I’m panicking that I might suck at my first professional job

A reader writes:

I graduated in May and started my irsirst professional, full-time job in September. I’m a receptionist at a pet resort and, after working in retail (which I’d worked for over three years), I was really happy to work in a job that just seemed so much better.

I love the clients, I love my coworkers and, even with all of the strangeness that comes with the resort, I love my job. An employee who has been there for five years told me that, while most assume it would take me a month to learn the job, it took her six months to really get comfortable with it – and I’ve been trying to take in all that I can.

However, this past week, it feels like it’s all for naught. I’m trying as hard as I can, but everyday, it feels like I’ve screwed something up, or made someone’s life harder, or just made a general mess. My coworkers and my supervisors have been amazing, but I just feel like I’m dragging everyone down and being more of a burden than a help. Today, I called to verify a credit card I had taken earlier (I hadn’t been able to finish the invoice after I hung up with the client, as it immediately became busy) and accidentally spoiled the client’s surprise vacation for her husband and burst into tears before my supervisor. I’ve cried about a job before, but at my home or in my car – NEVER in front of my boss. I’m so humiliated and embarrassed and, while I’d talked to said supervisor earlier in the day about how I’d been feeling, this has just cemented that maybe I’m just not capable for this job.

I guess my question is, how would you approach this situation? Do you have any advice for someone who is new to the workforce and feels as if they aren’t cut out to continue? Anything you could tell me would be of huge help, I just don’t want to feel like a failure anymore.

Thanks – reading your posts was my stress relief and my go-to after a bad day at my last job.

Well, first, mistakes are normal in a new job. And they’re really normal in your first professional job after college, where not only are you learning the mechanics of the job itself, but also the sort of general “how to operate in a professional environment” stuff that will be second nature to you in a few years but right now isn’t intuitive at all.

If your manager and coworkers have worked with people just starting in the work world before, they know this. Hell, if they’ve been people just starting in the work world before (and obviously they have), they know this. It’s normal.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that there’s no possible way that you could be making more mistakes that what’s normal in this context. Maybe you are! But it’s also quite possible that you’re not, and that you’re just totally freaked out by what’s happening because your first professional job is a massive learning curve, and one that sensible people are often freaked out by. That’s especially true if you’re used to feeling competent — if you’ve always done well in school and are used to walking around feeling like a generally competent person, it’s rattling as hell to be in a situation where suddenly you feel inept. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you are inept though; it might just mean that you were able to cruise through school pretty easily but now need to put in more effort to succeed in this different environment.

Can I quote myself? I’m going to be lazy and quote what I wrote in this U.S. News & World Report column about mistakes smart people make:

If you’re going to advance in your career, you’re going to have to take on new challenges, and some of them will be tough. But if you’re used to being “the smart one” and things have always come easily to you, you might not have built up the skills you need for when things are hard, like persevering in the face of obstacles and working hard to master something. You might take failure at a new type of project or responsibility as a sign that you’re not cut out to do it, instead of putting the energy and time in working to get better at it. Someone who has always had to work hard at doing well and who therefore has developed more “perseverance muscle” than you will often be inclined to simply practice and practice until they eventually master the new skill.

Is that you? I don’t know, but it might be.

Anyway, to get a better handle on what’s going on, why not ask your manager how she thinks you’re doing? You might hear that she thinks you’re doing really well and isn’t at all concerned by the mistakes that are looming so large to you — that those are a normal part of the learning curve. Or, yes, you might hear that she does have concerns — but if that’s the case, it’s so much better to get that out in the open so that you can talk about how you might approach the work differently, rather than to have to wonder and worry about what she’s thinking.

It’s totally fine (and in fact, smart and good) to ask to meet with your manager to get some feedback on how things are going. Just say this: “Could we talk about how things are going overall? I’d like to get your feedback on how I’m doing.” Make sure that you come away from this conversation with an understanding not just of how your manager thinks you’re doing on specific tasks, but on how she thinks you’re doing overall — this is going to be key for you, because that’s the part where your self-assessment might be out of whack with hers. So if you’re getting task-specific feedback but not big-picture feedback, say this: “This is really helpful, thank you. Can you give me a big-picture sense of how I’m doing overall, maybe compared to where you’d expect someone to be at this stage of learning the job?”

I can’t predict what she’s going to tell you, but I do think you’ll come out of that conversation with a lot more data about how you’re doing, and that you can use that to inform your thinking … as opposed to right now, where I think you’re in a (perfectly natural but not very useful) panic free-fall. There is rarely any need for the panic free-fall, and there probably isn’t here!

{ 157 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Ad Astra

    OP, I have absolutely felt exactly the way you describe and I have a feeling the comments section will reveal that it’s quite common. I’m very much the former “gifted” kid Alison describes who never developed that “perseverance muscle.” And I can tell you this: Five years out of college, I’ve made huge progress with strengthening that muscle.

    Think about the mistakes you’re making at this job. Can you identify any themes? Maybe there’s a certain skill you need to work on, or maybe something about your processes for certain tasks needs work. In the credit card/invoice instance, it sounds like you might need to work on finishing your tasks even when it’s busy, or maybe some other element of time management — it’s hard to say based on the limited information. Once you’ve identified some patterns, I highly recommend popping into the open thread on Friday to ask for advice about the specific weaknesses you’ve identified.

    1. Amber T

      Yes yes yes! Sheesh, couple this with perfectionism and growing up with loving-but-slightly-overpressuring parents, every time I make a mistake at work I think the world’s going to end.

      In addition to what Ad Astra said about finding certain themes at work – do you find yourself stressing out and freaking out in your personal life over things? Or when you were a student? I might be overreaching here, but look into seeing a counselor/therapist/life coach. You probably didn’t burst into tears because you made a mistake, but because it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. If you are the ‘smart one’ that Alison described, or you’re a perfectionist who struggles at being imperfect (guilty), it might be worthwhile to talk to someone about it. I went to a counselor in college and it was probably the best decision I ever made for myself.

      Deep breath, my fellow millennial. You’ll learn, and it does get easier, promise!

  2. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon

    IME, OP, 90% of the time the people worrying about these things are the people who don’t need to worry about it. The fact that you are so invested in doing well will be obvious to those who you are working with, and while good intentions aren’t the job description, showing that you’re putting in the effort and want to improve will overcome half the reservations a manager might have about your performance (assuming that they have any)

    It sounds like you have some supportive coworkers and supervisors, which is also a good sign. And to be honest, without knowing that many details your “mistake” with the credit card doesn’t sound like anything too massive. Even if the client had left instructions that it was to be kept super-secret, there’s only so much a business can do, and for every ‘secret’ transaction/holiday/etc somebody pulls off, another gets revealed because these things are nearly impossible to keep secret. Obviously it’s a bummer, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect badly on you or how you do your job.

    It sounds like you have the right attitude to work, so as long as you are listening to feedback and hearing what is said, and not what your anxiety expects to hear, I think you’ll be fine.

    1. Amy Farrah Fowler

      This is so true. One year my mom bought my dad a new shotgun for Christmas (he enjoys hunting), and because the charge was so large, the credit card company called my dad to verify. He didn’t say anything to my mom until after he received it on Christmas, but she was pretty peeved when she found out it wasn’t actually a surprise.

      1. RVA Cat

        Also, note that if the customer didn’t specifically say the vacation was supposed to be a secret from her husband, spoiling the surprise is on her, not you!

    2. Honeybee

      I came here to say the same thing. Imagine how relieved the client would have been had it been an identity thief using her credit card to pay for a pricey vacation and you caught it! You had no way of knowing whether the charge was real or fake, and you were just doing due diligence. Any decent upset client would recognize that.

      1. Dan

        Tbh, credit cards have a
        $0 fraud liability, so someone other than my cc company calling would just annoy me. Even if that charge posts, I’ve never had a problem with a simple “I didn’t authorize it” getting the charge removed.

    1. Apollo Warbucks

      Thanks for posting that I had a feeling there was a post like that but couldn’t remember excatly what the post was.

  3. KarenD

    I remember vividly feeling like OP does, and in my case it was the situation Alison described: I was able to coast through high school, college and easy jobs until I hit the “grownup” workforce, so I didn’t know how to push myself. Working on that is hard but so rewarding.

