I’m worried my manager has lost confidence in me

A reader writes:

I tend to be a perfectionist, and I have a hard time coping when I feel like someone isn’t happy with work that I’ve done, or when I feel like I haven’t lived up to my own standards.

I’ve been at my current job for a little more than a year, and for the vast majority of that time, my supervisor and coworkers have seemed very pleased with me. My performance reviews so far have been completely positive. But I’m aware that over the past month or so, I’ve run up against more challenges than usual. I’ve taken on some new projects that I haven’t felt entirely confident about, there have been some organizational changes, and because this is a busy time for my department, I don’t always feel like I can easily get help when I have a question about something.

To make things worse, I struggle with anxiety, and while I’ve been working very hard to manage it, all it takes is a few bad days to put me behind on things. I really want to step up to the plate, and I’ve been worried that expressing concerns would make me look like I’m not capable or like I’m a complainer. But the truth is, I’ve been getting in over my head a bit, and I worry that it’s reflecting poorly on me. I haven’t made any terrible mistakes, but it’s taken me longer than usual to complete or follow up on tasks and I haven’t been as organized as I usually am. My supervisor hasn’t gotten upset with me, and she’s expressed understanding, but I’m worried that she has less confidence in me than she used to.

To be fair to myself, over the past couple weeks I feel like I’ve been doing a good job at catching up and getting back to my usual level of efficiency. I feel optimistic about my ability to handle things from here on out, at least for the most part. But I’m scared that a few “off” weeks will damage my reputation and workplace relationships, and that people are thinking poorly of me now. I think because I’m so hard on myself (I feel guilty whenever someone praises me, because I don’t feel like I deserve it), it’s hard for me to have an accurate perception of how things actually are.

Also, do you have any tips for addressing challenges when they come up? I struggle with asking for help or clarification sometimes because I don’t want to come across like I need my hand held. And do you have any suggestions for how to deal with it when things just aren’t going smoothly? I know that in the workplace, what matters is results. The fact that I might be having a bad day due to anxiety or a late night with a sick pet isn’t an excuse. But while I think I’m generally good at managing stress and anxiety and that bad days are uncommon, I can’t guarantee that I won’t ever go through a tough time and that that won’t impact my focus at all.

You are being too hard on yourself! This is both good news and bad news. It’s good news because you just had a few bad weeks and now you’re getting back to your normal self. A few bad weeks is really not a big deal (and they don’t even sound like you were terribly off in a way that others would notice and be distressed by). It’s bad news because being so hard on yourself over something that isn’t that big a deal can be a really hard way to go through life.

Let’s take these one at a time.

First, a few weeks of being off and feeling less organized and on-top of things than usual is seriously not a big deal. I think it happens to most (all of us?) now and then. It happens because we are humans, not automatons, and we get sick, have outside stresses and distractions, have sick kids/pets/parents/friends, and just have months where we’re inexplicably off.

Only a really awful manager would think that your year of good performance is canceled out by a few off weeks. I mean, sure, if during those few weeks you screamed at a client, flipped off the CEO, lost a major account, and left graffiti in the elevator, people would have concerns. But that’s not the sort of thing you’re describing. You’re describing what sounds like a pretty normal “eh, that wasn’t my best few weeks” period.

And now you’re catching up and getting back to your normal level of performance. This was a blip, and it will be fine.

If you will help give you peace of mind, it’s always fine to say to your manager, “Hey, I’ve had a tough few weeks and I just wanted to let you know in case it’s showing. I’m working on getting back on track though.”

Also, not only is it totally okay and normal to ask for help or clarification when you need it to, it’s actually necessary. It’s part of doing a good job. Managers expect you to ask for clarification and help when you need it. People ask managers for help and clarification all the time! Managers are used to it, it’s part of their job, it’s part of your job, and they are not going to wonder what’s wrong with you or why you need all this hand-holding. They’re going to think, “Good, I can count on Jane to tell me when she needs help. I don’t have to go poking around since I know she’ll come to me” and “Ah, I’m glad she asked that so I could weigh in.” (I mean, obviously there’s a point where requests for help could cross over from being normal and good to being too numerous, but someone who has the worries about this that you do is almost certainly miles away from that line.)

Now, the issue at the heart of your letter: You don’t feel like you’re good enough and deserving of the praise that you get, and everything must be perfect 100% of the time for you to feel okay in your skin. That’s an impossible and painful standard, and I bet you don’t require other people to meet it in order to have good will toward them, or even to respect and admire them. It sucks so much to go through life that way, letter-writer, and it’s a recipe for anxiety and for totally throwing off your perception of reality. So for this part, I say therapy — so that you can dig into where this came from and how to evict it from your brain. (And that is not further evidence of imperfection! That is evidence of you being perfectly, beautifully human.)

Good luck!

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 102 comments… read them below }

  1. KW*

    What a great and kind answer Alison. I’ve come a long way from my need to be perfect and I can’t tell you enough OP, therapy is helping me tremendously. Good luck!

    1. AF*

      +1000 – OP, it can take a long time to manage those feelings in a healthy way. I am almost 40 and still struggle with it. It also really helps to have one or two compassionate coworkers to bounce things off of (if possible), as in, “Am I seeing this the right way? Am I being overthinking this ?” Because your default thought process has been skewed (towards being a perfectionist, being responsible for everything that happens, etc.), your knee-jerk perception of your work, or how you react to things, needs to be recalibrated.

      Also, there is a fine line between having high but reasonable expectations for the quality of your work, and being too hard on yourself. For me, the issues stem from having an early childhood trauma, plus an over-demanding parent who taught me that I had to be perfect in order to be loved. I also learned that I was responsible for cleaning up the messes of all of the irresponsible people around me (my younger sibling, and now co-workers who got away with not doing much work). You will get there – I’m really glad you have the self-awareness to know that you’re at your limit, and want to get help for yourself. Best of luck!!

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        I let my anxieties go unattended until they started to manifest as serious health conditions. Ultimately, I was the one who had to say to my doctor, could this all be caused by anxiety? We talked it through after the last test results came back normal and decided to try a low dose anti-anxiety medication. Six months later I was left wondering why I’d never addressed this before. Is the anxiety still there? Yep, but it’s a LOT more manageable.

        Let yourself ask for help for the anxiety. The rest of it will fall into place.

        1. Boop*

          I went to the doctor because I thought I was losing my mind – I hadn’t even considered anxiety as the underlying cause. Thought he was a little crazy when he suggested anxiety medication, but so glad I followed his advice! A little chemical reset and I was able to get everything else under control. It’s amazing the effects that anxiety and stress can have on your body and mind.

          Good to know I’m not the only one!

    2. Middle Name Jane*

      Alison, thank you for such a thoughtful and compassionate answer. I’m going through a similar situation as the OP. I have depression and anxiety and while I’m on meds and am in therapy, I’m not functioning particularly well. I know I should be doing better at work, but I’m doing the best I can right now. I’m stressing out about my upcoming review, though, because my manager and I don’t have a very smooth relationship. I wish I could print out the OP’s letter and your response and hand it to my manager.

