How do I get out of this hole? I dug it myself.
October 29, 2011 10:38 AM   Subscribe

I've screwed things up and it is finally catching up with me. My job situation is not good and my future is looking bleak. I know that it's my own fault. I need to fix it but I have no idea where to start.

I am awful at my job and am surprised that I have not been fired. I'm constantly not following the rules. My job requires attention to detail - I'm making many mistakes.  I'm an admin assistant and have been for 10 years!! These are actual mistakes that I'd been instructed to not make. They wont cost any money but this is a very finicky environment and the details are extremely important. I was not good at my last job as well and can't think of anything that I'm actually good at. Something that I don't struggle with. My communication skills are shitty because I can't remember anything and the words in my head don't sound like the words that come out of my mouth. It seems like if you do something long enough you should eventually become more efficient at it.

There are other issues that I'm dealing with as well. I'm finally in therapy and going to meetings which I believe have helped with my general fog and lack of understanding as to whats been happening in my life. I've been prescribed (generic) ritalin and lamactil and quit coffee since it seemed to make me worse. Previously I've been prescibed antidepressants which didn't work and had side effects that made it difficult to function. I do feel so much better but cant hide from my performance earlier this year.

The fear and self doubt are taking over. I'm desperate and afraid. I'm already imagining what I would get on unemployment and how difficult that would be. How would my job search go especially since I only have admin experience? I'm taking baby steps to make changes and improve my life but it feels pretty late in the game as far as my job is concerned. I would fire me and probably would have done it a long time ago.

What can I do about any of this? How do I deal with this now?? What is the best way to deal with this with my employer and potential future employers? I've started to send out my resume even though I'm not hopeful since so many more qualified people are out of work. What should I be considering in terms of getting my life on track and not making these mistakes in the future? I have these moments of clarity and optimism and then this all comes crashing back.

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Take a breath. You still have a job. Things are not as bad as they could be.

To address the job performance situation, I would recommend writing things down. You say that there are mistakes that you've been instructed not to make, and that you have trouble remembering anything. Write it down!

Make a list of the mistakes that you're not supposed to make and post it somewhere close to you. Maybe not so prominently that others can see it, but prominently enough that you will look at it multiple times per day.

I used to try to keep everything in my head, and it made me crazy and frantic. I would miss appointments, forget social events that I had said I would go to, etc. Now I write things down. I have a planner for keeping long-term things, and every morning I write down a list of the things I have to do that day. Then I cross the items off as I complete them. (Waste 1 hour on MetaFilter, check!) It gives me a sense of accomplishment, and even if the list is long, progress is measurable.

The idea behind it is that if you have a system for keeping track of things to do, and if you trust that system, then you spend less time worrying about whether you're forgetting something. You can spend that time and energy actually accomplishing things. The slogan I use is that having a good system frees me from the responsibility of having to remember things.

As you get used to writing things down and checking your list frequently, you can expand the system as needed, but at the beginning a simple setup is best.
posted by number9dream at 10:58 AM on October 29, 2011

Set aside time for a meeting with your direct supervisor where you say some of these things (mostly the positive ones, like wanting to improve your performance) with a focus on 1) explaining your dedication to being a better employee, 2) specific suggestions for improvement. Write those down. Make sure you do them. Don't try and do everything at once! One thing at a time; master it, then move on to the next thing. Mountains look big from the bottom but you keep going one step at a time and Bob's your uncle!
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:12 AM on October 29, 2011

Take careful notes, use calendars and make checklists so you make fewer mistakes. You might be just overreacting and be great at your job and actually make fewer mistakes than other people would. Sometimes the view is very different from the inside and stressing blows it out of proportion.
posted by meepmeow at 11:16 AM on October 29, 2011

I read your post and I don't see any concrete evidence that your employer is unhappy with your performance. If you know there's a problem, you're ahead of the game, but are you sure your job really is in danger?

