was doing badly.

Fast forward to my current job. I've had several instances over the last year plus where I was convinced I was on the verge of being fired. Not for criminal misconduct or anything like that, just performance combined with a culture where they'll fire people at the drop of the hat. Even today, I had a couple of emails that I instantly interpreted as being at least partially aimed at "managing me out" or building evidence for dismissal. Yet I'm still here, and haven't even had a conversation along the lines of "you're in danger of being fired." Which leads me to believe that my intuition about this is wrong.

Due in part to my worry over being fired (but also several other serious issues), I've been looking for another job. I've had a few phone calls, and interviewed with two companies. At one of the interviews, I felt that I had absolutely bombed it. I mean, it went really, really badly from my perspective. I've interviewed for a lot of jobs, and I've interviewed a lot of people for similar jobs, so I feel like I have a pretty good amount of experience about what makes for a good or bad interview. Yet the company actually made me an offer for a senior position. So apparently my thought that the interview went badly was mistaken (or at least it didn't go badly enough to counteract other factors).

This kind of thing has been a recurring factor throughout my career, and I think it is really damaging me. Especially since my default reaction when I get into one of these situations is to flee, looking for another job. I've had a lot of great jobs at amazing companies, but I never stick with them as long as I should. In the case of my current job, there are several other unrelated factors that drive me to move on, but even in that case I find that it's hurting my job search. It's certainly not all-consuming, but I'd like to alleviate it.

On one level, I can see that clearly my perception is wrong, because I get promotions, raises, job offers, etc. But on another level, I can point to numerous things that I very clearly and objectively should do much better at, and if someone reporting to me was performing that way, I'd be unhappy about it. These are hard to reconcile even in the face of the evidence that my managers think I'm doing well. I've heard of "impostor syndrome" but I feel like this is different (or maybe just more extreme).

If you've experienced this, how did you handle it?
posted by primethyme to Work & Money (11 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
My therapist calls these sorts of experiences "cognitive distortions". Maybe starting there could help you hone in on what's going on for you at work?
posted by Hermione Granger at 5:21 PM on June 2

How long do you stay at your jobs? It sounds like you cut out so quickly that you are unable to build enough evidence for yourself that you're actually valuable. I would challenge you to stay at your current position for another couple of years (yes, years) to go through several review cycles and help put this unfounded idea to rest.

Also, if you find you have general anxiety of a similar type outside of work, you may want to explore getting some help looking into that.
posted by xingcat at 5:22 PM on June 2

combined with a culture where they'll fire people at the drop of the hat. Even today, I had a couple of emails that I instantly interpreted as being at least partially aimed at "managing me out" or building evidence for dismissal.

I've had these same feelings, and unfortunately I can't tell you they're totally unrealistic. While you may be doing great, "a culture where they'll fire people at the drop of the hat" is just par for the course in almost every American industry these days.

So I'm not going to tell you "You'll never get laid off if you do a good job." I've almost always been one of the best performers on teams and I've been let go or forced to quit five times in a fifteen-year career. That's just how it goes. But I always find another job, and life goes on.

However, of all the times I've gotten paranoid because I overheard a conversation or someone scheduled a weird meeting or whatever, 99% of the time it turned out to be nothing. My old therapist taught me the trick of assigning a percentage value to outcomes. Rather than catastrophize and think, "They're definitely firing me today," I'd think, "Maybe they are, but it's 98% likely it's nothing to do with me at all."

This appeals to the realist in me, because "They're definitely not talking about firing me" is obviously going to be false sometimes. But realizing there's only a tiny chance of it happening any given time I feel paranoid really helped me calm down and get on with my day.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:34 PM on June 2 [3 favorites]

Yeah, this isn't a self-confidence issue so much as an anxiety issue. I agree with Hermione that these are cognitive distortions, probably more than one, and including catastrophizing.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can really help with this.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:44 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]

Did I post this in my sleep? This is me! This is also full blown anxiety. But there is something you can do about it and I managed to turn my ship around. Here's what I did and continue to do.