  2. Sins & Needles*

    Some of the best advise I ever got was, “Be as gentle and understanding of yourself as you would be a beloved friend.” That phrasing helps me when I struggle with perfectionism and I hope it helps you, too, OP.

    1. LQ*

      I do a similar thing. I think of my little sister, with her I’m a little more forceful when she’s doing the negative self talk. “You do NOT deserve to be talked to that way by anyone especially yourself. Knock it off because you are awesome! Are we clear!?” With my friends I’d be a bit gentler but my sister and I with each other are way more STOP THAT NOW! Which is sort of really effective for us. (And every time she is at my house she writes something like that on my chalk board which is wonderful and sticks around for a long time.)

      1. Arjay*

        Yes, I tell my husband often that he’s not allowed to talk so negatively about my husband!

      2. Marillenbaum*

        I once told my mother (who was in the midst of some shopping-induced negative self-talk), “If anyone else were talking about you the way you are talking about you right now, I’d have punched them in the face!” Maybe not the nicest thing, but I think it worked. Sometimes we all need help disrupting our unhealthy scripts.

  3. addlady*

    I suffer from a lot of perfectionistic tendencies, and I’ve found that a great place to get help is called Recovery international. Without diagnosing, we learn how to use spots like “drop the judgement” and “lower your expectations and your performance will improve” to remind ourselves that we don’t have to be as hard on ourselves as we often are. Check it out!

  4. Boop*

    OP, I completely understand. I went through a real rough patch when I moved to another position in my department, and it still affects me (anxiety attacks, insomnia, headaches). My supervisor was really understanding and has never held it against me, and I don’t think it impacted my reputation at all (no one has ever said anything, at least). Everyone has difficult times, and a good boss will be supportive and help you get back on track.

    I am also a bit of a perfectionist, but you have to find a way to forgive yourself if your “product” isn’t the most amazing ever seen on earth. Do your best, and think about your successes instead of your (perceived) failures. Also, a good sense of humor is indispensable.

  5. B*

    I am the exact same way. I am a perfectionist so if I make a mistake I will beat myself up for it plus the anxiety of what if I am going to make a mistake. Sometimes it is good to remind yourself that this is what is happening, you’ve rechecked, and you are human. We all make mistakes, if you do own up to it and then keep saying that you need to move on a past it. Most of the time people forget about it right after it happens so try to do the same thing. So much easier said than done but it’s something you need to do.

  6. Sibley*

    OP, you might want to browse the archives of Captain Awkward. She’s got mental health issues herself, and has multiple posts to people with problems. Her advice is both kind and helpful. Boils down to: take care of yourself.

  7. Christopher Tracy*

    This is timely. I had a coverage determination letter sent back to me today by my supervisor, and she pointed out something I missed in the file that I can’t believe I didn’t see! I’m usually so spot-on with this stuff (my supervisor has said so in the past) that it kind of shook me a bit. I had to get up and walk away from my desk for a second to stop harping on it – it’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of my work, and at least it was caught and fixed before I sent that letter to our client.

    OP, I feel you so much right now.

  8. Blue Anne*

    Oh gosh, OP, you sound exactly like me three years ago.

    Speak to your manager. I am sure they’ll appreciate you checking in with them and letting them know what’s going on. For me, it was also helpful to be able to get assurance from my manager that she had, genuinely, remained happy with my work and that she would let me know immediately if she wasn’t.

    Take care of yourself.

  9. Mike C.*

    I mean, sure, if during those few weeks you screamed at a client, flipped off the CEO, lost a major account, and left graffiti in the elevator, people would have concerns.

    After all, who doesn’t just feel the need to scrawl various body parts in sharpie every now and again? ;)

    More seriously, I was drawn to this part in particular – there have been some organizational changes. These are almost always messy and have far reaching effects. I’m going through this right now and it’s an absolute mess. Don’t underestimate the effects of your surroundings.

  10. LBK*

    Oh man, this is so timely I had to double check I hadn’t written it in my sleep. I’m coming off one of my bad periods where I find myself more prone to mistakes, missing things I wouldn’t normally miss, failing to think through things fully before I do them, etc. It’s so frustrating because you feel like your brain is betraying you – you know that you have the capability to do this somewhere inside you, and it kills you that you feel walled off from it, especially if you’re someone who normally has very high standards for yourself (which it sounds like you do, OP).

    What makes it worse is that once you start questioning yourself, it spirals. Being anxious about messing things up just makes you mess up more, because that anxiety is what causes you to mess up in the first place. This may not be universal, but from my experience (and many hours of therapy) this is all about self-confidence. I struggle with confidence issues and rely a lot on external sources to reinforce it for me – work being a big one because it’s where you tend to get the most direct, explicit validation that you are a good, smart, valued person.

    This means that when I make a mistake, it chips at my self-confidence, because it’s a moment where that external source is no longer providing that validation that I crave. Normally if it’s just one every so often I’m able to move on, but if the stars align and I end up making a few mistakes in a row, it takes a serious toll on me because I don’t have time to rebuild that self-confidence in between. That sends me down that spiral where I don’t feel confident in anything I’m doing, and that makes me even more distracted, and so on.

    Fortunately through many hours of therapy I’ve been able to identify this pattern and understand why it happens. Clearly, that doesn’t mean that I can always avoid it, but it means that I can process it better and be self-aware about when I feel it coming on. My best coping mechanism is just to fake it until you make it. I force myself to act as though I’m not messing anything up, and to continue in the mindset that I know what I’m doing and that I don’t need to question every step of my actions – I take the same precautions I’d always take at any other time and then I keep going.

    Because ultimately, that knowledge is still inside you, and what you need to do is prove that to yourself and get empirical evidence that the real you is not the one who messes up all the time. It’s the one who’s done great work for a year and who will continue to do so if you stop telling yourself that you can’t anymore. So you just move on and do what needs to be done, and then one task gets done without issues, and then another, and another, and suddenly it’s been 3 weeks and everything has gone perfectly well like it always did before.

    Good managers can be wonderful supports during this – as long as you promise yourself that you’re going to take whatever they say at face value. Definitely bring it up as Alison suggests if you feel comfortable doing it, because I almost guarantee your manager is going to say something like “Oh wow, no, I’m definitely not worried. Sometimes mistakes happen, we’ll fix it and move on.” (That’s more or less what my manager said last time I had this conversation with her.) Therapy is also definitely good for helping you dig into self-confidence issues if you feel like that’s what’s at the root of it. Good luck – you’ll get through it, promise.

    1. Middle Name Jane*

      >>It’s so frustrating because you feel like your brain is betraying you – you know that you have the capability to do this somewhere inside you, and it kills you that you feel walled off from it, especially if you’re someone who normally has very high standards for yourself (which it sounds like you do, OP).>>

      This! I feel the same way. I know I’m capable of more, but I can’t right now. These days, it is a struggle just to get out of bed and shower. I have to act like I’m fine 40 hours a week and by the weekend, I’m fried.

