Permission to be average, granted
May 25, 2017 4:21 AM   Subscribe

A colleague (who is senior, better qualified, better suited in every possible way) just scored a major promotion. In no way was I ever in the running (I'm so junior that I hadn't even known the position was open) but it brought back all my carefully hidden anxiety about being adequate without being extraordinary at my job. Career snowflakes inside.

I stumbled into this career while running away, screaming, from academia (feel free to picture my head on fire while doing that.) I don't love my job. I never have. However, I'm competent enough to have gotten a fairly major upgrade at a different organization (to contextualize, I was only the second person to make the switch between the two companies in the last decade, and literally hundreds have tried). And now I'm among other high-achieving competitors (me too!) who really love what they do (uhhhh...)
I realize worrying will not help. I realize imposter syndrome is a real and terrible thing. My last performance review was glowing and my boss has never had harsh criticism and quite often praised my work. But I feel...inadequate. Like not loving my job means I can never do anything much more than acceptable. Changing careers is most emphatically not an option any longer. I have always been unhappily, compulsively competitive (a lot of it goes back to childhood and rigid, high parental expectations where nothing I did - honors student, scholarship, tons of extracurriculars, volunteering was ever ENOUGH). How do I stop feeling this way? It sucks.
posted by Nieshka to Work & Money (8 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
You keep up with the competition despite the fact they actually love the job and you don't? Could you convince yourself that that in itself is an achievement? There is a grandeur in this view of life (as the original Chuck D wrote).
posted by Gratishades at 5:15 AM on May 25, 2017 [6 favorites]

I recommend Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright Sided to address the issue of why companies and our culture cultivate the myth that you have to love your job and continually strive to achieve. You don't. So that's one aspect.

I don't think I had as straight a path to achievement as you did, but I did eventually get the dream job, hated it, sucked at some parts of it, and got a non-dream job which, because along the way I learned:

- decent work makes me happy but other things in my life make me even more happy, so I am content to sit with feelings around work in order to have time to do martial arts and dragon boat, garden, play with my kids
- I got my untreated anxiety under control which, who knew? was actually the source of some of my "ambition" which was...fear
- a number of years ago I volunteered with a very vulnerable population and saw people who were living untenably, as well as distressed families...for me that did actually provide some perspective
- I recommend Jean Vanier's Becoming Human (it's Catholic but not that overwhelmingly) for anyone struggling with the question of human worth.
- I was raised to believe that I had to do amazing things in the world, in a very narcissistic environment and with added oddness. It has been a long but ultimately hugely joyful process to realize that the entire burden was is not just okay to be as ordinary as others, it is empowering, because I am freed from the need to Be Great all the time. I would ask yourself whether that drive to be the best is truly serving you (it does some people but not me) or whether an "extraordinary ordinary" life is okay

Hang in there!
posted by warriorqueen at 5:30 AM on May 25, 2017 [21 favorites]

There's no need for you to love your job. If you like it, at least some of the time, that's probably good - because you spend a large proportion of your day there. But for most people, most of the time - their job is mainly a way to put food on the table. You exchange your surplus time & labour for money. The whole "do what you love / love what you do" thing is basically a lie, mainly perpetrated by people who for whatever reason don't have any urgent need to earn their living.

Other people in your organisation who maybe love their jobs - or are awesome in whatever other way of their own - will get this or that promotion. Sometimes, being in love with the job might be a precondition for that. That's nice for them, and is independent of you. You don't have to be in a race with them.

You obviously have a long track record of excelling in multiple fields, so I guess it's going to be a hard habit to get out of. But, everyone's graph tops out at some stage, and it's cool.
posted by rd45 at 5:38 AM on May 25, 2017 [7 favorites]

When warriorqueen wrote "-I got my untreated anxiety under control which, who knew? was actually the source of some of my 'ambition' which was...fear", I feel like they walked right into the darkest corner of my soul with a giant spotlight.

For me, that fear was that no one will love me if I'm not the greatest. Now that I know that's not true, I'm far more willing to do all kinds of things I may not be good at (or simply are not good at.)
posted by advicepig at 6:47 AM on May 25, 2017 [8 favorites]

Like not loving my job means I can never do anything much more than acceptable.

Do you love your life? Does your job help you live your life in a way that is in line with your personal (not professional) goals? That is also a very good thing.

I personally feel that the world needs people who have passion for work and also people who have passion for not-work. Culture needs both of those things very much.

So, yes, impostor syndrome is real, but also being able to push back against this in whatever way is effective for you is a good skill. I realized I was one of those never-satisfied-with-me people a few years back and really set about developing plans for self-improvement that were NOT work related. It was really hard since the last twenty years were all about excelling at job stuff. But I got a handle on managing my anxiety (it is a process) and finding other hobbies and finding joy in things that weren't my job. And I saw that when I was able to better prioritize my job as not the only important thing, I was a better person. I was a less-good (slightly!) employee but .... whatever?

So maybe taking a little bit of a personal inventory of the not-work things in your life and seeing how you feel about those things. I mean it's one thing to really try hard at a thing and love it and be unable to do very well at it. It's another to have decent boundaries, to make an acceptable level of effort and do pretty well and be able to stay alive and employed and keep your mind and body somewhat free for other things. You seem to be doing that, it's its own good thing.
posted by jessamyn at 7:33 AM on May 25, 2017 [6 favorites]

Are you consistently dependable? Are people happy (or at least, not unhappy) to work with you? Do you do your work in such a way that others don't have to spend time "fixing" it?

If so, congratulations - you're already probably in the top 50% of folks at your work. And in that top 50%, I like to think that there's plenty of room both for the "superstars" and the "solid, steady, reliable" types. Especially if you're doing team-based work, there's actually a need for both types! This may be different from what you experienced in academia (at least in my humanities-based experience, it seemed like only the superstars had a real chance of success). So my suggestion is to remind yourself that even if it's true that you're solid but not a rockstar in this field, you are still filling a very needed and wanted role.

It may also help to develop a sense of humor about it - I saw some "World's Okayest [X]" shirts a while back that made me chuckle.
posted by DingoMutt at 10:19 AM on May 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

....I'm taking a different tack. Because I had a little bit of that reaction when someone in my company excitedly came down to talk to some of us about an internal job interview she'd just had (I'm in HR, she wasn't, but she was friendly with us). I found myself both jealous of her and down about my own performance.

But I said something in passing to one of my colleagues about how excited she was, and my colleague cocked an eyebrow and asked if I had been looking at internal job openings. "....No," I realized. "I literally hadn't thought of it before."

"Well, there you go."

And that's when i realized that my reaction to her change was the first sign of dissatisfaction about my own job. I'd sort of been in denial about wanting to change, because I didn't want to shake things up for myself, and I realized that kind of projected jealousy was my dissatisfaction trying to get my attention.

So then I focused on my own self, thinking about what I wanted to change and starting to make steps. It is exactly as chaotic and awful as I was dreading, but at least it feels like I'm focusing on the right problem.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:25 PM on May 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

I've been a lot more successful at jobs I didn't love because I was less idealistic (academia, ha!) and therefore more realistic, practical, and unemotional about them. I have to not *hate* the job, and I'm much happier if I think it's morally positive, but I need to not love it.
posted by clew at 2:25 PM on May 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older My dog is scratching herself until she bleeds :(   |   Any travel tips for Mexico City? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.