Tense all the time about imaginary firing
January 21, 2011 9:04 AM   Subscribe

I am terrified of being fired, even though I don't have any reason to suspect I might be let go. How can I get over this?

I work in a small office environment and have been at this job for about 8 months. I work with 17 other people and we all do the same job, more or less. During the two performance evaluations I have had so far, my two bosses have told me that I am doing a good job and they appreciate my positive attitude and dedication. Everything at this job has been positive so far.

And yet, I am constantly afraid that I am going to get fired. When small things go wrong (as they do for me, and everyone else I work with), I feel sick to my stomach. When my projects are not running as smoothly as others' projects, simply because sometimes things are good and sometimes not so good, I worry that my bosses think I am incompetent. Whenever my two bosses have management meetings, I am certain they are discussing my shortcomings and how to let me go.

This is a huge burden, and it has to stop. My bosses don't provide much feedback day to day but when they do, it is usually positive or constructive. They tend to give feedback generally/to everyone, rather than to single people out. My coworkers are comfortable and secure in their positions, but I am constantly worried that I'm not good enough.

How can I stop thinking about it? How can I reassure myself? I don't ever want to be cocky, but I would like to feel a little more comfortable or assured.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Just knowing that the impostor syndrome existed made these kind of irrational thoughts of inferiority easier to deal with.
You could also ask for a lunch meeting to touch bases and hear if there is anything they would like you to improve or to keep doing well. That, for me, helps to "reset" the impostor countdown.
posted by Iteki at 9:09 AM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Therapy. I felt like this for so long (and sometimes still do) and no one ever mentioned therapy, so I am mentioning it now because I think it will really help you.
posted by sweetkid at 9:20 AM on January 21, 2011

2nding the Impostor Syndrome. I have suffered from it pretty much as long as I can remember and I'm now 40 years old and well respected in my industry. So much so that a company I left courted me for over two years to try to get me back. They finally succeeded and even now I have moments when I'm positive I'm being axed.

Keep a feedback loop going with your bosses and be willing to do things that others hesitate. Those kind of things keep you in a positive light even when, inevitably, something goes wrong.
posted by FlamingBore at 9:36 AM on January 21, 2011

This depends on your job - but other than the most menial jobs, firing and replacing someone is a BIG HEADACHE for management. They would always rather NOT do it, unless you are completely useless at your job, or completely insubordinate - your own actions are unlikely to get you magically fired with no warning, if for no other reason than that's just your boss making extra work for himself.
posted by TravellingDen at 9:43 AM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for sharing information about Impostor Syndrome. Very useful. I would also suggest getting better prepared; more qualified; more "employable" would make a difference. The more confident you are that you have what it takes to get a new job, less stress about loosing the one you currently have.
posted by 3dd at 9:44 AM on January 21, 2011

I second 3dd's idea about becoming better prepared - if you continue to evolve by taking courses, obtaining certificates, etc., this will not only make you a more well-rounded employee at your current job, it will make you a more attractive candidate in the general job market. And it always looks good on an evaluation when you can provide examples of how you are committed to lifelong learning.

And TravellingDen is right - management would much rather not fire people, and in all but the most shocking of circumstances (or lay-offs) there is usually a progressive discipline policy (verbal warning, written warning, and up the ladder) that management would have to implement before they could fire you. Ultimately, if you feel included at work and are in the loop about projects and the direction that the company is heading, you are likely safe.
posted by analog at 10:00 AM on January 21, 2011

What's the absolute worst that can happen after you lose your job? Think of that, and figure out a way to solve that worst case situation, so in the event you really do lose your job, there would be a fallback plan - and hopefully with that, you won't be too tensed up.

posted by TrinsicWS at 10:06 AM on January 21, 2011

There is a more practical way to look at this.

Have any of your colleagues been fired? What was the cause? How long did it take for the actual firing to happen? How much of a warning did they get? How do your own perceived infractions compare to theirs? Answering these questions realistically might help you get some perspective on how realistic your fears are.

There are some companies where it actually is very easy to get fired. There are also some companies where people regularly get fired for arbitrary reasons beyond their control. Perhaps you are working at once of those places. Perhaps you used to work at one of those places.

Also, this is one of those situations where it's helpful to remember that it's not all about you. You (understandably) think about yourself a lot, but that doesn't mean your managers are thinking about you the same amount. In fact, if you are fulfilling the cog-like function that you are meant to fill, then they probably don't need to worry about you much, which (in this context) is a good thing.
posted by bingo at 10:10 AM on January 21, 2011

I was like this at my first big kid job. The majority of the time, I was left to my own devices with very little supervision or direction. Every time I would see an e-mail or missed call from one of the directors on my phone, I would start to get a panicky feeling. I had great performance reviews there, but still walked around convinced that my next move was going to be that GIANT FUCKUP that would get me canned. Never happened.

bingo's comments above really hit home with me. Part of the reason I was nervous at the above-mentioned job was because my predecessor was fired after working there for two years (even though I soon realized it was because he was completely incompetent and repeatedly screwed up). And then there's the "easy to get fired" places. I worked at one of these for a couple of months when I was a teenager. I was hauled into the office one day after work and fired by some mean old bag who took great pleasure in it. Inconsequential to me these days, yes, but it still stuck with me.

I counteract this insecurity by reminding myself that I am inventing these worst-case scenerios. They aren't real. And I remind myself that I have done pretty well for myself in the working world and that as long as I keep up the good work and stay organized and informed, there's no reason for that to change. In the line of work I'm in now, nothing ever goes smoothly or according to expectations. Every day presents new challenges to be dealt with. And oddly enough, I am more relaxed at work than I have ever been. As my mom says, you can only do your best. Good luck.
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:50 AM on January 21, 2011

CBT and anxiety meds, if it turns out to be something you can't deal with on your own. Most of us find yourself in your position at some time or another, though. Most of the time we don't get fired. And even if you do get fired, there are other jobs. I know the news sounds bleak right now regarding unemployment, but it's not actually that bad if you've got a degree.

My SO's therapist told her that she needed to realize that even if there was an equal probability of the worst outcome, the "middle" outcome, and the best outcome (which is rarely the case, the worse outcome is almost always very low probability), that's still a 2 in 3 chance of not having your worst fears realized.
posted by wierdo at 11:47 AM on January 21, 2011

You sound like you are struggling with perfectionism and catastrophic thinking. Somewhere in your life you learned that small mistakes and misunderstandings can lead to horrible consequences that do not line up with the scale of the initial misstep. I agree with the suggestions to seek therapy. There are also likely to be some very helpful books on the topic.

A couple things to consider:

-Being fearful about constantly getting fired may ultimately make you worse at your job and less pleasant to work with. It's possible people aren't noticing, but understanding that your negative emotions may actually be harming your performance may provide a good incentive to get you out of the thought loop.

- On a practical level, I'd recommend consciously re-framing your thoughts on this topic.

When you feel irrationally afraid of getting fired, literally talk yourself down mentally from it by reciting the list of reasons you likely won't be getting fired in your mind (or out loud if you can).

-Other people with my job have made similar mistakes and similar frequencies and their jobs are not in jeopardy.
-Problem projects are part of having a job and do not reflect on my overall competence.

Etc, etc.

-Finally, I find it powerful to work on accepting the things I cannot control and learning to live with the uncertainty. Is it possible you could be fired, with or without cause? Yes. Would you be fine? Yes. Worst case scenarios exist because they can happen. If you face the reality of that and can find a way to accept this reality without fear, it could help diffuse these episodes by changing your perspective.
posted by amycup at 11:48 AM on January 21, 2011

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