update: I’m competing for a promotion against a coworker who outdoes me

Remember the letter-writer who felt obligated to apply for a promotion that she didn’t really want and didn’t think she’d get? Here’s the update.

Having read through your advice and the comments, I decided against applying for the job in the summer. I felt much better about the situation once I’d done that, but I was worried about telling my boss. Things were going well: I had successfully overseen the implementation of a new test in the lab and I was making small but consistent strides in counselling. I didn’t want anything to threaten the good status quo I had going.

I went to see him a few days after you published your response. I didn’t want to wait until the appraisal because I was worried about his reaction, and I didn’t want that to make the review more difficult, given that I knew we would talk about the temporary post at length. I expected him to be annoyed or disappointed with my decision, but I was surprised at his neutrality. He suggested that I think about it closer to the time and that he was fine with my decision, “as long as it’s a ‘not now’, rather than a ‘never again’” based on a bad reaction.

Although I had informed him of my decision, I was still anxious before the appraisal. I was worried about getting upset if he gave me particularly negative feedback, and worried about not being able to adequately convey how much I’ve worked on myself since last summer.

Alison, I could not have asked for a better review.

We talked in depth about the temporary role. I communicated how I knew that I hadn’t taken failure gracefully, but that the experience had provided me with an opportunity for serious personal growth. I was glad when he said that he had noticed the work I’d done on myself – he said that I was a different person compared to last summer – and that he hoped that I continued to improve myself. I was disappointed when he said that he had expected me to quit after being unsuccessful, but on reflection I think that this must mean that I have proved him wrong. It’s OK for me to feel heartened at that, right?

I didn’t receive negative feedback at all, aside from him noting that I’ve been slow at completing a work-based training qualification. He was fair when I explained that my motivation had been affected by the outcome of the temporary post, and we agreed for it to be completed by the end of this year. Aside from that, he wants me to have more confidence in my decision making, and he told me that “now is your time to shine.”

Since then, I have had ups and downs in confidence, but I have more in my “emotional toolbox” to fix things than I did before. Most of all, I know that my confidence will come back. That knowledge is invaluable.

As for work, I’m making progress on my qualification with the boss’s support, and I’m now responsible for co-ordinating the training for four people in our department alongside my regular duties. It’s tough – there’s a lot of work to do – but when I think that, four years ago, I was the one being supervised doing my training, it blows my mind a little to see how far I’ve come.

As for Jane, she continues to work hard and be a rock star, and she deserves it, but I’m not doing too shabbily either. The job will come back up in the next few weeks, and I’m quite content to let the opportunity go. My boss, and perhaps the deputy, will probably try to nudge me towards applying, but it’s just not the right time for me.

I’m grateful to you and your readers for all of the advice, anecdotes, book recommendations, etc. I had thought myself into a tight spot over things and your objectivity was just what I needed, but the overwhelming positivity and support I received was something truly unexpected and wonderful. You have helped me turned a corner. Thank you.

{ 41 comments… read them below }

  1. Detective Amy Santiago*

    This is a wonderful update!

    Congrats to you on improving and on sticking with your decision not to apply for a promotion at this time.

  2. Parenthetically*

    I suddenly feel very warm inside! Nice one, LW, and best wishes for your continued peace and success. :)

  3. Anon for this*

    Amazing update LW – you should be really proud of yourself. Also your update was very well-written, if you ever want to leave the lab perhaps pursue a career in writing!

  4. Mananana*

    This is a fantastic update! LW, you have much to be proud of. I wish you nothing but the best in your endeavors, both personal and professional.

  5. Falling Diphthong*

    I was disappointed when he said that he had expected me to quit after being unsuccessful, but on reflection I think that this must mean that I have proved him wrong.

    I would absolutely take this as “This is where you showed real toughness, and made me reconsider my first impression” rather than “All honorable people fall on their swords at this point.”

    1. LBK*

      The OP was pretty adamant in her original letter that she thought she would have to quit if she didn’t get the position, so I think it stands to reason that her boss thought that’s what she would do! I just took it to mean, “You seemed like you wouldn’t stay here if you didn’t get the job so I’m glad you didn’t do that.”

      1. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

        That actually explains that line, I think! If she was picking up that she thought her boss expected her to quit after losing out, but not on his reasoning for thinking that (that he thought she would as opposed to that she SHOULD), it makes perfect sense that she would think that she’s expected to fall on her sword if she doesn’t get promoted again.

        In that light, I’m personally really proud of LW for questioning her priors. I just re-read the original letter, and it seemed like her boss was behind her all the way.

  6. OtterB*

    “I was disappointed when he said that he had expected me to quit after being unsuccessful, but on reflection I think that this must mean that I have proved him wrong. It’s OK for me to feel heartened at that, right?”

    “Expected” can have a double meaning: expected, as in thought you should (which is clearly not what he meant but might be what you’re hearing) or expected, an in thought it likely it would happen. I read his statement, in the context of everything else you’ve said about the review, as meaning that he was afraid you would quit and is happy about your persistence since it means you’re still working there and he likes the work you do.

    Go, you,

    1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

      Yup. That was my exact interpretation too. If LW was showing signs that they were thinking of quitting, that would be boss’s expectation (as in what he *thought* would happen not what *should* happen – very important distinction there).

      And! LW should feel heartened. She proved him and herself wrong! WAY TO GO!!!

    2. SarahKay*

      Agreed; there are two meanings to “Expected” and I think OtterB is quite right in saying that it’s the second one your boss was using.

    3. Specialk9*

      Yeah, your boss is firmly in your corner, so don’t second guess his word choice.