If you do in fact have direct evidence that your employer is not happy with your performance (via performance reviews, comments about your work by your supervisor, or other SOLID evidence), I think seanmpuckett's suggestions are great, as are number9dream's.

If you have not heard from your supervisor, to set your own mind at ease, you can set aside some time with your supervisor and simply ask if they are happy with your work. Keep that question simple. If they aren't, ask for suggestions for improvement. I would not get into your diagnosis or treatment, personally - focus the conversation on the work and which tasks you are going to do to help you improve. If there are no complaints, then just keep on keeping on.

Mindfulness meditation may also help you; I have a shorter attention/focus span than a gnat (I'm not kidding) and Zen-style meditation is helping me.

One last question: are you bored? Does the work interest you at all? If not, you might want to gently peek around at other work types that might interest you more. No major quests here - just occasional investigations. Sometimes we really shortchange ourselves because we don't think we can do something. A year ago, I didn't think I could do scripting or programming. Guess what I'm doing now as a regular part of my job, just by keeping at it bit by bit.

Good luck and try to be gentle with yourself.
posted by Currer Belfry at 11:38 AM on October 29, 2011

Generic Ritalin is inferior to the branded stuff in many people's experience so if I were you, I would immediately and without delay ask for a change to the branded stuff, or better still to a long-acting style like Concerta.

I understand other people's comments about boredom, and I used to hear them all the time myself, but the fact is that no job is 100% interesting all the time or very much of the time. So if you can get a handle on this you will actually be *better* at your job than most people.

You need to be very systematic and have a method for checking and rechecking your work before you hand it over. I used to triple-check everything I did before handing it in. I also used to count through every page in every bit of photocopying I did because I found that the copier would eat the occasional page in a 320-page document and I would get blamed very harshly for that. Maintain a written list of things to check for.

I also found that a low dose of beta-blockers totally changed my life in terms of anxiety, which may also be making your performance worse.

Hang in there. I actually really do understand what you're experiencing, to the letter. You're going to get better at this. First thing, though, get yourself some of the *good* Ritalin.
posted by tel3path at 11:47 AM on October 29, 2011

Have you gone to an actual medical doctor about this "I can't remember anything" business? I don't know jack about the effects of the drugs you are on now, but that sounds like a medical problem.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:50 PM on October 29, 2011

A few quick things:

Have you checked out the book What Color is Your Parachute? There are some simple activities you can do to figure out a more suitable job for you.

I used to have "brain fog" all the time and couldn't remember things. I coped by writing down absolutely everything. I kept a small notebook with me at all times. When I had a simple blood test done recently, my doctor discovered a thyroid problem. Now that I'm on medication, the brain fog has gone away. Have you had a blood panel done recently?
posted by sugarbomb at 1:04 PM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Are you taking the ritalin on a regular basis (i.e. when you're supposed to)? I also agree with getting the brand name stuff - my husband does awesome on Concerta or Vyvanse. When he's off his medication, like you he frequently jumps to the worst case scenario (i.e. minor surgery = I'm going to die). Do you get enough sleep?

There are plenty of books about ADHD coping skills. It sounds like you get overwhelmed by everything you have to do (even if it's not a lot) and then you have trouble following directions. Write the instructions down, take your medication, and do one thing at a time. Listen to music or a podcast to quiet your brain. Slow down.
posted by desjardins at 2:40 PM on October 29, 2011

Do you like your job? Do you like anything about it: the work you do, the people you work with, the company you work for? You can't instantly jump to a dream job, but you can usually improve one of those three.

The unhappier I am at work, the worse I do at it. I make careless mistakes, forget things, have trouble concentrating, and so on. If I'm reasonably happy at work, or if I at least feel like my work is valued, I end up doing it a lot better.