    But there’s another skill OP needs to develop, and that’s the ability to discern when she has actually messed up, opposed to situations where she is just part of a chain of events that ends badly. The vacation-spoiling incident sounds much more like the latter. Was there anything out of the ordinary about that transaction, other than the fact that a very unusual situation (a surprise vacation) was involved? Probably not. I had to learn very early on that sometimes it was NOT my fault; I could use every trick in the book but I couldn’t always track down a piece of information I needed, or make someone call me back.

    Learning to step back and view situations objectively can help someone realize 1) what went wrong and 2) what degree of responsibility they hold in every situation. Don’t just assume anything bad that happens is 100 percent your fault – that only obscures factors that are in your control.

    1. AnotherAlison

      I’m wondering if the client even told the OP that it was a surprise vacation. My guess is no. So, yeah, that’s on the client, not you. (If the client did tell the OP, it’s not a horrible, terrible mistake to have forgotten or slipped up anyway.)

      1. AnotherAlison

        Also, this may have escalated into a high drama situation with the client’s reaction to “ruining the surprise vacation,” and I think that’s something worth considering for the OP. If you work in a pet resort, there is a good chance you WILL have a lot of high drama clients. You’ll have to learn to keep your own perspective on your mistakes, and not take more blame than you deserve because pet people are crazy at times.

        (Worst pet resort mistake: I took my dogs in last summer. They charged me waayyy more than quoted. The front door was unlocked when I picked my dog up, even though no staff person was on site. The staff person was 15 minutes late. She brought my dogs out to me before taking them potty and the old one peed all over the floor. I won’t take my dogs back there. The care was bad. You’re mistake had nothing to do with the quality of your service. You aren’t in the surprise party business. Don’t stress about it.)

    2. fposte

      Right. I was thinking about the difference between doing a good job and keeping everybody happy. It can be tough to realize that while there’s sometimes some overlap, they’re not the same thing. Making somebody unhappy doesn’t automatically mean you did a bad job.

      1. F.

        Great insight, fposte! Perhaps it has to do with my dysfunctional upbringing, but if my father was not happy, no one was happy, so I quickly learned that it was my job to keep him happy (or at least fly far enough under his radar as to not make him unhappy with me). That made me into a major people-pleaser, something I have been working to break myself of for the past fifteen years. I still get tense and anxious when I make a mistake at work (or even just displease someone) or my husband (a man totally unlike my father) starts cursing under his breath. I’m thinking, “Okay, what did I do now?”, even when I had nothing to do with the situation.

      2. HR Wannabe


        At OldRetailJob, I had a habit of telling the guys I supervised that doing a good job means charging $12-15 per hour. Professionals that that make people happy charge $1,000 per hour. When they change our pay closer to that rate, we start caring about whether management is happy as opposed to “only” doing a good job.

  4. Olive

    Anyone else want to list the biggest mistake they made at their first job?

    I’m torn between:
    -Accidentally emailing a third party someone else’s tax returns
    -Mass emailing 200+ people the wrong information… and then not fixing it in the follow up email…

    Somehow I managed not to get fired from that job.

    We’ve all been there. Sometimes the mistakes have consequences, sometimes they don’t. You have a great attitude about this and I’m sure your supervisors will be able to see it.

    1. Former Retail Manager

      Not my first job, but my current job, which was a transition from retail to professional…

      Meeting was scheduled with boss, myself, and internal third party and on everyone’s calendar as such. Boss forgot about meeting and showed up late and told me that “I should have reminded him.” My response was “I am not your personal secretary and we are all expected to manage and adhere to our calendars and you are no different.” (I said this with a definite attitudey tone of voice.) At that moment, the third party walked in and we began the meeting. I apologized a week later and he had completely forgotten about it. No harm done…..I am very lucky to have a boss that really doesn’t let much bother him.

    2. Robin

      Good ones, Olive! First day as a loan processor, almost 30 years ago, I was handed a huge stack of new loan applications to get off the ground.

      I sent entire credit application forms to the appraisers (instead of just the property info) and then mailed out 14 loan cost estimates for fixed rate loans…. on Adjustable Rate forms. My office had all kinds of confused phone calls about those. All long ago and long since forgotten.

        1. the gold digger

          Yeah, that one does not bother me at all. (And yes, I get very cranky to receive a call where someone says, “Please hold for so and so.” Really? You are calling me and you want me to hold? No.)

          1. JessaB

            I think at this point with emails, texts, and voice mail, doing the “hold for” is only reasonable for people like the Queen or the President who literally do not have the time to sit trying to reach someone and are really hard to call back. Except in very rare cases, this is just not necessary any more.

      1. Lizzie

        I’ll do you one better: I worked in the state attorney’s office during college college. There were, for some reason, two ways to put someone on hold. One of them would put someone on hold they way you imagine it works, where you can get them back if you need to. The other would put the caller into an endless limbo of hold music until they decided to give up and hang up.

        I put a United States Senator for the state of Florida in neverending hold limbo.

        I still haven’t lived it down.

      2. Snazzy Hat

        Was this a situation in which you took five minutes to find the information that the governor wanted, or you forgot that s/he was on hold because your mind shifted to another (louder) event?

    3. NGL

      In my first office job, I constantly mis-sorted Excel grids. I needed to add a new column in the middle of giant grids for some additional data work, and I kept adding that column before I would sort. Turns out when you add an empty column in Excel, the sort function only works up until that empty space, and then leaves everything else as-is. Resulted in lots of headaches until I finally figured out what the hell was going on, but that probably went on for at least two months, on and off (since sometimes I would get it right by accident).

      Kept that job for four years, so obviously it wasn’t too terribly bad!

      1. MommaTRex

        Hint: this is why I now use Excel tables. By default, new columns are automatically added to the table range, and when sorting, the whole table sorts! Excel tables are awesome.

        1. Paige

          I have nothing of value to add, but had to give some love to someone who clearly gets as excited about Excel tables as I do!

          1. MommaTRex

            Right back at ya!!!

            I didn’t get how awesome they were until the right person showed me. It was a huge game changer.

    4. neighborhood friendly QA tech

      It’s between these two for me :
      Getting about 1,000 pounds of chocolate on the floor after not closing a valve.

      Causing a total of 1000 or so boxes to need to be relabeled by hand.

      1. BeenThere

        I’d be seriously tempted to ask if I could at least go and wallow in it for a while because when do you ever get the chance to wallow in a large pool of presumably melted chocolate! Full body chocolate wrap anyone?

        1. neighborhood friendly QA tech

          I wallowed in it in the 4 hours it took me and a coworker buddy to clean it up.
          My uniform looked like I rolled initial, too.
          At least I smelled good going home that day.

    5. ThatGirl

      It wasn’t even my first job – but a couple years ago I made a mistake that ended up with thousands of items being deleted from our database! Thank god we had backups to restore them!

      And while I was totally mortified, neither my manager nor my big boss ever said a word about it again once it was fixed.

    6. Barefoot Librarian

      I didn’t make any 1M mistakes thankfully!

      However, in my early 20s I once had the worst first day in the world and was so embarrassed that I called in and quit the next morning. This was back when they did DVD training for new retail employees (they don’t still do that, do they?) and not half an hour into my training, I had to switch tapes and broke not only the VHS tape but the player too! Later that morning, I ended up using a leaky ink pen from my purse and didn’t realize it until I had gotten ink all over my hands which were then transferred to my hiring paperwork, the table (don’t think they ever got it off) and the new bosses white shirt sleeve (I don’t even remember touching him!). The day continued with me accidentally hanging up on a customer because I didn’t know how to use the phone’s hold function and knocking over a whole display. It was like something out of an anxiety nightmare.

      Fortunately, it’s almost 20 years in my past and I can laugh about it now.

      1. Barefoot Librarian

        Ugh…forgive the typos. Should have been “video or VHS training” and “boss’s” (there was just one of them lol).

      2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

        This is awesome. This is what you’d see in a sitcom and think COME ON, nobody’s first day is that mad cap!

        Well done!

        1. Barefoot Librarian

          I wish I could have laughed at the absurdity at the time, but that’s exactly how I view it in hindsight! It might be in the pilot if I ever write a show about a 30 something woman who never quite got the hang of adulting lol.

    7. Laufey

      Sent out a research document for which clients (typically lawyers and finance types) pay $250 per issue with massive typo in a key number to entire subscription list. Sent out corrected paper – with additional typos in it. Clients were not happy. Still employed at same company (an received pay raise since then).

    8. irritable vowel

      Ha. Intending to forward a customer’s annoying e-mail to a coworker with a note about how obnoxious he was, and realizing at the last possible millisecond that I had hit reply instead of forward. Fortunately this was in the days of dialup and I was able to cancel sending it in time because it took so long. I nearly had a heart attack. The good news is, once you make that mistake once, you become obsessive about not making it again.