    2. anxietygirl*

      It’s so frustrating because you feel like your brain is betraying you – you know that you have the capability to do this somewhere inside you, and it kills you that you feel walled off from it, especially if you’re someone who normally has very high standards for yourself

      This is everything and more. I started a new job about 3 months ago and I have never felt more like an idiot/anxious that I have the last three months. It is a cycle and sometimes I go home feeling like an absolute failure because I feel like a fraud/anxious I am going to get fired/overwhelmed. My best friend always reminds me “you don’t know what you don’t know!” and it helps to be kind and gentle on yourself. I want to do good work and not make mistakes and it’s almost embarrassing when I do. Be kind to yourself OP… we will get there!!

  11. the_scientist*

    This is such a timely and helpful letter, as I was beating myself up yesterday over a minor miscommunication…..turned out my boss 100% has my back and it’s not that big of a deal.

    OP, I feel you and I echo Alison’s recommendation to work on getting your perfectionism and anxiety under control, in whatever way works for you. I recently started medication for my anxiety and it’s like a weight has lifted off my shoulders. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I didn’t really realize how paralyzed I was by anxiety until the drugs kicked in and the constant buzz in my brain shut off.

    Also, I really recommend the book “When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough”, a workbook style self-help book designed to help you break some of those perfectionist tendencies and thoughts. I have found this book to be a really great resource and refer to it frequently!

    1. Jillociraptor*

      Thank you for the book recommendation! It looks so helpful. I just bought it and look forward to starting to work through it this weekend!

  12. N*

    Oh yes, last time I was in a management role my *favorite* employees were the ones who asked lots of questions. It meant that they were processing what I was telling them to do and that they wanted to do a good job. The not-as-great employees were the ones who never had to ask questions or get clarification, ever.

  13. TootsNYC*

    I can’t tell you how many time I’ve read interviews w/ some pretty high-powered businesswomen whose main work advice is: Ask questions. Admit you don’t know.

    People who work for me often apologize for interrupting me when they come for a decision, clarification, guidance, etc.
    I told them (back when my title was Assistant Managing Pooh-bah or, later, Managing Pooh-bah), “That’s what the M in my title means.” My title doesn’t have an M now, but the principle is still the same.
    “Manager”/”managing” means “I answer questions and provide information, clarification, authority.”

    When Iw as in therapy for depression, I realized that the Golden Rule is really, really easy for me to follow. In fact, I treat others BETTER than I treat myself. The hardest thing, for me is to treat myself as well as I treat others.

    Another script for mentioning to your manager is to say, “I’m starting to feel a lot more comfortable with the new organization.” In other words, don’t point out the past negatives that are starting to go away; point only to the future positives that are starting to get stronger. It still implies that you know you weren’t comfortable in the past, but it doesn’t make them the main topic of conversation.

    1. addlady*

      Oh my goodness, did you get “Pooh-bah” from the Mikado? I was just listening to the soundtrack!

      1. TootsNYC*

        No, it’s just in my list of words. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Mikado; I’ve only recently been
        introduced to G&S performances.

      2. LBK*

        I always knew it from the Flintstones – totally never occurred to me they stole it from the Mikado.

  14. Ive BeenThere*

    One thing I tell myself when I’m up against the schedule and my perfectionist tendencies start to come out: “A good job today is better than a perfect job tomorrow.” Of course that’s a judgement call, but usually the boss will take 99% on time instead of 100% but arriving late.

    1. Sarahnova*

      Oh, I like that one. I’m not as bad as perfectionist as I used to be, but I still procrastinate way too much :)

      I also like “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”.

  15. voluptuousfire*

    Speak to your manager and look into cognitive behavior therapy. I deal with anxiety and found it very helpful when I was going through a rough patch. I intend to use what I learned in a rough patch I’m anticipating.

    I can understand where you’re coming from, OP. In my role now, I’ve had nothing but positive feedback and it’s the first role where I’ve received feedback outside of yearly reviews or fixing mistakes. It’s confidence building but I still have that stupid voice in the back of my head that doubts it. Try to take the praise at face value. It’s a matter of believing you deserve it before your jerkbrain kicks in.

    1. Clever Name*

      I second this. I found CBT incredibly helpful. It’s difficult, but it really helps to retrain your brain and you can continue using the techniques you’ve learned after you graduate from therapy.

  16. Anon for This*

    I was thinking “anxiety, anxiety, anxiety” even before I got to your second paragraph. I’m wondering–because I’ve certainly done this (it might not be applicable to you)–if you’re seeing the work perfectionism and worry as part of your anxiety? Your letter reads to me like you’re worried about your anxiety elsewhere causing you to mess up at work. But the worry about how people at work perceive you and if you’re performing well enough is also an anxiety symptom, even if it doesn’t feel as acute as what you’re experiencing elsewhere. That makes it something productive to discuss with a therapist even if it doesn’t feel like your most *pressing* issue.

  17. The Shrieking Eels*

    Sending support your way, OP. Everyone has rough patches where they just can’t seem to pull it together and perform at their normal level. But you have a year of good performance as a benchmark for the kind of worker you are, and I don’t think it will be a big deal in the long run.

  18. TootsNYC*

    Another serious point:

    Mistakes are learning opportunities. They’re all about the takeaway.
    I was listening to the TED podcast titled “Nudge,” and the founder of Girls Who Code was saying, “We socialize girls to feel that they must be perfect. They don’t like to take chances; they don’t feel safe if they mess up.”
    But being willing to persevere through mistakes is how you learn, and it’s bravery.

    Be brave! Welcome your screw-ups, scrutinize them curiously and lovingly. They are growth.
    I remember being told, back when I went to the gym, that muscle strength and growth comes from repairing the tiny muscle damage that exercise creates.

    1. LQ*

      I heard something on a podcast recently that I can’t place (sorry podcast! – I don’t think it was the TED one, but it could have been that is on my list…I just went to check, Nudge is still sitting there unlistened to so it must have been something else, but I’m going to listen at lunch!) that mistakes are something you learn from. Failure is when you make a mistake and don’t learn. Mistakes are really good and important to make.

      When I got my promotion recently my boss’s boss said one of the big reasons I got it? Was because I was willing to make mistakes and then learn from them. I’m pro mistake!

    2. A Non*

      One of my personal mottoes is “Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement.” Mistakes aren’t harmful things, they’re steps on the path to good judgement. I figure if I keep telling myself this long enough, I might actually believe it some day. :-)

    3. TootsNYC*

      In his book “Setting the Table,” the restaurateur Danny Meyer recalls meeting one of the Neiman-Marcus founders (I think it was Mr. Marcus).

      Meyer was preoccupied with worried about a two-restaurant project, and Marcus asked him about his preoccupation. After Meyer confided his worries, the department-store founder said: “The road to success is paved with mistakes well-handled.”

    4. Sarahnova*

      I’ve always liked that muscle analogy, too.

      My personal mantra is, ‘If I’m not making mistakes, I’m not really learning, I’m just staying in my comfort zone’.

  19. Kyrielle*

    LW, I worry if I’m not picking things up fast/well enough, and have to ask. But managers do appreciate it.