1) take care of yourself. Exercise, eat well, sleep well. Cut out all alcohol because it makes it all worse. Dress nicely but be comfortable.

2) get to work early, take minimal breaks and leave on time.

3) no internet at work - keep it all business and you are there to do a job. Be nice and friendly, but you are there to work.

4) do your work! Pull out your job description and make sure you are meeting the description AND your boss's expectations. Talk to your boss about areas of improvement (I framed mine as "I love this company and really believe in what we are doing and just want to check in.) focus on those. Participate in meetings. Be present.

5) be positive even though you might be brimming with anything but on the inside. Basically, do your job to the best and try your best. Worst case scenario if you are let go, you will know you tried your best.

6) the biggest - look at what you are worrying about from a big picture perspective. Is it realistic? Probably not. My therapist helped me greatly with focusing on ending the catastrophizing.

7) Get therapy. It helps tremendously.

You can do this!
posted by floweredfish at 6:33 PM on June 2 [4 favorites]

I wonder: have you ever worked in a really toxic environment? Because I get this a lot, and much of it is from emotional scarring.

I went through a really rough patch at work for a while, which culminating in me quitting a job suddenly without another gig lined up. A series of Bad Things happened which led to me being forcibly "transferred" from department to department. By the end of it, I became paranoid, convinced that every manager at the place was conspiring in some secret meeting somewhere to force me to quit. And knowing the company, it's entirely possible that I was right. Finally, I gave them what they wanted. I quit. And I landed a new position at a smaller, less "prestigious" company within a few weeks. (With a raise, no less.)

Then for the first few months at the new job, my "OH MY GOD THEY'RE TRYING TO DESTROY ME" impulse kept cropping up in really inappropriate situations. Like, at my previous hell-job, I got shit for going out of town, even though I had planned it months in advance, and I was actually punished by my manager for taking PTO (though of course it was not put in those terms). So when I started the new job, it was like the battered child and the foster parents. Every time a hand went up, I expected it to come down across my face.

After a few months I realized how crazy I was being and I toned it down. Now I mostly keep it together at work, but every now and then my impulse to RUN RUN FIND ANOTHER JOB QUICKLY DON'T LET THEM TAKE YOU ALIVE crops up and I have to beat it back down.
posted by deathpanels at 6:50 PM on June 2 [4 favorites]

This sounds like impostor syndrome, which is depressingly prevalent among competent people.
posted by yomimono at 7:34 PM on June 2 [3 favorites]

I wonder: have you ever worked in a really toxic environment?

Funny you ask. My current job is a very toxic environment, but it's the first one I think I've worked in. So, I can't blame my long-term issues on that, but I also don't think it's a good idea to force myself to stay in this specific situation for much longer. I suppose I could be mistaken, but I think I have a pretty good perspective on the toxic/non-toxic thing, at least, and this situation is bad (being called in the middle of the night, on vacations, and on weekends to be literally yelled at for things outside my control, being called an idiot, people fired by the owner for imagined transgressions, and so on; everyone I've talked to associated with the company agrees it's insane). The anxiety pattern is certainly worse here than it's ever been before, I guess due to the environment. I'm not good at conflict, and this place thrives on it. The one good thing about this job is that it has given me some real perspective on what a good job and a bad job is, and I hope I can remember it to help me stick it out when I have a rough patch in a "normal" job.

To answer xingcat, I've stayed at most of my jobs between two and five years. This current one is an exception because of the issues described above. I think five to ten years would be a better target (in the technology industry). I don't think I have much anxiety outside of work, but maybe I'm just not identifying it..
posted by primethyme at 7:43 PM on June 2

How have you improved job-related self confidence?

You need to succeed. Get (volunteer for, create) tasks that can be done (reasonable deadlines, measurable goals) and then do them well. Take notes describing what you did. Save related email. Determine how your actions made the company money and made your boss (and department) look good.