      1. ReanaZ

        Oh, man. I did this recently, except I intended to email our joint boss. So it wasn’t complaining about obnoxiousness, it was “Can you advise me how to handle this person doing [incredibly unprofessional thing]? I’ve tried to accommodate it, but usually it results in her [giving hugely wrong information to either the buisness or the contractor]. I don’t know how to approach this without escalating the situation during a stressful time.”

        …apparently replying to her directly instead of forwarding this to my boss was… not the best way to avoid escalating the situation.

      2. Paige

        Been there! I got a mass email from corporate that was something silly along the lines of “It has snowed, take care when walking close to the building in case of falling snow.” Living in a place under several feet of snow 6+ months out of the year!

        Definitely replied to corporate communication with a snarky comment instead of forwarding to a friend.

    9. SQL REBLE (without a clause)

      I caused a $160 MILLION error in a report that I’d “fixed” I’d left a comma out of the report heading causing the columns to be mislabeled

      Updated 500,000 rows of data when it should have been a few hundred, this caused a massive amount of inaccurate transactional data to be posted in the firms p&l accounts

      Deleted an entire table of data when I got the name wrong, there was no backup as it was live transactional data

      I’m sure theres more but they’re the biggest and worst

    10. Kelly L.

      Not necessarily the biggest, but off the top of my head, on my first day at my first office job, I accidentally deleted a whole summer’s worth of voice mail messages while trying to get them to play. Whoops!

    11. Shannon

      Backed the base Vice Commander’s car into a barrier when picking it up for its weekly washing/ servicing. He was very unhappy.

    12. Cambridge Comma

      Arranged royal visit for wrong day, aged 22. Didn’t confess, just called all invitees and said that the event was changed for security reasons. Don’t know how I got away with it.

    13. TaxAnon

      I made a $30k payment out of a client’s main bank account rather than the correct subsidiary account. It was my first major working-world mistake and I thought I was going to die. Had to fess up to management and my client, thankfully both were understanding.

    14. MsChanandlerBong

      **Background info: I worked for a company that offered two similar products, but they were different enough to have two separate companies. I’ll call them Teapots Manufacturing and Teapots Design. The owner never wanted to spend any money to upgrade anything, so I had to do the payroll in Excel and then transfer the info to Abra. Before I could send the direct-deposit info to the bank, I had to go into the file and change a 1 to a 2 (apparently, 1 told the bank to take the money from the Teapots Manufacturing account, and a 2 told them to take it from Teapots Design; why we didn’t have two files, I don’t know).**

      On Christmas Eve, when everyone with check-signing authority was off for the day, I did the payroll. It was my first time doing it on my own. Of course, I remembered to change the 1 to a 2 immediately AFTER sending the file to the bank. I called the bank in a panic, but the rep told me there was nothing she could do about it. I finally convinced one of the accountants to write a check for $103,000 so I could go deposit it into the other account (my mistake meant that the payroll for Teapots Design would be withdrawn from the Teapots Manufacturing account; I figured if I deposited the same amount, it would all even out in the end). You needed two signatures for a check, so I had to call the accounting manager to come in from home. The bank closed at 3 p.m. that day, so I raced there with the check and deposited it at about 2:45. I was so panicked that I drove all the way back to the office with the vacuum tube from the bank sitting on my front passenger seat.

      I come back from Christmas vacation to find out the check bounced because someone from the bank saw that I forgot to change the 1 to a 2 and fixed the error! You think she would have called to tell me, but no. So that’s the story of my $103,000 mistake.

      1. Barefoot Librarian

        Payroll mistakes are the absolute worst! You have the extra anxiety of knowing that someone’s livelihood is dependent on you. It makes for great story now, but I can just imagine how stressful that must have been at the time.

    15. TheBeetsMotel

      I like to think of it this way: all actions have consequences, but sometimes those consequences are, and ought to be, self-imposed. What I mean by that is, if something bad happens but you don’t actually feel the effects of it yourself, make a mental note, as your “consequence”, as to what you need to do to avoid that mistake in future, rather than thinking “Sweet, I got away with it!”

      I’m not suggesting you have that attitude now- it’s clear from your letter you are a conscientious individual with a good work ethic. :) But believe me, I’ve seen people who start out their careers with a “what can I get away with?” or a blame-shifting attitude, and that’s how they remain their whole lives (often while wondering why they get fired so frequently!), so making a clear effort at this stage to care about the bad as well as the good bodes very well for you. Not everyone cares about this!

      Beyond that, it’s all about finding the balance between not caring about stuff you can “get away” with, and caring so much that you beat yourself up over every little thing. Experience will help keep you on the path that your great attitude has already started to forge.

    16. kms1025

      how about receiving a snooty email from a co-worker…intent on forwarding to boss with my own snarky comments about said co-worker…then hitting REPLY instead…smacking head in stupid mortification at 20 yeard old mistake!!!!!

    17. Honeybee

      We run experiments here and for one experiment I accidentally misspecified the tool that screens out our disqualified participants and lets in the qualified ones. Worse, I didn’t catch the mistake for a couple weeks, because I was just learning the tool and I had no idea I made a mistake! That in part contributed to this study taking several weeks to reach the total number of participants we needed (when normally we get them within a week or two).

    18. not me

      not me, but a friend of mine was working as an asst at some big firm. he accidentally sent out the phone number for a sex line instead of for a conference call service. wasn’t fired!

      1. Kairi

        A few years ago, I heard that a teacher from my middle school accidentally gave out a sex hotline number instead of a suicide hotline. :(

        Everyone was horrified, but it was fixed quickly and to my knowledge that teacher still works there.

    19. BeenThere

      Miscalculated the dilution for a chemical designed to clean out our water system , which in turn required my manager to stay overnight and rerun the whole process again ( 8 hour job at least not to mention the bloody paperwork after the fact ). I was in tears and my manager handled me very well, I still admire her for that to this very day.

      I thought I was the worst until one of the senior engineers I respected, left an o-ring off a connection while running a caustic solution through the system. This caustic solution then leaked all over the manufacturing floor and they had to completely resurface a large area of polished concrete.

      The cost of which would not have been small nor the downtime to go with it. The best part was how everyone reacted, no one would share who was at fault only that is was a shame that the finish was delayed by the issue. It’s hard to realise when you first join the workforce however most people have all been there and made similar mistakes. It’s how you react to them and attempt to avoid similar ones in the futures that becomes really important.

    20. Anonymous Coward

      This is kinda hard to explain in general terms, but… I made a small mistake that resulted in all customers being unable to log into our online product. For 3 days.

      Turns out I’d copied over some text that was supposed to show up on the login screen (“Welcome! Today at 2:00 PM we’re hosting a special event about…”) and one of the punctuation marks wasn’t something that could be accepted by the programming language. So as soon as the program reached that line, it froze and [idunno, infinite loop or something]. The support load kept building up until it was clear there was something wrong, but no one knew what it could be. I didn’t think I *could* have done anything to affect logins (I was in customer support, not a programmer!) and had had no idea that sanitizing text was a thing that programmer-people did instead of copying and pasting from an email.

      1. Another UK Anon

        They should have built it so that could never happen in the first place, and spotted it much sooner than 3 days later. Not your fault! Am now terrified our online product could suffer this issue, as I’ve already had to have the product team fix one issue where it choked on a person’s name with an apostrophe in it…

    21. teclatrans

      As a temp legal secretary, faxed a key confidential document to opposing counsel instead of counsel for our co-defendant (or co-plaintiff, not sure). *cringe*

      (As a temp, I was quickly removed from that job, but the agency continued to give me give.)

    22. Former Borders Refugee

      First day at my very first job at a movie theater, I was so nervous I didn’t eat all day, and passed out while tacking tickets.

    23. LawPancake

      Ooh I missed a super important conference call with the entire senior staff of a bank because I didn’t realize Outlook calendar adjusted for the time zone… So I saw the meeting notice pop up (in central time) at a quarter to 2 and didn’t call until 4 because I assumed the call was at 2PST. This was after I was put in charge of a massive project, so yeah, I didn’t look like the sharpest knife in the drawer. It ended up not being a big deal but lord I was mortified for months after.