    Phrasing I’ve found that works for me is something along the lines of, “I’m having a hard time figuring out X. I know I can do it/figure it out if I just keep digging, but it might take me a while, so I wanted to touch base with you and see if you wanted me to keep at it on my own or wanted to give me some pointers. (Optional, if you’ve made some progress or found some failure points: I’ve tried/found Y, but then I got stuck on Z. / I’ve tried Q, but that didn’t seem right because of R.”)

    I feel better with that phrasing because it tells them exactly where I’m at, gives them a chance to help me figure it out, but also gives them a chance to say no, I really should dig further on my own – without it being a criticism of my approaching them, because it was part of my approach. It’s acknowledging that, since I don’t know the scope of what I don’t know, I also don’t know whether I should be worried yet. (Sometimes the answer is that they’re surprised I’ve made it that _far_ on the issue already! Not often. And sometimes the answer is ‘keep digging, but make sure you look at component T.’)

    1. Kyrielle*

      …and fussy perfectionist me now wants to edit that second paragraph for horrible misplacement of quotes relative to the parenthetical. I’m pretty sure it still makes sense, though, and I’ll just have to try not to look at the placement too closely. ;)

    2. myswtghst*

      “since I don’t know the scope of what I don’t know, I also don’t know whether I should be worried yet”

      I think this is a great point – I’ve definitely been in situations where I wished someone I was mentoring had come to me for help sooner, instead of waiting until they had well and truly made a muddle of things.

      And I think your point about letting them know what you’ve already tried is spot on – as long as you’ve done the basics (looked at our knowledge mgmt database and checked for a process document), I’m going to be happy to point you in the right direction! Literally the only time I get even a little frustrated when someone asks me for help is when they haven’t even done the things they know they’re supposed to do before asking.

      1. myswtghst*

        And for the record, they know what to do before asking me because I’ve clearly laid it out for them, not because I expect them to figure it out on their own.

        Which is another point – OP, could you ask your boss what they’d like to you to try before you come to them? There may not be hard and fast rules, but your boss can probably give you some guidelines (like how I know not to bother my brother with computer questions if I haven’t Googled the error message first…)

  20. afiendishthingy*

    I also find it super scary to admit to my managers that I am secretly an imperfect human. However, it’s definitely gotten easier with time, because the responses have been so overwhelmingly positive. In fact, the last time I told my boss I was having trouble keeping my head above water, I got an extra week of vacation. You’re a good employee, and good managers don’t want their good employees to burn out.

    As for asking questions and handholding- I have actually been struggling with a very conscientious employee who does seem to require a bit of handholding. However! Just asking questions =\= hand held. In my employee’s case, she was at one point calling me multiple times a week while she was with clients to ask me questions about minutia, rather than texting (which I’ve told her from the beginning is the quickest way to reach me for minor stuff), trying to figure out the answer on her own, saving up questions for our next 1:1, etc. (I seem to have trained that out of her by never picking up, especially since I’m usually with clients myself during those times, and by responding quickly to her texts and emails whenever I can.) She also tends to contact multiple people within a very short period of time if the first person doesn’t respond immediately. It’s really a boy who cried wolf situation — one time she called me late in the afternoon (her regular “Can you please call me back and tell me what this abbreviation means?” time) and I didn’t listen to the voicemail right away because I assumed it was unimportant. Turned out to be an actual minor emergency. Oops. Anyway! My frustration with this employee is not due to her asking questions, it’s just about her inability to gauge urgency of a given situation. I’m sure you’re fine, OP!

    1. TootsNYC*

      An important point that one of those businesswomen I spoke about made was this:

      You are MORE trustworthy when you ask for info/clarification. Because they know that if things are going wrong, you WILL tell them about it, you WILL make it possible for them to act before things go wrong.

      Also, this is what I say to people:

      Asking for information/clarification/etc. from me -gives me- important information.
      I know what you know. Every time you interact with me, you are teaching me how your brain works. If I’m smart (and I try to be), I am always learning about you. I am figuring out what the best way to give you info is–maybe you need diagrams; maybe you like email; maybe you don’t need detail, or maybe you do. **I** am adapting to **you**. Teach me, by exposing me to your thought processes.
      And: I may be the one who is at fault if you don’t understand something. Maybe I didn’t explain it well. Maybe I left out something important. It’s not all about you, you know; other people make mistakes too.

  21. Jenny*

    Wow, I could have written this letter myself. Alison, your reply rang so true to me and it was so compassionate that it made me cry. I don’t know how to not be hard on myself. It’s not easy going through life with these concerns, OP, and I wish you the best in navigating this.

  22. KTB*

    As a manager, I don’t expect my employees to be perfect–I know that I am certainly not! And Alison was spot-on as far as everyone having off weeks. I’ve been in my industry for years, and I distinctly remember a period about a year ago at my current job where I just felt like I was flailing for weeks. It finally stopped, and I finally stopped feeling like a total failure. Fortunately, like you, I was much harder on myself than anyone else was, and there was definitely no lasting damage.

    As many commenters above have pointed out, it’s OK to make mistakes, it’s OK to ask questions, and it’s definitely OK to be nice to yourself with things go a bit sideways.

  23. animaniactoo*

    OP, as a sometimes trainer/lead, my perspective from the other side on “needing your hand held”

    This is what I look for in when to come to me for help.

    1) Did you try to resolve/figure it on your own first?

    If no, please do that. If yes,

    2) If you are spending more than 5 minutes or so trying to figure out something that I might be able to help you with in 1 minute, I WANT you to come to me. I WANT you to ask rather than waste your time going the “hard” route to then still possibly come up with the wrong answer. If you want to present me with “I think this is correct, I just want to double check?” all the better. But please check in rather than keep chasing something that you’re not coming to an answer on your own.

    3) How many times have you needed help with this particular issue? Or ones similar enough to form a pattern?

    If it’s a couple of times, awesome. It means that you need help at the beginning but then you’re retaining and I don’t have to be concerned about it or you. If it’s a lot, that’s when I’m going to run out of patience for it – even as I try to continue to be patient about it. At that point, I expect both of us to be addressing it as a pattern, not a case by case basis, there’s something bigger here and that needs to be figured out. But – if you come to me saying “Sorry to ask you this again, I can’t figure out why I can’t remember this…” I’m going to look on that a lot more kindly than your 14th repetition of “which field am I supposed to enter the teapot category in?”. In part because we all have our blips, our areas where no matter what, it just doesn’t settle into our brains. If you’re aware, conscious of the appearance, and acknowledge that as you ask for help it goes a long way. If you’re otherwise fairly competent, those blips are going to simply be taken as you being a human and not a robot.

    If it helps any, I’ve had to train myself pretty hard on the word “separate”. I know how to spell it but I always have to be superconscious about it, because my fingers think it’s “seperate”. Oh, and I’m kind of infamous for sending e-mails without attachments at points. My old boss started calling it “NAD”. No Attachment Disorder. “Your NAD is showing again!”

    1. animaniactoo*

      I jinxed myself. Not even 5 minutes later, I sent an e-mail without the attachment. [headdesk]

      1. Spot*

        I love Gmail’s new feature where, if you type, “Attached” somewhere in the body of the email and then forget to attach something, it’ll prompt you with “Did you want to attach something here or….?”