When you need to say why you are valuable to the company (annual review, CV, reminder to self), you'll have all the material in front of you. You'll feel confident when you can document your ongoing successes.
posted by pracowity at 4:24 AM on June 3

I'm not good at conflict, and this place thrives on it.
This sounds a lot like my hell-job. The company culture tended to encourage one-upmanship and there was definitely a sense that employees were disposable "resources" to be used up and spent. Burn out was expected. It was a meat grinder.

At my new job, when I say things like, "Well, X is taking longer than I expected because we didn't plan for Y," the response is positive. Nobody yells at me. They want to know why, they want to talk about it. They are pragmatists. The response is something like, "Oh, well, is there something else we could do to get this out a little sooner? X is higher priority than Y." There's always some pressure to get work done but nothing like at the hell-job. At the hell-job, expectations were unrealistically high. It was like they expected us to successfully build and launch a space shuttle using the burned out wreck of an old Cessna and a couple auto mechanics. Everyone thrived on the thrashing around, shouting, getting frustrated in meetings, stealing people from other teams. It was bad, and I blame 90% of it on leadership. At the new job, people who are making the big decisions actually have a fairly good sense for what we can accomplish, and they don't overpromise. They are calm and practical. Sure, sometimes there's a big catastrophe and priorities change, but I can't imagine anyone here actually berating me for anything, partly because projects just don't get as fucked up here as they did at the hell-job.

So I encourage you to get out. There's really nothing you can do to change a sick system. In today's workplace, employers have tenuous commitment to their employees, if at all. There is no reason for an employee to be committed to an employer.
posted by deathpanels at 6:11 AM on June 3

The one good thing about this job is that it has given me some real perspective on what a good job and a bad job is, and I hope I can remember it to help me stick it out when I have a rough patch in a "normal" job.

I worked in an incredibly toxic environment after working for a few years in the most relentlessly supportive firm I've ever worked at. Up until the end of my time at the supportive place, my situation was very similar to yours. Every review cycle, I'd think I was going to get reamed or fired, and instead I would get zero negative comments, statements about moving me into a role with more responsibility, and a 10% raise. I did eventually get laid off there, but that was more due to the economy than anything else - I had just had my annual review a week and a half prior, gotten a 5% raise, and my boss expressed regret that they hadn't put me on the one project they had left with any viabilty so that they would have a better chance of keeping me on. One amazing thing about this place was that the entire staff was very competent - pretty much any project could be switched over to someone else at my level without a serious drop in quality. That partly fed into my feelings of inadequacy, but also made the praise I received in reviews ring a bit louder.

In stark contrast to that firm, the next place I worked (the toxic one) couldn't hire anyone who knew what to do to save their life, and this was in the middle of the recession, so it wasn't like there weren't some people desperate for work. Being there reinforced that I was actually pretty darn good at what I do.

I think my first job out of school may have scarred me a bit and taken some time to overcome - I was basically the first employee for a firm and the owner kind of treated me like her dumb kid brother most of the time - it may have taken the 6 or 7 years from there to the supportive place to both overcome that and get comfortable with my own level of knowledge of my field before I really had any confidence in my abilities.

So, in a lot of ways, I think my experiences are close to yours. In my case, I think the root cause is that I'm a lot more aware of what's going on in the projects I'm working on, and I take every little failing pretty seriously, and I think I hold onto those things a bit more closely than most people, so they're more at the front of my consciousness and I dwell on them more. Experience has shown me that most of those things are pretty minor in comparison to the big picture, and that keeping that little mental list of failings is in a way a mark of competence - you know enough to know what you've done wrong, while most people are probably not quite at that level. If you want to get into slightly "woo" territory, this seems like a characteristic of INTJ types, based on the Myers-Briggs test. So, that doesn't really solve your problem, but might give you an idea of why it happens in the first place. For me, I think it was mostly the positive reinforcement I got from the one job and just gaining enough experience in my field that I felt like I finally knew what I was doing.

I do recommend getting out of the toxic place ASAP - I could feel the place I worked at actively making me worse at my job because I did things in order to not get yelled at rather than because I knew they were right.
posted by LionIndex at 12:59 PM on June 3

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