  5. Jane

    It would be helpful to have other examples in order to better understand what is going on. The example of the spoiled surprise isn’t really something you can fault yourself for. Things like that are bound to happen. Sometimes even when all measures are taken, surprises get ruined. It’s likely not something that you could have foreseen and avoided. Here it sounds like you called the client’s home phone number and her husband picked up. There’s not much you could do to avoid something like that. Now, if for some reason the client gave you all the right instructions (her cell phone number, don’t speak to her husband, don’t call the home phone line), and this could have been avoided by following those instructions, maybe that’s more of an issue because it might be an example of not paying as much attention to detail as you should be, but honestly we ALL have issues with attention to detail from time to time! I wouldn’t beat yourself up over it. And, not having that information in the OP, its entirely possible that you didn’t miss anything and the customer simply overlooked the possibility of the surprise getting revealed in this way and didn’t bother to give the right instructions. Especially in a situation like this. Again, really depends on what other kinds of mistakes you are making and whether you are learning from them and correcting yourself going forward.

    1. Kat

      My puppy goes to one. It’s a high end boarding/day-care facility. My pup’s has an indoor pool, agility course, toddler beds, and very large “cages”–really the size of small bedrooms.

    2. Former Retail Manager

      A pet resort is fancy schmancy boarding places where people who have waaaayyy too much money drop off their pets while going on vacation. Many pet resorts also offer “doggy day care,” grooming, and other non-medical pet related services.

      1. Kat

        I wouldn’t say it’s for people who have wayyyyyy too much money. I’m decidedly middle-class, but I hate leaving my dog for 10 hours a day, and I want to make sure she’s cared for and in a safe environment when I’m at work. When I’m traveling, I need the peace of mind that she’s being carefully watched and healthy–boarding can be rough on a dog and my dog is important to me, so I’m willing to pay a premium for her care.

      2. Honeybee

        Not necessarily, lol. Some places call themselves “pet resorts” when really they’re just a boarding facility with a lot of space and cost around the same as other boarding facilities. There was one in my small college town called “Royal Pet Resort,” but they considered themselves a “resort” simply because all of the animals had access to their own little outdoor space 24 hours a day (the cheapest rooms had small patios; the upgraded rooms had 10-foot lawns the dogs could run out on). It was about the same price as the other dog boarding places in town.

      3. Lady H

        Yeah, I have to say, this isn’t really true and I bristle at the implication that taking your dog to one means you have way too money on your hands. I live in Seattle and all the dog boarding places call themselves a “pet resort” because it sounds better than “pet boarding”. I have an older dog who can’t be alone for very long (luckily I work from home!) and take her to a pet resort when I have to run a full day of errands. Everyone I know that takes their dogs to these places do it because they work long hours, not because their dogs need a facial or massage or anything ridiculous.

        I’m not rich, and the pet resort I use that offers daycare is cheaper than hiring a dog walker and they offer better care than hiring some random person when I’m on vacation (which is rare, because again, I’m not rich and going on vacation gets pricey when you have pets!)

      1. the gold digger

        Hmm. Club Med for cats. What would that look like?

        * A sink full of dirty dishes – unsupervised
        * A counter full of tomatoes, peaches, pears, and salmon
        * A bed full of humans at night where the cats get to stay all night and not be put in the basement
        * Wee little mice running around, begging to be caught
        * A Christmas tree full of tantalizing ornaments begging to be knocked down with nobody to yell
        * Constantly flushing toilets
        * Doors left unlatched – doors to Forbidden Places
        * Lots of laps
        * Constant brushing of the fur
        * A room full of laser dots

        1. starsaphire

          Drawers full of cashmere and angora sweaters
          A fresh catnip garden
          Chandeliers of dangling string or ribbon in every room
          A whole wall of boxes and cubbyholes of various sizes and textures

          This is beginning to sound awesome… ;)

        2. KAZ2Y5

          I boarded my dog and cat at one once – only because I had waited too late and that was the only place that had openings. For my cat, one option I had was for him to be able to watch a “fish channel” – basically just had fish on the screen all day long.

          1. Honeybee

            Haha, one of the “pet resorts” near me had the option to board your dog in a room with Animal Planet playing. I’m pretty sure my dog doesn’t really care about Animal Planet. (She’s not really interested in the TV, unless the doorbell rings on it.)

        3. MsChanandlerBong

          * A bowl of scallions on the window sill so the cats can drink the water while ignoring the perfectly good dish of fresh water on the floor
          * A giant mattress to pick at all day
          * A sink that always has running water

        4. UK Nerd

          Lots of baskets of clean clothes in a colour that contrasts with their fur.
          A TV showing Top Gear
          Plates of cheese and tomatoes that belong to somebody else.

        5. Bowserkitty

          Oh, I’d like to add a constantly running faucet (on the lowest speed, but above a drip). My cat adores that ever since learning it from his older cousin.

    3. Former Diet Coke Addict

      It’s a boarding place for pets that usually is more upscale than a regular kennel. It can include baths and grooming, luxurious accommodations, just a more generally “fancy” feel than Big Dan’s Dog Kennel on County Road 38.

      1. Schnapps

        My last cat was rather elderly (she passed at the age of 20). When she was 18 or so, we were going on vacation and my parents were going to be out of the country at the same time as well. So I boarded her at our vet’s “Chat-eau” (yes, it was called that).

        So she had her own room, with an extra wide windowsill to sit on with a view to the woods so she could watch forest creatures. She was let out a few times a day into this “play room” that had a giant, tree-shaped scratching post. They’d play movies for the cats in there like “The Great Mouse Detective”.

        Slightly insane, but for $20/day, including food and litter I’ll take it.

        1. Ted Mosby

          Rolling my eyes out of my head… not at you! 20/day for good boarding is great. But Chateau? Cat themed movies? Dear lord.

    4. NotherName

      I’m guessing it’s a combination pet hotel and pet spa, for people who are too fancy for a regular old boarding/kennel situation. (Probably with a little more interaction and playtime for the pets.)

      Whatever it is, it sounds like a first professional job I would have loved!

    5. Andrea

      They are very fun! I send my dog to The Pawington in San Francisco. You want to see spending too much money on a dog? Check out their Luxary Grand Suite (or whatever they call the most expensive option) and don’t forget their replica of Lake Tahoe. Their “a la carte” menu of services also makes me laugh — they include a 20 minute belly rub and a bed time story.

  6. Kat

    Impostor syndrome sucks, and if you’re used to having your stuff together, it can be really hard to not be the rockstar of the group at a new job.

    With that said, once you’re rattled, it typically spirals downward, because you’re nervous, stressed, and it ends up making you sloppy, and the cycle continues.

    The biggest things I see people new to workforce do (and I’m guilty of this myself) is that they try to go it alone. They’re used to group projects being a disaster and doing everything themselves, so they try to do the same at work. But that backfires. If you’re not sure, ask questions, ask for help.

    And sloooow down. Many new workers speed through their work because they’re anxious to prove themselves, but that leads to silly errors. Before rushing into a task, step back before ever picking up the phone or putting pen to paper. Think about what the point of the task is, what information you need for the task to be successful, is there any common issues that come up with the task? THEN do it.

    If I’m working on something, once I’m done, I’ll also go work on something else or check email, then come back to the task an hour later to look it over with fresh eyes which minimizes errors.

    1. hbc

      Yes, definitely, on the speed thing. Anything that doesn’t need to be done This Second can wait to get a second pass. There’s no point in getting the invoices done in 30 minutes rather than 40 when you have to spend an hour apologizing for the extra digit you entered, creating the credit invoice, documenting why you’re crediting so much money, tracking down the person who needs to approve credits, and explaining it to the auditor five months later.

  7. Apollo Warbucks

    Something my boss told me after I well and truly messed something up that stuck with me is “show me some one who has never messed up, and I’ll show you someone who’s never done any thing”

    Mistakes are part of learning don’t stress too much over them it just makes it harder to focus and think clearly.

    1. Barefoot Librarian

      “show me some one who has never messed up, and I’ll show you someone who’s never done any thing”

      This a million times!

    2. Rater Z

      I remember what my teacher told the class while I was in my first tax class back in 1990. You learn more from your mistakes than from when you do it right.

      I have said that to a lot of trainees since then, not jut in taxes but other things as well.

  8. processimprovement

    I train new employees in what is typically an entry level professional job.
    The ones that are worried that they are doing a terrible job, are usually the ones that are in reality doing the best. Mistakes are normal, it really is how you respond to mistakes that makes the difference. Just keep at it, and as Alison suggests sit down with your manager and see really how you are doing. The trainees that came to me, usually got a pat on the back and a don’t worry it takes a year to be comfortable in this job.