Your question hits pretty close to home for me: I was a receptionist for a few years, and I wasn't very good at it, and I was absolutely miserable. I hated the work and didn't want to do it, and the company was this big corporation that had actionable best-practice solutions to help you grow your business, and my boss was a passive-aggressive grouch who liked to point out my many mistakes. And I felt really shitty about it because it was the lowest job on the totem pole and I couldn't even do that right.

I did get fired from that job, and even though I spent six months unemployed and gained a ton of weight and went pretty far into debt, it ended up being a great career move. Because my next job was something totally different, and actually pretty interesting in comparison, and things just went up from there.

I'd guess that you don't want to be an admin assistant and never did in the first place, but somewhere along the line you got the notion that, since you were merely competent at a low-level role, you wouldn't be able to do any better at a different job. Not true. There is something out there you can do better. Maybe you'll figure it out through therapy and coaching and introspection, or maybe you'll just stumble across it one day. But it is out there.

As for now: most companies give written warnings before firing someone. If you haven't received one, you're probably not on the chopping block yet. It's hard to tell from your question whether anyone's talked to you about your performance recently, or if you're just preemptively worried. (There have been plenty of times when I've thought "they're probably going to fire me any day," and in fact my performance reviews turned out good.)

In the meantime, you need allies. Do you feel like your supervisor is on your side, someone who will work with you, someone you feel comfortable coming to for help when you've messed up? Or is your supervisor distant, unsympathetic, or antagonistic? If your supervisor's not on your side, is there anyone at work on your side, regardless of their role? They won't have influence over whether you stay or go, but try to interact with them - they might make your day-to-day life more pleasant. If you're good enough friends with any of them and trust them, you can tell them you're looking around and ask if they have any contacts or would be willing to be personal references. If you don't feel like you have any allies at your job, you need to get out of there pronto. Call all the recruiters and talk to your friends. There are people out there who think you're good, and you need to surround yourself with them.

Good luck; you can do this!
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:10 PM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding sugarbomb. Please get your thyroid checked - it could change your whole life.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:01 PM on October 29, 2011

If the thyroid check comes up negative, talk to your doctor about getting a sleep study done. Those symptoms are the kind of things someone with sleep apnea exhibits. There are three main kinds - obstructive, central and complex - and the last two, while not as common, can happen to anyone regardless of body type. Lack of oxygen to the brain can make you incredibly scatter-brained, forgetful and inattentive, and it has spillover effects in many areas.

As for coping with things at work I second the 'write everything down' suggestions. Label a small binder as 'Tasks' and write down detailed steps of tasks you've had problems with in the past, then start referring to the Tasks binder each time those tasks come up. Also, plan little recap sessions throughout the day; say just before or after breaks. Go over what you've been working on during the last part of the day and see if anything has been missed or needs correcting. For things that aren't time-sensitive, hold of submitting them until they've been checked over thoroughly. Do a weekly review of your Tasks binder and list other 'Task Writeups' on a page at the front; write them up (and check them off) as time allows.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 8:37 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are other issues that I'm dealing with as well. I'm finally in therapy and going to meetings which I believe have helped with my general fog and lack of understanding as to whats been happening in my life. I've been prescribed (generic) ritalin and lamactil and quit coffee since it seemed to make me worse. Previously I've been prescibed antidepressants which didn't work and had side effects that made it difficult to function. I do feel so much better but cant hide from my performance earlier this year.

You write that you are in therapy and on meds that are helping you. Congratulations! You've had the courage and wherewithal to get your life moving in a better direction. I would wager that as you have been feeling better that your work has improved. I've learned through experience that my work vastly improved when my mental health was more sorted out.

When is your next performance evaluation? Remember that recent performance will hold greater weight than less recent performance. So, if you've shown improvement, and if you incorporate some of the great suggestions here for mistake-proofing your work, the odds of a better performance review are clearly in your favor.

This doesn't address everything that you mentioned, but I thought you would benefit from seeing the good news that's written into your question. Good luck!
posted by kamikazegopher at 4:11 PM on October 30, 2011

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