        1. TootsNYC*

          I had it do that to me when I wrote “here is” as the first two words and didn’t attach something.

          And, Gmail was right–I’d forgotten the attachment.

          1. animaniactoo*

            Now if only I was using gmail – or language that formal – when I’m attaching something. Usually it’s in the subject line “Chocolate TeaPot Set for Submission” with body copy of “Please and thank you”.

            I’m that informal because I send about 10 of those e-mails a week on average and the submissions person has basically told me “don’t make me read unless it’s important”.

    2. myswtghst*

      As another trainer / lead type person, I am in agreement with so much of what animaniactoo has written here. As long as you did your basic due diligence and it doesn’t become a pattern of you asking me every single time about the same thing, I’ll be glad you’re asking and not spending hours agonizing over something I can help you resolve in minutes.

      Which also means I agree with animaniactoo completely on the importance of recognizing when it becomes a pattern – I’ll be more patient if you recognize it’s the billionth time you’ve asked me, and it will also allow us to approach it as more than a one-off “here’s the answer” and more of a “where should we document this for future reference?” so you have it handy if I’m not around.

    3. OP*

      Thanks for this!

      I don’t think I’m making the same mistakes/asking the exact same questions over and over again. But I think I was hoping that by this point, I’d be a little more confident about handling stuff without asking questions/having slip-ups. But lately I’ve taken on some more specialized duties that aren’t hard, exactly, but involve information and procedures that I wasn’t previously exposed to as much. I also realized after six months or so on the job that I had some blindspots where I thought I totally understood how to do something, but it turned out that a few things hadn’t been explained to me during training.

      So what’s been happening more recently is that I’ll be given a teapot form to fill out that I haven’t done before, I’ll think it looks doable because it doesn’t seem that complicated, but then I’ll realize that it’s asking for an inventory of novelty teapots, and I have no idea which teapots count as novelty ones. So I try to figure it out, and it looks like the cow-print teapot is a novelty one, but then I’m told that no, it should be listed under multi-colored teapots, instead. I’m really mindful of trying to figure stuff out on my own first, but with some of these tasks, it’s hard for me to know if I’ve figured it out correctly or not without going over it with someone.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Glad that this is helpful for you!

        To tack on to it, based on what you’ve said here, I’d say go ahead and tell your manager that you’re running across these blind spots where you thought you had all the info you needed, but now recognize that you don’t. Note that you’re working to get up to speed on those as soon as possible, and ask them to prioritize which ones are most important, and what resources are available for you to consult/study up on.

        What that gets across is “I’m aware there’s an issue, I’m not blind to it or ignoring it as not a problem, and I’m willing to ask for big picture help in solving it. You can expect that I will be trainable and this will stop being an issue and you will be able to just rely on me in these areas.” And it’s totally understandable when you’re taking on new duties that you’re going to run across stuff that you just weren’t aware you’d need to know about.

        Not knowing the info isn’t nearly as important as how you handle the not knowing the info. In your example case, I’d both want you to send me the document with a “I think I have all of this correct, can you just double check for me?” and question me back on why it’s considered colored rather than novelty (if I didn’t tell you when I corrected it). Because that question is a big picture question about how the company sees its products and will help you develop the thought process for how another product is likely to be seen as well.

      2. LBK*

        I think a good practice in these situations is to do a quick analysis of whatever the new task is and create a list (either mental or written, if it helps) of all the info you’re going to need in order to complete it that you don’t already have. Then you can make one condensed clarification follow up with whoever assigned the task and collect all that info at once, rather than going back 10 times as you work through the process and ending up feeling like you’re nagging the person. You might still have to ask a few follow ups as you go through, but if you start out with a clear, proactive step, that can soften the feeling of thinking you’re annoying someone if you have to follow up again.

        And remember that asking for clarification up front is always better than them having to ask for corrections after.

  24. Katie the Fed*

    I’m a manager. When a top performer who is usually on top of her game starts struggling, my thoughts are ones of concern, not disappointment/losing confidence in them. Managers (usually) understand that the people working for us are human and can’t always be at their best.

    You sound like a very conscientious employee and I doubt things are as bad as you think they are.

  25. Jadelyn*

    WOW I, too, had to check whether I had written this and forgotten about it! OP, I have both anxiety and major depression, which is pretty well-controlled with meds but which still affects my functioning sometimes, and I have absolutely had that sick feeling of “oh god everyone is going to see me doing less than perfectly and they will think I’m incompetent and nobody will trust me and and and” etc. It’s an awful place to be, but I can promise you, any reasonable person will understand that you are, y’know…human. You’re allowed to be imperfect. Nobody hates you for that. If missing deadlines or something becomes the pattern, instead of the exception, then you might worry, but for most people they will remember the pattern of “this person does what I need them to do” over the occasional blip of “this person didn’t do what I needed them to do that one time”.

    Something that helps me sometimes, is looking at the impact of a mistake. Like, okay, I didn’t get Person X my piece of Project Y by Date Z. What did that do – what exactly did my holdup do? The answer might be, inconvenienced a person. Might be, delayed something by a couple days – but was it a critical delay that went past some crucial timing juncture? Probably not. Or, if you made an actual mistake on something, what happened as a result? Was it fixable? (It will almost always be fixable!) How hard was it to fix, and did the mistake cause any lasting repercussions?

    Also, it helps me to keep a mental record of some of my colleagues’ screw-ups to compare to. Like, okay, I messed up this thing, but some other person messed up something very similar and nobody hates them, they didn’t get summarily fired for messing up, so I’ll probably be okay.

    I know when you’re a total perfectionist it can be hugely damaging to your self-image and even identity when something goes wrong with that. But you’re still valuable, you’re still okay. Promise.

    1. voluptuousfire*

      ^ Agreed. Knowing someone else in a similar role screwed up and wasn’t jettisoned into the sun for it does help when you have that “ack! I screwed up!” feeling.

      If there’s one thing I’m learning, it’s that 98% of the things that get screwed up are not the end of the world or are most likely easy to fix. No need to panic over a typo.

  26. Anna No Mouse*

    “As long as our orientation is toward perfection or success, we will never learn about unconditional friendship with ourselves, nor will we find compassion. ” ― Pema Chödrön

  27. Kai*

    This is SO timely for me. I started a new job a few weeks ago and even though logically I think I’m doing fine, it’s freaking me out to no longer be the person who can confidently, easily breeze through my daily tasks. Having a question about every little thing and making small, understandable mistakes as I learn is really ramping up my anxiety. It’ll get better, but oof. I’m hard on myself even at the best of times, so…!

  28. Dan*

    OP –

    TBH, from a qunatitivate standpoint, “perfection” is usually very expensive, and often undesirable. I work on things that just cannot be done 100% accurately; no ifs, ands, or buts. Once we get to a certain accuracy level, we have to assess how much time and money we want to sink into improvements, as opposed to other tasks which may now have a higher ROI.

    I mean, if I can get a 90% solution in a week, is it really worth it to spend three more weeks to get to a 93% solution? And then two more months to get to a 95% solution? Lots of times, the answer is no. One of the secrets to being *really* succesful in the workplace is to be able to turn around a good enough solution quickly. Understanding what level “good enough” is comes from experience.