    1. NotherName

      As a former trainer, I second this! The people who are doing terribly are often blissfully unaware. (Until they start getting audit numbers… And even then the lack of perspective can be… unsettling.)

      As a former gifted student myself, I am very grateful that I had parents and teachers who insisted that I challenge myself. It really helped me in college and “the real world.”

      1. the gold digger

        My husband and I disagree on this, but I am highly critical of his parents for never putting him in any kind of organized sports. He is super smart and graduated from high school at 15 and from college at 19 and he is used to being the smartest person around.

        He is not used to failing and – how to say this? – could probably deal with it better. Playing sports as a kid teaches you how to lose.

          1. Allison

            Agreed, I was a dancer and was into theater growing up. As a dancer, the instructor would verbally correct you in front of everyone if you weren’t doing something right, and in theater the directors gave constant feedback on how people were doing in rehearsal. Plus, in theater, you deal with the disappointment of not getting the role you want, and in dance you had to deal with the disappointment of not making dance company, not making the company you were hoping to make, or not getting into the level you wanted.

            I wouldn’t say that all athletes know how to lose. If someone’s the star athlete on a team that wins most of the time, they might suck at handling disappointment.

            1. Kelly L.

              Yep. I think the key is doing something you’re not naturally gifted at (whether that’s sports or music or math or anything else) as a contrast to doing whatever it is that does come easy to you, not sports per se.

        1. NotherName

          I’m OK with the lack of organized sports, but I was also expected to learn to play a musical instrument and how to paint and draw. Also, driver’s ed was required at my high school for everyone who was physically able to learn it. That is really the great equalizer in HS…

              1. Kelly L.

                Not as explicit as that, but that was the undercurrent. All the driver’s ed instructors were male and were way more critical of the girls’ failings. I can’t prove it–20 years ago and memory is a flawed thing–but I remember getting a strong, strong sense of it at the time.

        2. AnonEMoose

          There are ways to learn that lesson other than sports. If your husband’s parents didn’t manage to teach him that, then be annoyed with them for that, for sure, because I agree that it’s an important one.

          But as someone who was a nonathletic kid who regularly got mocked in physical education classes because of it (and who therefore would have HATED being forced into sports), the sports thing is a red herring.

          1. AnotherAlison

            And you can play sports and lose, and not learn to lose at anything else. I was on the HS swim team, and I regularly came in DFL as a freshman. It didn’t bother me, because being an “athlete” is not who I am, while I was extremely competitive academically. You learn to blame the activity, not accept blame for the mistake/loss yourself.

            And it’s genetic! My son backed into my husband’s truck last night. Blamed everyone else for this. Can’t admit his mistakes, despite 14 years of baseball.

          2. Merry and Bright

            AnonEMoose, your second paragraph could have been written by me. I could take the losing (well, I had enough practice!) but it was the other kids’ reactions that scarred me. The exercise I do as an adult is strictly non-competitive for that reason.

          3. Turtle Candle

            Yes! I have no functional depth perception, which means that it’s very hard for me to throw anything accurately or catch anything thrown to me–or in fact to avoid getting hit by something headed my way. Putting me in organized sports wouldn’t have taught me to lose gracefully or to work hard to learn something difficult, it would have taught me “sometimes people will make you get clonked repeatedly on the head by a hard object for no clear reason.”

            That said, I did learn to work hard on things: by being encouraged to take up a musical instrument and painting (neither of which I was great at) and by not being allowed to cherrypick only “easy” or “fun” (to me) classes.

        3. Elizabeth

          Cooking was what my parents used for this. It sounds a little weird, but it is really humbling to have to eat your kitchen disasters at 8, 10, 12, 14. The chocolate chip cookies that didn’t get any sugar in the dough. The chicken noodle soup that had raw carrots & celery because I didn’t understand that the vegetables would take longer to cook than the noodles.

          As long as the food itself wasn’t dangerous to eat (the baked chicken that was burnt on the outside & raw inside, for example), we ate it, even when it didn’t taste very good. Learning how to then correct the mistakes so that I didn’t repeat them was an even more more important lesson.

  9. Abby

    I can still remember sobbing behind the cash registers at McDonald’s, my first job, declaring that maybe I “wasn’t cut out for” this kind of work (my actual words). I ended up working there off-and-on for four years and was managers’ favorite. Now, a year-and-a-half out of undergrad, I still make plenty of mistakes. The important thing, I’ve learned, is to own up to them, do your best to fix them, bring the problem to your supervisor if you can’t fix it, and move on. It doesn’t do anyone or anything any good to be in a constant state of panic. This was a hard lesson to learn, but if you keep reinforcing it with yourself, you can do it. I found writing about my mistakes in my journal or spelling it out in my head, “Yes, you made a mistake but it’s not the end of the world,” every time made accepting those mistakes and actually believing what I told myself a million times easier.

    It all comes with time and practice. And if it turns out you really are making egregious mistakes frequently, force yourself to slow down, even if you don’t feel like you need to or can’t because you’re busy. Ask for help and backup until you no longer need to work at half-pace and things will become second nature. Don’t give up. You’ve got this.

  10. Bostonian

    I’ve had a number of jobs over the years, and there’s a dip that always comes anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months in. It comes at the point where I feel like I *should* be settled in and have the hang of things, but I don’t, so I feel like I’m flailing. But I always manage to work through it and settle in and end up feeling good about my abilities in the end.

    For two jobs in particular with heavy admin components, what helped get me through the dip was finally getting good systems in place that worked for me – reminders on my calendar, checklists for certain tasks, little lists of important phone numbers tacked to the wall, etc. I had been given instructions based on how someone else in the job had things organized, and adapting and making those systems my own really helped a lot.

    A small example: when I started at Exjob, part of the weekly staff meeting was going through a huge and tedious spreadsheet of tasks that everyone had to complete. I regularly missed or nearly missed the task assigned to me of sending out reminders to our constituents about meetings, and I felt like I was totally failing because it was such a simple thing and I kept screwing it up. At some point I figured out that whenever I scheduled a meeting, I should simultaneously put a task on my calendar two days before to send out the reminder. Boom, no more missed reminders, and they became a total non-issue. The big, oddly-organized group spreadsheet that got reviewed once a week just didn’t work with the way I think and remember things, so I had to create a little parallel system for myself.

    1. Bostonian

      Other examples, in case they help: I had to send out information packets, and I started batching them and sending them out every couple of days (this was fine in the context), instead of trying to do them individually, so that I spent less time formatting labels and less time jumping around from task to task. I also printing up a bunch of copies of the packet components and kept them in organized folders, instead of printing them off individually as my predecessor appeared to have done.

      On the first day of the month, I would look forward a few weeks to see who needed reminder calls and emails about renewing their membership during that month and schedule when I would do them.

      We got two very common wrong numbers at one office, including people looking for the inpatient psychiatric ward at the local hospital, which was one digit off of our main line. I eventually looked up the right number and tacked it up above my phone so I could give the frantic-sounding, often non-English-fluent people on the other end of the phone the right number rather than having to argue with them or hang up on them, which always left me feeling flustered and upset.

      I started using a dedicated, brightly-colored and clearly labeled folder for passing checks that arrived in the mail (which I opened) to the person who processed them, so I could be sure they weren’t lost in the shuffle.

      Before I got my own systems in place, I was often feeling like there were a million things that needed my attention and that I was making mistakes and missing things. Once I got my own system down and could trust that I wasn’t missing things, I got much less stressed and was able to really grow in the job. But it took several months for all the systems to fall into place and feel natural.

      1. Bostonian

        One more thing: jobs are different, and admin and receptionist jobs are especially prone to the reaction you’re having, I think. Some jobs have, say, 3 tasks per week to complete. Each might be fairly large and have a number of components, but it’s essentially one task. This is what school is like, with papers and exams and problem sets. You can make mistakes within the task, but still do the task well overall.

        Other jobs, like receptionist jobs, have more like 200 tasks to complete in a week, most of which are very small. When you make a mistake, you’ve screwed up the whole task, and it’s a lot easier to just forget a task, too. Recognizing this can help you see how many things you are handling well, and that the mistakes you’re making are a small part of the overall picture.

        1. MJH

          This is true. The jobs I feel like I screwed up the most were the admin ones. So many little details to keep track of! I used to lie awake first thing in the morning and go over how I’d screwed up and put myself into a panic that I was going to get fired (all my reviews were fine). I’d get up and go do my work and get through it.