      Also, I’m pretty confused by all the reference to “failure” and “unsuccessful”. You learned, is all – you tried something new, learned about yourself and how this works, and you totally rocked it. I encourage you to systematically purge the word “fail” from your vocabulary for yourself. Seriously. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to a kid you really love.

      You’re putting a lot of stress and expectation on yourself for something that just wasn’t that big. It was a promotion. That’s it. A promotion you were ambivalent about to boot. This is the perfect low stakes learning environment!

      “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison

      1. Glowcat*

        Yup, exactly: framing things in terms of “success” and “failure” is very dangerous for our peace of mind. It’s probably something we learn at school, where either you pass the exam or you repeat it the following year, but when you make a mistake at work (and it happens. More than once or twice) you still have to show up the day after and find a way to fix things. At work you fix things, rather than fleeing and start fresh somewhere else, hoping you won’t fail ever again.
        Congrats to you, OP, for having overcome your fears! I know it’s not easy, but I’m sure you’ll feel better about your career. I’m very happy to read this update! :)

  7. TootsNYC*

    I was disappointed when he said that he had expected me to quit after being unsuccessful, but on reflection I think that this must mean that I have proved him wrong. It’s OK for me to feel heartened at that, right?

    I agree with your “on reflection” point of view. You -should- feel heartened

    I think he was simply saying, “that was tough; it would have been understandable if you had quit, lots of people would.” And that’s an important acknowledgement from him, and I think it also means he sees you as a human being, one he can be sympathetic to and not just judge.

    There ar etimes it’s important to be in a growth and depth mindset. In my church, we have different altar colors for different times of the year, and I hadn’t even realized until my pastor mentioned it a couple of years ago that the biggest chunk of the year, the vestments are GREEN. Because it’s a time for growth. No major festivals, no important “life events” with their trauma and pain and joy, no changes in status. Just, grow grow grow.

    That’s you–you’re in the “green is for growth” period. Take all the trauma and joy, and weave it into strength and confidence. The cycle will turn around again, and there will be other modes to be in at other times.

  8. Curious Cat*

    What a great update! I’m so happy for you, OP! And I’m glad to hear that your boss has been supportive as well as knows that you have the potential to do even more when the time is right for you. Best wishes for all that’s coming your way :)

  9. Irene Adler*

    So glad this all worked out for you. Am really impressed at how you took this situation as impetus to do the work to improve yourself. You must be a very fine person to know in real life.

  10. Emily S.*

    LW, I’m so pleased for you. This is wonderful to read.
    Congratulations on making progress, and feeling more confident in yourself.

    You sound like you have a much healthier, more positive outlook, and that’s awesome. You do you, be kind to yourself, and I think you’ll continue to grow and succeed (whatever that success looks like, whatever form it may take).

    Best wishes.

  11. doylean*

    So proud of you, OP! You mentioned that Jane is continuing to be a rockstar — sounds like you are, too. : )

  12. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    Thank you for sending an update. I do love reading them.
    Congratulations on all the success you’ve had from the work you’ve done.
    I’m really impressed with how you are setting and achieving your goals – particularly the goal of being happy with yourself. That is really important and I’m glad you are doing so well.

    1. Colorado*

      The goal of being happy with yourself. Exactly! At 45 years old I’m finally okay with being okay where I am in life and my career. I don’t want more right now, I just want now.

      1. Nines*

        “I don’t want more right now, I just want now.”

        This is perfect. I love the way you said this. Thank you.

        And go OP! You have a lot of really awesome insight. Absolutely something to be commended. Keep up the good (& hard) work.

  13. Em too*

    I wonder if he meant that your reaction before led him to think you were about to leave, and is relieved you didn’t.

  14. Yvette*

    ” I was disappointed when he said that he had expected me to quit after being unsuccessful, but on reflection I think that this must mean that I have proved him wrong. It’s OK for me to feel heartened at that, right?”

    Yes, yes, yes to me that was absolutely a compliment.

  15. ContentWrangler*

    I remembered your original letter and I’m so happy to hear that you’re doing well! You did the right thing being upfront with your boss about what you wanted in your career and not just applying for a promotion out of a sense of obligation or pressure. Go OP!

  16. ArtsNerd*

    Alison, I could not have asked for a better review.

    Instant ear-to-ear grin right there. Congrats OP!

  17. Koala dreams*

    Thanks for the great update! It sounds like you get to do what you are interested in doing, which is wonderful. Keep up the good work!

  18. Gotham Bus Company*

    “I was disappointed when he said that he had expected me to quit after being unsuccessful, but on reflection I think that this must mean that I have proved him wrong.”

    He probably meant that he detected your insecurity, he feared that you might leave, and he’s happy that you stayed. As it turned out, you didn’t need to be afraid of a strict “move up or move out” policy because your lab isn’t the military.

  19. Styx-n-String*

    Good for you! A good attitude in the face of failure will be of great service in your career, more even than training or job experience. Very few people can gracefully lose and use it as an opportunity to work on themselves.

    And yes, your time will come! I was in a position last year where I was your Jane, and I got a promotion that someone else also really wanted. He and I had started the job on the very same day and always felt like equals, but I’m older and have more experience, so I got the job. He didn’t handle it very gracefully at first, but eventually he got over it and proceeded to work at becoming the very best employee at his level, even winning a few awards at the end of the year. I recently moved on to a bigger opportunity at a better (for me) company, and he got my job without even trying. I’m so proud of him! And it was all due to the way he handled disappointment and turned it into something positive.

    So keep doing what you’re doing, and your time will come!

  20. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    What a beautiful update! Thank you so much for coming back and letting us know. Your post made me smile so much. You’re doing so well, good luck with your job!

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