    And yes, this is the point where the boss gets consulted about budget and schedule priorities.

  29. Janice in Accounting*

    This letter was timely for me as well. The past few months have been difficult both personally and professionally, and it all came to a head about a month ago when I burst into tears in front of my boss when he popped his head in my office to discuss a particularly nasty email from our auditors. That was not my best day.

    I’ve felt like I dropped more than a few balls during the last few months and have been super-anxious about it, especially since the company is going through some rough financial times and have had a couple of layoffs this year. I’m doing my best to get back on track, but it’s nice to know that others go through similar struggles and come out okay on the other side.

    1. afiendishthingy*

      Don’t worry about it- Janice don’t give a f*** right? ;)

      I really wish the number of times I’ve burst into tears when a boss or adviser said “So what’s going on with X?” were smaller than 3. In fact it’s probably larger and I’ve just blocked some out… but hey, I’m still alive and employed.

  30. Jillociraptor*

    Like lots of others, this really resonates with me. I’ve been working with a coach on some of these issues lately, and one of the most helpful things he and I have been talking about is timeline. I tend to think of every mistake as a BLACK MARK ON MY PERMANENT RECORD FOREVER. He’s helping me to think about a much longer arc: yes, that partner meeting didn’t go particularly well, but I learned to do more research beforehand, and I will get better at doing these partner meetings in the future because of this experience. I didn’t represent my position well enough to convince my colleagues this meeting, but I know what I value and can continue to hone my presentation and relationships over the course of this year to bring more people on board.

    OP, it sounds like you might be struggling with a similar issue: your work is either fine, or TOTAL DISASTER in your mind, because it all exists as a single moment in time: not a pattern that includes the past, or a single point on a future trajectory on which you’re certainly not precluded from doing better than you currently feel you’re doing.

    Good luck, OP (and everyone else who is grappling with this)!

  31. Bun*

    I spent a long time being incredibly hard on myself, perfectionist, feeling guilty and denying it if I was praised — everything the LW mentions. Worse, I gave voice to those feelings and let everybody know about it.

    What turned me around was hearing from a long-time co-worker these words: “I’ve never heard anyone bad-mouth your work except for you.”

    I don’t know why, but it completely changed my perspective and I was able to stop the negative self-talk. Once I stopped saying it to myself, I stopped saying it out loud… and eventually I stopped believing it, too. It’s not always easy or even possible to make this change on your own — a good therapist is a wonderful help — but the good opinion of someone who knows you, whom you trust, could be a catalyst for positive change.

    Good luck. You got this.

  32. JMegan*

    OP, when my manager actually did lose confidence in me, here are the things I noticed:

    ~It was after a few *years* of poor performance, not a few weeks
    ~She started requesting weekly check-ins, which we had never had before
    ~She got VERY VERY SPECIFIC about exactly what she needed to see from me by the next check-in
    ~She took away some projects, and stopped assigning me to others (including one which normally would have gone to me because I was the person in the local office, and she instead assigned it to someone who would have to travel extensively to do it)
    ~She stopped making polite chit-chat with me – every time we talked, she got straight to the point and ended the conversation as soon as she could

    I’m telling you this not to freak you out, but to let you know that there are usually specific, identifiable behaviours that can indicate your boss has lost confidence in you. Especially if any of these things are new for her, or if she’s treating you differently from the rest of the team, that might be a sign that you should be concerned.

    Obviously I don’t know you or your boss, but from what you’ve written here I don’t see any indication that she has lost confidence in you. A good boss would tell you if there was a problem, either by saying so directly, or by doing some of the things I mentioned above. I mean, obviously there are people in the world who would get upset and not let you know, but those people are (hopefully) rare and (usually) unreasonable. I know it’s easier said than done to tell you to stop worrying about it (believe me, I know this very well!), but in this case I think it’s safe to say you can stop worrying about your boss.

    1. AnonAcademic*

      This is a very helpful comment. I have recently had to co-manage a project with a coworker who was not getting their part of the job done effectively. Here’s what led me to lose faith in their competence:

      -They were late to 90% of project meetings by anywhere from 5-50 minutes including several critical training sessions, with no explanation or apology most of the time
      -They missed most deadlines we agreed on, and work completed by the deadline was done incorrectly and had to be re-done by me
      -They caused weeks of delays with this behavior and did not see that as a problem

      Since it’s a short term project I resorted to doing it all myself so it would at least be done, and done right. I have vowed to never work on a project with this person again. I have tried the “being very specific” and taking away duties tactics JMegan mentioned, and I realize I’ve cut down on chit-chat also since I tend to be politely gritting my teeth through most interactions.

      OP, if none of this rings a bell, you’re probably fine! If this does sound like you, one thing I wish my coworker had done is to just be honest – something like “I’m very overwhelmed by xyz and feeling out of my depth on this project. How am I doing, and what can I work on right now that would help?”

      1. LQ*

        It is really important that the OP see the difference between showing up late to a single meeting 5 minutes late and 90% of meetings 5 to 50 (how? Was the meeting only an hour?!) late. Causing a day delay that has been talked about on a month long project and working to fix it and causing a day delay on a week long project that you don’t talk to anyone about and don’t worry about fixing.

        These are not the same. It can feel a little when you are a perfectionist that all things less than 100% are the same worthless disaster. This is not the case! Things are much more shades of grey than black and white. It is a spectrum. But for the most part you want to recognize that often 80% is good enough. The perfect is the enemy of the good and all that :)

    2. OP*

      Thanks for this perspective!

      To be honest, this has been hard for me to judge in my job because there are a lot of factors going on, if that makes sense. My supervisor has recently suggested that it might be helpful if we check in occasionally on how projects are going, which is partly why I’ve been paranoid. I’m sure that if I were able to handle everything thrown at me with no oversight, she wouldn’t suggest it. But it’s hard for me to judge if this is strictly a reflection on me. I’ve taken on more responsibilities than usual lately, and some recent organizational changes have meant that my supervisor has had to be more on top of things than usual because some procedures and chains of command have changed. So I think a little more oversight might be a good thing, and the person who left whose responsibilities I’ve taken over used to meet with our supervisor regularly. I just don’t want it to be because I can’t get anything right. I’m also working on some projects that may not be intended to be permanent assignments. One in particular would probably be better off moved to someone else once we get a chance, just because it would be more practical. But if/when that happens, I’m sure I’ll be hard on myself and think that I should have been able to keep it.

      In any case, it has only been a month or so that things have been rough, and I’ve been very mindful of getting back to my usual level of reliability, so it’s not like this has been going on for years or even several months.

      1. TheAngryGuppy*

        “My supervisor has recently suggested that it might be helpful if we check in occasionally on how projects are going, which is partly why I’ve been paranoid. I’m sure that if I were able to handle everything thrown at me with no oversight, she wouldn’t suggest it. ”

        I think you’re misreading this…A LOT. You said there are “a lot of factors going on” with your job right now. In those circumstances, your supervisor knows there’s a lot going on too, and recognizes that she also needs to stay on top of them (even if it’s just in terms of information gathering so she can report back to her superiors). This is just a function of increasing complexity – people will feel the need to pay more attention to that complexity, so they can continue to do a good job – not to micromanage you because you’re not doing a good job.