        2. Meg Murry

          I was coming to say something about reception jobs like this too – a lot of people look down at receptionists jobs because they are often the lowest man on the totem pole – but reception jobs can be really, really hard, although people that do it exceptionally well often make it look easy. There are often a million simultaneous tasks going on in a receptionist job – the phones are ringing, people are standing at your desk, emails are flying in, and everyone needs your attention right now! As Bostonian mentions, when you have so many tasks to do it a day and they are all flying at you, it’s so easy to focus and worry about the one or two that didn’t go smoothly vs the dozens to hundreds that you did right that day.

          With that said, I agree that OP should not be so hard on herself – but it is also a valid observation for her to decide that being in a front-line reception position may not be the kind of position where she will be happy long term , because even on days where she she is doing well it just might not be a good fit for her. I have filled in more than once in a reception-type role, and while I was told I did fine at it, I found it so stressful to be constantly “on” all day and interrupted continuously so that I couldn’t maintain a steady train of thought – it just wasn’t a good fit for me. I think if OP otherwise likes the job other than beating herself up about making mistakes she should give it some more time and see how it goes and if she starts to feel more confident in knowing what is going on and how to do her job.

          Regarding the time to get up to speed: even after 6 months, OP may feel like she has a pretty good grasp on the job, but even then there are going to be new things always coming up that she hasn’t had to deal with before (such as the issue with spoiling the surprise – I suspect OP hasn’t ever had to deal with a surprise in the past) or things that only happen once or twice a year that she won’t know until she’s lived through them once or twice. As time goes on, OP will develop better coping skills to learn how to deal with situations she’s never encountered before – but when it’s all new, it’s easy to make mistakes on what seem like simple things.

          Last, OP, are you making the same kind of mistake over and over again? Look at the examples Bostonian gave and see if you can change your own procedure or add a step that works for you to avoid the mistake. If it’s new mistakes every time, especially for weird one-off situations like surprise trips? This kind of thing is going to happen even to the most experienced employee, and soon you’ll learn how to deal with the “I have no idea but I’ll figure it out” scenarios.

  11. Jake

    I’ll say the same thing here that I’ve said on past similar posts.

    I’ve been in my field for 5 years, worked for 2 companies and hold a position most people take 15 years to get to. In school I always excelled.

    About 60% of the time I feel like a complete screw up. Like, “how can they possibly be paying somebody as shockingly inept as me to be doing this?” I’ve felt this so strong that I was on the verge of tears (today!). I’ve personally lost my company tens of thousands of dollars due to my incompetence.

    These feelings are the reason real, honest feedback is so important. People stink at big picture self evaluation. Really really stink.

    Turns out, I make fewer mistakes than normal and the good things I do more than make up for it according to my boss. Even hearing that, it doesn’t stop me from feeling incompetent, but it at least gives me perspective.

    Right now you need to gain that perspective because without it, you don’t have enough data (or the ability to analyze the data you do have) to make a realistic determination on your own.

  12. Ruby Tuesday

    Aww…OP! I’m so sorry you’re having a hard time in your brand new first job right out of graduation – but more importantly congratulations on your brand new first job right out of graduation. That’s a big deal and you got there and you’re surrounded by supportive co-workers and managers.
    As pretty much everyone has told you in the comments (just as Alison has mentioned) you’re going to make mistakes and sometimes you’re going to be a rock star.
    I would suggest if you can…everyday before you clock out of work – make a list of everything that you need to do, this is your personal list that you are aware of. The following day when you clock in…review that list and edit the list as the day goes on – you if you’ve completed 1,5,11, and 13 – cross them out and add as you need. Then again before you clock out – take the leftovers and start the list again. This is something I did when I started out (as advised by an older peer) and it helped. It’ll keep you sorted and organized…and even if it does get busy, you can edit the list during your down time.
    I’m sure you’ll be fine… take the time to learn from the mistakes and don’t dwell. Good luck! :D

  13. TCO

    After spending years at several jobs where I got used to being a high performer who rarely did wrong, it was a rough adjustment to start my current job. For several reasons (extremely high expectations, supervisors being very involved in employees’ work, complex duties, huge learning curve), my mistakes are noticed and pointed out much more frequently than in past jobs. I think I’m actually making more of them, too. I find myself apologizing a lot. This level of scrutiny and correction is actually very normal at my workplace, though. They’re actually really pleased with my work, but it can be hard for me to believe that when I’m constantly being corrected. I’m just not used to this kind of culture.

    It’s a tough adjustment–I feel your pain, OP. Feeling like you’re always doing things wrong is distressing. But there might not be anything wrong with you at all. You might just be having some struggles (totally normal!) in adjusting to a workplace culture that unlike those you’ve encountered before. Hang in there and follow Alison’s advice and it will probably get better. Good luck!

    1. Doriana Gray

      After spending years at several jobs where I got used to being a high performer who rarely did wrong, it was a rough adjustment to start my current job. For several reasons (extremely high expectations, supervisors being very involved in employees’ work, complex duties, huge learning curve), my mistakes are noticed and pointed out much more frequently than in past jobs. I think I’m actually making more of them, too.

      This is my entire life story right now. It doesn’t help that I went into a role within my company that really doesn’t have training, so you kind of have to figure things out as you go (and pray you don’t get sued) – I quickly realized that I don’t work well in these loosey goosey type of environments at all. I start a new job in two weeks, and even though I know there’s lots of training for that position, I’m still terrified. This current position I’m in has really shaken my confidence. However, I have to remind myself that if I was really terrible, I would have been put on a performance improvement plan back in August when our midterm reviews were due, my manager would have blocked my internal transfer request by telling HR that my work did not merit me being able to move, and the VP of my division would not have sung my praises to my former boss back in September. Long story short, OP – sometimes we can’t really see ourselves, or our work, clearly. Give yourself a break. You’re probably not doing nearly as bad as you think you are, otherwise, you would have heard about it. Take care of yourself mentally and physically so that these feelings don’t start to negatively impact your health.

  14. AnotherHRPro

    OP, your co-worker gave you great advice. It takes time to feel like you know what you are doing in a new job. Depending on the job, I tend to see 6 months being the point where things start to “click” and 12 months for when you really got everything in a best case scenario. In fact, a few months in, it is very common to feel like you are messing up. This is because the training wheels have come off and you are doing things on your own without as much supervision. And you don’t always know the answer and make mistakes. This is part of learning the job. If work was so simple that is couldn’t be messed up, they wouldn’t nee you!

    Alison is right in that you may be messing up more than normal or you might be fine. Talk to your manager, work hard and push through this tough period. It can get better, but it will take some time and hard work. Good luck!

  15. Pep

    I’ve learned over the years — and tell this to any one I know when they start a new job — to expect it to take a minimum of 6 months before you will feel comfortable in a new position and/or new company. It’s very uncomfortable going from being comfortable and confident to not knowing the lay of the land, the players, the systems, the processes, the culture etc. Always expect to be nervous and insecure for 6 months…that way if you adjust faster it’s just a pleasant surprise.

    1. Rater Z

      There is a lot of truth in this, but when one has some work experience, it is also possible that one can do a lot more than they realize. It may be just letting it out and flowing while they are getting broken into the new job.

      In 1987, I switched jobs, moving 1000 miles in the process. It was work I had done for 15 years so I wasn’t worried about it. The first night, though, I was told I had to sit and watch my seatmate do it for the first week before I was allowed to touch the computer to start doing it. Really…when all I had to do was to learn the computer program which would have to be hands-on for me. At the end of the first night, the guy training me got to explain to the supervisor that he hadn’t been able to keep me off the computer.

      I made my share of mistakes there — every rate clerk does — but before the company shut their doors seven months later, I was told that because of their experience with me, they had decided to re-vamp how they started training new hires. I just happened to be the last one there. It was a fun place to work in a smaller city (of about 17,000 people) and I wish I was still there. The next job was 185 miles down the road after floating resumes from New Jersey to Los Angeles.

    2. Emily

      Can you please tell this to my new supervisor? I’m 3 months in and she’s already saying that i’m not up to standard and pretty behind on where I need to be, and doesn’t react well to any mistakes. She seems to be the type of person who expects me to be told how to do something once and then know how to do it perfectly 100% after that, and that’s not me at all. I’m not sure how to respond to that!

  16. irritable vowel

    Please cut yourself some slack! I know it’s easy to get overwhelmed when there seems like a huge, insurmountable thing to overcome (in this case, becoming adept at all aspects of this job). Try to break it down into manageable chunks. For example, “This week I’m going to set a goal of returning people’s e-mails more quickly.”

    Also, it’s totally not your fault that you spoiled that customer’s surprise! If she knew you were going to have to call her back, it was on her to say, “if my husband answers, don’t leave a message because this is for a surprise trip.” (Or even if it wasn’t made clear that you’d definitely be calling, obviously she had to give you her contact info, and she should have said it then anyways.)

    1. Dasha

      I agree, the surprise thing seems like something that could have been out of the OP’s control. How was the OP supposed to know it was a surprise?

  17. Allison

    I’m a few years into my career and I still worry that I’m not doing well enough, and I’ll be fired for being useless any day now. But I have weekly one-on-one meetings with my manager where we check in on things I’m working on and make sure I’m on the right track, and I have faith that if there was something wrong with my performance she’d bring it up, but each time we meet she seems satisfied with my work.

    You might want to try to set up something similar with your supervisor; if it’s not normally done around the pet resort, frame it as “I’m new to this line of work and want to make sure I’m doing okay,” and if time seems to be an issue maybe set up just 15 minutes every other week or so.

    Bare minimum, when you do make a mistake like the spoiled surprise, talk to your supervisor about what you can do to prevent the same thing going forward. They might tell you it was inevitable because the client left out key information, or whoever booked the appointment forgot to make note of it, but they might have some ideas as to how to be careful with that situation in the future, OR they might be open to a brainstorming session. The best thing to do when you make a mistake is to turn it into a learning opportunity.

  18. Dasha

    This line stuck out to me: “Today, I called to verify a credit card I had taken earlier (I hadn’t been able to finish the invoice after I hung up with the client, as it immediately became busy)”

    It sounds like you are really hard on yourself and it’s causing you to make more mistakes because the job is stressful and then you’re stressing yourself out even more. Slow down! One thing at a time, especially when you are learning. Look at your notes before you make a call and take a deep breath.

    I bet you’ll get things down soon! Good luck, OP and remember all the great resources and advice you can get from Alison and readers.

  19. Murphy

    OP, if it makes you feel any better even people who have been in the workforce for years can feel this way at times.

    I’ve recently come back to work from a 14 month leave (maternity leave) and was used to being super competent and loved by my boss. Well, she left for another job while I was away and my head was out of the work for a while and wouldn’t you know, that coupled with a new boss and management/communication style and I went home feeling like a failure for most of my first month back. And yes, I even cried in front of my boss for the fist time in my 13-year career.

    I’m back on my feet now, but it was rough going for a while. Talking to my boss helped. Trusting in myself helped more. And picking a couple things I know I’m good at every day to work on and remember at the end of the day helped the most. You’ll get there.

  20. Melbot

    Ohhhh – OP.. I feel for you. It might not feel like it but the fact that you care this much speaks volumes (in a positive way). I know comparing yourself to the worst isn’t great motivation; but I’ve ran into a lot more people who don’t care about their mistakes throughout the years VS those who do. These people tend to become the worst colleagues and produce poor quality work.

    Learning to “think ahead” is something you will learn in every job! You were calling a client to resolve an issue – how could you possibly had thought that you may have been outing someone’s surprise or secret Etc? Definitely not without experience.

    I made so many mistakes in the early stages of my career (from sending invoices meant for a vendor to a client to granting access to the wrong person) – to the point where I cried in front of my manager and tried to quit (humiliating). Thankfully for me, he was kind enough to give me valuable advice instead of accepting.

    I am happy to report that my output is 46% higher than my colleagues according to Salesforce and I very seldom get unhappy clients and errors.

    Just keep doing your best (and take a lot of notes) – you will land on your feet!

  21. AnonEMoose

    OP, I wouldn’t be surprised if one thing that’s contributing to your feelings is a perception issue. People often think of “entry level” positions as “easy.” And that’s just not true. Being a good receptionist is not easy. It requires people skills, multi-tasking, juggling multiple priorities, and lots of other stuff that just plain takes time to learn.

    I second the advice to take a deep breath. Consider the errors you’ve made – are there themes in the types of errors, or times when you tend to make them? Like, you’re completing a task and the phone rings. Do you then lose track of where you were? Or get distracted and forget to go back to where you were? Things like a notebook on your desk, where you can very quickly scrawl a cue to yourself as to where you were can be a big help. Or figuring out systems for yourself, as other posters have suggested.

    And like Alison said, talk to your boss. Find out how big a deal this actually is. Don’t be afraid to ask her for suggestions, and maybe go in with some of your own, if possible. “I’ve noticed that when X happens, I’ve been making Y error. I think I’m going to try doing Z, to see if it helps. Do you have any other ideas?” It might make you feel a little better to take control and try something. Even if the “something” you try ends up not working, you’ll learn from it.

    Just remember that you are dealing with a HUGE learning curve, customer service (which is a big chunk of what you’re doing) is stressful (and people are jerks sometimes), and while “receptionist” is often perceived as a “no brainer” kind of job, it’s really not. Be kind to yourself. Be honest about things you’re goofing on, but don’t buy into the “worst employee ever” messages your “jerk brain” will try to send you. Even if this job doesn’t work out for you, you will learn important stuff. And the likelihood is, it’s nowhere near as bad as you think. Just try not to panic, because that will short-circuit some of your higher brain functions, and that’s never good.

  22. S.I. Newhouse

    OP, please heed Alison’s advice here… it’s spot on. I’ve felt exactly the way you’re feeling, and in all likelihood, it’s going to be a huge relief when you ask your supervisor for feedback and you find out you’re doing so much better than you think you are.

    And after about 15 years of working in the professional workforce, let me tell you that just the fact that you *want* to be at your company and *want* to work with the clients, as crazy as they might be, puts you well ahead of the game from the get-go.

  23. Ife

    I am one of those who did well in school without much effort. In school, the model was: 1. Receive information, 2. Internalize information, 3. Be tested on information.

    In the work world, it’s flipped: 1. Get question about X, 2. Figure out who or what can tell you about X, 3. Resolve the question about X. I am still trying to adapt to this three years later, and it’s tough and frustrating! You have to break 20-some years of habits from an educational setting.

    One thing that helped me was to take detailed, copious notes on how to do things. These not only helped me when the same situation arose and I forgot a few details, but they also helped others. It’s surprising how little documentation there is in most jobs! Another thing I learned to do was ask for details. Somebody tells you to make a teapot spout — ask them what color, what length, what angle should it attach to the teapot? If you’re doing it by email, bullet points are good for this.

    Questions are good. It can feel annoying to ask them, but you can’t know things unless you’re told. It took me about 6-12 months in my first “real” job to feel like I had a broad idea of what was going on (second job too). Before that, I generally felt confused and not very helpful! But you pick up a lot during that time. It just takes awhile to get enough experience in your specific role to start connecting the dots. Good luck!

  24. I'm Not Phyllis

    The way you’re feeling is completely normal. In fact, you’ll likely experience some version of these feelings with every new job (at least, at every new place) you work, though maybe not as intense as the first time. Alison’s advice to talk to your manager and seek feedback is important. As a manager, whether I had concerns or not, I’d be happy that you were self-aware enough to ask for my feedback if you didn’t feel you were performing to the best of your ability. It’s important to remember that a mistake is rarely a fire-able offense (the only exception would be costing the company a buttload of money) in the first little while that you’re on the job. The most important things you can do at this point are to stay organized, ask for feedback, and do your best to improve every day. And if you do make a mistake, own up to it, take steps to correct it, and take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again, as much as you can. Like everyone else is saying, though – it probably isn’t as bad as you think.

  25. Jazzabration

    OP, I feel like it can’t be said enough that any job where you work with animals in any capacity is just plain harder and weirder than you expect, even when you enjoy what you do and have a great team. The stress that people bring with them when it comes to letting other people taking care of their pets, along with the bizarre and unanticipated crises can really ramp up that first professional job fear/anxiety. I worked in a shelter, and did pet boarding and training for a total of 5 years. A lot of that time was amazing, and I have a lot of memories that I really cherish – but there were also times that I was treated like one of history’s greatest monsters because I wouldn’t board dogs without vaccination papers.

  26. Middle Name Jane

    Aww, OP! It will get better. I’m 36 now, but I vividly remember feeling incompetent at my first few professional jobs. In my case, I was really bad at office politics and just didn’t know how to navigate. I still don’t feel very skilled at office politics, but I know much more now and I wish I could travel back in time to my 20s self.