        What’s helped me overcome a lot of the same patterns that you describe OP, is starting to recognize that my manager is on my side – we’re both on the same team working toward the same end, so when they want more involvement with my work it’s because they have put me on something important that is a team effort, not that they’ve decided I need more oversight because I’m failing (<–therapy helped me get to this framing).

        Hang in there, take care of yourself, get thee to therapy to sort out some of these brain weasels, and keep on being awesome.

        1. LBK*

          Yes, I completely agree. I know it’s natural to feel like more oversight means you’re messing up or they don’t trust you, especially if you’re already feeling a little shaky about your work quality. But I think in this case your supervisor is trying to help by making sure you have constant support for all the new work you’re taking on. She wants to make sure you don’t feel abandoned, like she dumped a whole set of new tasks on you and then said “Figure it out – bye!”

          There’s a balance as you move up and gain more responsibilities; on the one hand, you’re entrusted to be more autonomous because you’ve proven that you don’t need to be micromanaged, but conversely your work is also more important and has more visibility, so there’s more at stake in making sure it’s done well. Think of your supervisor’s oversight in this case not as her being distrustful that you’re capable – she wouldn’t have assigned the tasks to you if she didn’t think you could do them. Think of it as her having your back and making sure that if anything does go awry (which it might! because you’re human!) there’s a double check on it before it goes to a wider audience. As TheAngryGuppy says, your manager is on your side.

    3. Collingwood21*

      “If she’s treating you differently from the rest of the team that might be a sign that you should be concerned.” Oh crumbs. That’s got *my* anxiety going now!

  33. LO*


    You’ve basically just described me. To the tee.
    Trust me when I say that after awhile, being so anxious all the time will have a very negative impact on your sanity and quality of life. It’s really no way to live at all. You are brilliant, but even the most brilliant people need proper training and guidance to do what they need to do. It’s not an optional thing. It has to happen.

    What I’ve found really helped me to get over my perfectionism was to keep a journal of everything I accomplished in a week. Doesn’t matter if it was home or work, it was an accomplishment. Even if I had to ask questions to get me to the level of “mission accomplished”. Trust me, once you written proof of you kicking ass and finishing what you’ve started, the doubt will go away.

    Another thing you can do is to be mindful of how you feel when you get stuck on something. Are you anxious when you realize you need help? Do you start breathing hard or sweating?
    If you do any of those things, take a deep breath to clear your mind, GET UP AND ASK THE QUESTION.
    Do not think of anything except your footsteps down the hall to your managers office to ask the question.

    If you’re like me and had a string of bosses who made you feel like a complete moron for asking anything,
    just remember that they suck at what they do and that is not a reflection on you or your abilities. You are great! You just have to believe that you are.

  34. CM*

    I’ve managed to drop a lot of these tendencies over the years.

    One thing that helped was that when I left my last job, they tried really hard to keep me, and have since repeatedly tried to recruit me back. At that job I constantly felt like I was failing and disappointing everybody, but when I left I realized the reality was the opposite. I only saw my mistakes and beat myself up for them, but they valued me as a top performer. I realized that everybody makes mistakes, and people move past them pretty quickly as long as you handle it responsibly. It helped me a lot to imagine how I would react to somebody else doing what I did. When my coworkers make mistakes, I don’t think twice about it (unless it’s a pattern or something really terrible, which rarely happens) and it doesn’t affect my opinion of them.

    Another thing that helped was keeping my performance reviews and positive emails that people had sent me, and looking at them when I feel my anxiety about my job performance ramping up. Recently I was cleaning out the basement and found my old performance reviews from several jobs ago, and my jaw dropped when I read, “CM is the top performer on our team and routinely handles projects that much more senior people find challenging.” Because my memory of that job (which also involved being one of two women in a group of about 15 in a very male-dominated profession) was pretty negative, and if you asked me to rank myself based on what I remember, I’d put myself in the middle of the team, or maybe even the bottom half.

    See the theme here? Your anxiety is lying to you. The reality is probably that everybody thinks you are awesome. You even admitted it in your letter! Listen to them, not yourself.

    1. CM*

      Oh, one other thing? When I went through periods like you’re describing, where for some reason I was distracted and not working up to my usual standards? Nobody ever noticed!

      1. LQ*

        I have a coworker who sometimes notices when I’m at 75% or so, but he notices because I am not quite as witty. Not because my work suffers but because I’m slightly less funny.

        (Though everyone notices when I’m at 10% what they say is “go home!” and “are you ok?” because they are concerned.)

    2. TootsNYC*

      “I only saw my mistakes and beat myself up for them, but they valued me as a top performer.”

      Nobody, but NOBODY, sees our mistakes as clearly as we do. We see the procrastination, the uncertainty, the incorrect assumption, the mistake we fixed before anybody saw it. They just see the end result.

      We see THEIR end result–but we don’t see their fumbles on the way there.

      And yes, this is important: “Your anxiety is lying to you.”

      1. Duffel of Doom*

        I needed this reminder. Thank you.

        (this whole thread feels like a therapy session)

    3. Penny L Padegimas*

      Yes, yes, yes! I do that with old emails and evals, too, and those always seem so much better than what I perceived my performance to be at the time! Oh my gosh! I’m so glad there’s more like me out there!

    4. voluptuousfire*

      I call this particular phenomenon “jerkbrain.” I’ve also heard it referred to as your brain stuck on stupid.

      One of the tricks I learned in therapy is to picture that voice as a troll or something else, characterize it. I picture it as one of those Koopa Troopas from Super Mario Brothers (the 64 bit edition from the old school Nintendo) and when that voice kicks in, I picture it being punted like a football into the horizon. It doesn’t always help, but it’s suc a silly visual I end up smirking to myself and that distracts me from the negative loop.

  35. Em Too*

    I *love* managing people I can trust to get back to me if they don’t understand/aren’t sure of a judgement call/think perhaps I don’t realise that thing I’ve asked them to do is stupidly difficult. I don’t worry so much about those people.

    Also I want the team to do stuff and if a few minutes discussion is going to save them more time, that’s likely an excellent use of my time. And even managers like to feel they’ve been useful now and then.

  36. dawbs*

    Someone in my life who is a ‘car guy’ once mentioned that they make sure to go to the car mechanic that screwed up the oil plug on a car 15 yeas ago. (The failure was pretty disastrous–the car was essentially run without oil and that did all of the awful things to an engine that you can expect it to do.)

    And that’s the mechanic car-guy still uses. He uses that mechanic because they fixed it. I mean, it was still a bit of a pain, but they replaced everything that needed to be replaced. They arranged for a loaner car. They essentially replaced the engine. They didn’t push back when there were some additional related problems. They ‘made it right’.

    Car-guy, who buys and sells cars and has various cars into and out of shops all the time, says that, inevitably, a mechanic is going to screw up.–it’s a reality of doing business; human beings screw up. But what separates the good mechanic from the bad is whether or not they FIX IT when they screw up (and how willing they are to fix it).

    OP, your manager may need to know that you’re self-aware and capable of fixing it when you screw up; but reasonable managers (and human beings) don’t demand yu don’t screw up.

    1. Collingwood21*

      This. I once had a mechanic fail to apply lubricant after checking something routine in the wheels. The result was scarily smoking brake pads on the motorway that required a breakdown call out and cancelled weekend away. The garage in question would not apologise, accept responsibility or put it right. Amazingly, they lost my custom.

  37. Argh!*

    I second the recommendation for therapy, and possibly also medication. Perfectionism and anxiety can derail your career over time. It can make you get behind fussing over details, it can make you procrastinate rather than dig in and tackle a project, and it can make a supervisor shift the plum assignments to other people. I have to deal with an overly perfectionistic coworker who is always quite behind and makes things too difficult for herself. If I were her supervisor I’d put her on a strict quota and coach her on how to determine what’s important enough to fret over.

    1. AVP*

      I sooo agree with this – I have one person on my team who is an anxious perfectionist, and I’m coaching her now to give up some control of the details, and be willing to make a few minor mistakes, in the interest of getting more work done on time and staying sane. This isn’t a school setting, so I don’t need people trying to hit 100 all the time – I’d much rather have 96% of everything finished in a timely fashion and everyone going home on time!

  38. Jeanne*

    Try to step back and look at your work overall. I understand the perfectionist thing. BTDT. You feel you’ve been making lots of mistakes. Are they big mistakes or little mistakes? Big mistakes need your attention. But do the little mistakes really affect the finished product or not? I know it depends on your exact job. But will you lose your client if a word is misspelled? Or will your product not be marketable if you use less descriptive language? Your work is probably still really good. Take a deep breath and keep moving forward.

  39. Penny*

    I, too, used to suffer from what certainly seemed like this level of anxiety about work. Letter-writer, I’m so sorry you’re going through this. It’s painful and awful and makes your life no fun. And Allison-good answers! Good, comforting answers!

    I have been seeing a counselor now for about six months and things are getting better, slowly, but that’s because it’s been a crappy year for me with deaths and illnesses and mounting stress that was trying to kill me. I highly recommend Allison’s suggestion that you see a therapist. I promise. They’re SO helpful.

    I hope things get better for you, and sooner, rather than later.

  40. writelhd*

    OP, I read your letter and had to blink to make sure I hadn’t written it and sent it in and forgot! I was thinking about writing in a letter with pretty much *exactly* the same content. I don’t really have a solution…just that I totally share your exact feelings in my own job too, so you’re not alone! I did do some of the check ins with my boss that Allison suggested, and yes, they did help.

  41. Grace*

    I know exactly how you feel. I sought out cognitive behavioral therapy for work related anxiety and imposter syndrome. I highly recommend it to give you a good support system and tools you need to retrain your thoughts.

  42. OP*

    Thank you for the advice, Alison! And thank you to everyone who’s commented. It’s reassuring to see that so many people can relate to this, because even when I’m aware that I’m being too hard on myself, I’m still too hard on myself in the form of thinking there’s something very unusually wrong about me for feeling like this.

    Since I initially wrote this question, I’ve realized that I’ve been feeling pretty depressed and anxious lately, probably for a variety of reasons. I know from past experience that work-related stress can sometimes exacerbate these problems for me, and that unrelated anxiety can make it harder for me to cope with routine work stress and view the situation objectively, so it can become a vicious cycle. Professionally, I think I’ve been harder on myself than usual because I was searching for a new job for a while before I found this one and I’m working in a new field.

    I really appreciate everyone’s perspectives. I am going to seriously consider going to a therapist. For now, I’m trying to keep a sense of perspective. I know I’ve made a few mistakes at work recently, but they’re mostly things that happened when I was extremely busy and stressed out a few weeks ago or things that were brand new to me at the time, so I can improve upon these things going forward.

  43. Ian Flanders*

    I struggle with this exact same problem all the time. Despite nothing but stellar reviews and multiple promotions over the past 4 years, I still feel like if I have one slip up, make one mistake or say one thing stupid, everyone will hate me and think I’m an amateur. What’s worse is that I recognized these feelings as evidence of my own insanity – I felt that I was being totally unreasonable and self-obsessed to think people were even paying such close attention to me. That makes it worse because not only do I beat myself up for making a single mistake or for having a single “off week”, I then beat myself up for beating myself up!

    I started therapy 2 months ago and was diagnosed with mild general anxiety and social anxiety disorders. My therapist works with me to build better mind-management skills and it’s been working.

    Just letting you know that you’re not alone! Don’t be afraid to seek help if you need it!

  44. Bowserkitty*

    Wow, I could have written this letter. OP, hang in there, and thank you for the advice Alison!

  45. New Manager*

    I am a new manager and had an employee resign very recently. It sounds from your post like you could have been my employee. I would have appreciated her candor and respected the extra confidence she would have needed to find in herself to be so open. Those conversations can be tough. Instead, she quit…. in a not-so-smooth fashion, got embarrassed by it, refused to come in for an exit interview and is just hanging her head to get through the last week. It is puzzling and a shame but I digress…

    Sometimes a better work environment and being more comfortable in your skin, at your desk takes a few minutes of sheer awkwardness. Sometimes that awkward conversation also turns into gaining more respect from your peers and from your supervisors. At the end of the day, you and your supervisor are just two people trying to figure out a better and more productive outcome. It sounds like you need to give yourself a lot more credit than you do. As a manager, I would like to hear what you have to say.

    Just my two cents.

  46. Madam Diva*

    Such a timely message and some great comments. I have had a very similar situation lately with ‘off weeks’. My boss was off ill and I took on her job, as well as absorbing work from a colleague who just left. I was pulling 12 hour days to make sure all OK. Boss was off with stress and her boss was brilliant with me. We got through a tough 6 weeks and now boss is back. However unsurprisingly this level of work led to a few minor errors (nothing like the graffiti!) and boss has dropped on me like a ton of bricks. She says that she can’t give me work because she doesn’t feel it will be done to ‘her’ standard. I explained that because of huge number of personnel changes in department since I started (8 in 8 months!) and her going off sick that I haven’t been at my best but that now things are settling that’ll get better. Boss having none of it and keeps picking me up on tiny things and telling me that not good enough.
    My career progression depends on her giving me work and she won’t. I know that I wasn’t at my best – I have apologised – but not good enough. So I know that I have been ‘off’ but dismissing my endeavours as ‘water under the bridge’ isn’t helping the perfectionist/anxiety OP mentions. So get it!
    I tried to talk to boss – but very dismissive of me and just focussing on the negatives (begrudging thank you for covering her work when sick…)

    Suspect ‘fearful boss’ syndrome – but am beating self up about the mistakes and the impact it is having on me. Nice to know not alone.

  47. Double Standards*

    My managers tell me to ask my employees then I get wrote up for asking them too many questions. Yet they tell me it’s my responsibility to know what’s going on. They’re on me for “communication issues” because my employees go over my head and report everything to my managers.

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