    I made mistakes, and it was awful. But it’s gotten better. And I’ve grown much more confident now that I figured out what career path I wanted to take.

    Let your manager(s) see that you’re doing your best, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and you’ll get better too.

  27. MommaTRex

    Most of the useful things I’ve learned in my professional life were only possible because I made a mistake.

  28. afiendishthingy

    Haven’t read through all the comments here, but if nobody else has said it yet, I’d like to assure the OP that her boss has had other employees cry in front of her before. I would bet so much money on that. You’ll be ok, OP.

    1. TCO

      Yes, and lots of articles here on AAM will attest to that! Crying isn’t rare and in most workplaces it’s not a big deal if it’s occasional, handled maturely, and happens in the “right” time and place (your boss’s office or other private setting not in front of customers is usually just fine).

  29. BSharp

    OP, there are two things that might help you.

    1. It is SUPER SCARY to screw up if what you really fear is “being a screw-up”. But, it’s not so scary to screw up if you view it as a chance to learn something. And it turns out, the difference between the two has some huge, concrete effects. “If I fail it secretly means I am a failure, so I should fake it as long as I can” vs “If I fail it means I have something to learn, which means I can learn it and then I’ll improve!” Look up the book Mindset by Carol Dweck; she has some articles available free online, and your library probably has the book.

    2. It may be helpful for you right now to read this. It talks about why we need praise, encouragement, and validation (and the crucial differences there!), plus the really important and useful things behind self-criticism. It also specifically looks at some of the pressures on millennials.

  30. Happy Lurker

    I did not have time to read any comments above, but OP please keep in mind a couple things:

    It is the holidaze (yes it is spelled correctly). The holidays are always crazy, especially in a service industry like a pet resort (where the place is overbooked and people are still calling to see if you can take one more pet). In addition to the one holiday there were two major ones that fell on a weekend. I can only assume travel was up and therefore so was the need for kennels!

    best of luck!

  31. Anon Guy

    I can totally relate to this. I was the guy who, when I got a 99 on a test, would be asked by my parents “what happened to the other 1%?” As a result, I used to see even a tiny mistake at work as a crisis. I was MORTIFIED early in my career when my boss saw that I was still working on one project and told me to start on another one and that my work on the first one was “good enough”. I didn’t want to be the “good enough” guy, but the “perfect” guy.

    I’ve since learned that, unless you’re doing brain surgery, completing 10 projects at a grade of 90% or better is often better than spending the same amount of time completing one project at 100%.

    Don’t be so hard on yourself and try your best. Also, this is your first job. It’s probably not going to be your last or even your most important. Learn as much as you can from it, but don’t panic if you make a mistake.

    There’s an urban legend about Thomas Watson from IBM. Supposedly, a salesman made an error that cost the company $5 million and was called into Watson’s office, expecting to be fired. “Fire you?” Watson said. “Why would I fire you after just spending $5 million to train you?”

  32. GigglyPuff

    I worked at a “pet resort” for five years (actually not a bad way to call it, I usually say kennel but that doesn’t really sound right).

    I just want to say kudos to the OP for working the front desk. I worked in the back with the dogs, and while that was crazy, there was no way I was going to train up front to work with the owners without a huge pay increase. While a majority of the time, things are fine, with mild crazy, when the crazy hits the fan, it hits the fan. And during the holidays when you have probably 100+ dogs to deal with, and their owners…it can get frustrating and hard.

    So OP take a breath, more than likely the owner overreacted, and keep in mind mistakes come with the territory of any job.

    If it makes you feel any better, some of the mistakes that happened at my place included:
    -giving the wrong dog to someone, who didn’t realize it and took it home
    -having a jack russell hop the 7 foot perimeter fence
    -having that one second when all the gates inside the building are open for the same split second, and a dog manages to get out the front door right when someone walks in, and then having to chase that dog up and down a busy road

    Oh and on my first day, this being my first job ever, I broke company property. When throwing the yard waste over the fence to the dumpster, it caught on the fence and snapped the board. I was petrified, but everyone else just laughed, mostly probably out of relief cause they thought I was saying I had broken the bag open and dog waste was now all over the place.

    Mistakes happen, it’s how we deal with them that matter.
    But crying in front of your boss, eh, no worries. Frustration water happens to everyone.

  33. Afiendishthingy

    I’m sorry, how do you accidentally take someone else’s dog home? That reflects way worse on the owner than on you!

    1. GigglyPuff

      So the owner of the dog who was getting picked up from daycare went into labor with her child, and her dad had to come pick up the dog. Maybe he hadn’t been around the dog a lot, or was thinking about how fast he could get to the hospital. But anyway, he didn’t notice, and when the owners of the dog came to pick him up, the 1st people’s dog was brought out, and they were like “uh, that’s not our dog.” Luckily they thought it was hilarious, but were mildly concerned because apparently their dog did have a tendency to chew things when left home alone. My manager and the owner of the pet hotel, had to rush over to the owner in labor’s house. No one was home, but they could see the dog through the window laying on the couch watching the tv that was on. The owner’s with the newborn weren’t too thrilled about the entire episode, but I totally used it as a cautionary and mildly hilarious since everything turned out okay, tale, to double-check the daycare’s name tags on the kennel.

  34. Angela

    I haven’t had a chance to read all the comments, so hopefully this isn’t too much of a repeat. What really helped me was to look at a mistake and think about a change I could have made to avoid it. If I couldn’t think of a way to prevent it, then I’d ask someone (my manager or a knowledgeable coworker) how they would have approached the task. Sometimes, mistakes are made, you’re human. Just be sure to treat them as opportunities to grow your skills and knowledge.

  35. Grad Student

    Great post! Editing question: Alison, did you mean “your first progressional job” or “your first professional job”?

  36. Bowserkitty

    This site has a wonderful habit of helping me feel like I’m not alone in the world. I really enjoyed the comments on this one and will be taking away a lot of the suggestions given to my own new job.

    1. Bowserkitty

      I should mention – this somewhat reminded me of something a dear friend once told me when I began studying a foreign language and was mulling how long I should go abroad. I wasn’t certain I wanted to be gone an entire year and was considering one semester, which was about four months. She told me things would get to their worst about the three month point. She said I’d feel like everything was going wrong, like I wasn’t able to do anything right, but if I would just take a breath each morning and remind myself of my strengths, it would be an easy barrier to break through, and then I would be able to learn so much more and express myself better.

      I stayed there the full year and now, five years later, I wish I never left.

      Hopefully my anecdote makes sense. I think maybe you’re at your own “three month point” with the job and soon you will be able to grasp things much easier and not feel like such a screw-up!

      1. Lindsey

        That’s so funny that you would say the worst point at a job is at 3 months. That definitely rings true with my work experience. The hardest job I ever had was when I was around 20-21 years working at a residential youth home for troubled teens (ages 13-17). It was the worst job at 3 months in. I felt like such a failure that I cried on the job in front of some of the youth. It was a turning point. I decided to keep trying and to grow.

        1. Rater Z

          I was working part-time as a stocker at a Drug Emporium store which was basically nothing but HBC items and some foodstuffs. 29,000 square feet and 8 aisles. I was told when I started that it would take me about six months to learn where everything was. I went home one night not knowing where anything was and went in the next day knowing exactly where everything was. It was the weirdest feeling and it was at the six month mark. They didn’t move product around very much, unlike stores today, and I was 44 years old.

        2. lfi

          YES. i literally just hit my 3 month mark.. and made a mistake. sadly i was “written up” for it, but i feel so much good has come out of it (auditing, really delving deeper into what should and shouldn’t be done, etc) that I’m trying not to look at the ‘hey we documented what you did’ aspect.

  37. Emily

    I am having the same problem, except i HAVE gotten feedback from my supervisor about the fact that i’m not performing where she expects me to be at this point in the training. I tried to take notes and am doing my best at improving my work, but still feel like i’m screwing up at every turn. In our last informal meeting about it she even said she’s “never had to do this much hand holding before,” which was confusing to me because the only thing I have her help me with is work that I cannot perform due to restrictions in having access to specific account information.

    I have a 3 month review coming up and want to ask her if she will give me a point blank list of what I need to do better, but am afraid she will see that as me not paying attention to her at before this, which hasn’t been the case. Any suggestions how to ask for a very frank and straight way to let me know what I need to fix?


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