I need to be more confident at work

This week on the Ask a Manager podcast, I talked to a guest who struggles with worries that she’s not good enough at her job — and it can affect the way she deals with coworkers. Here’s the letter:

I work as a chef and am currently four months in to a new job at a small, fine dining restaurant / lodge. I find that I struggle with two things: confidence and addressing issues within the team.

I find that because my work is a bit different to that of my friends and peers, I often make excuses for why I can’t/don’t feel confident in certain aspects but I’ve come to the realization that all workplaces are the same in one way or another!

My confidence issues are mainly this — when things go wrong, I take it incredibly personally. I have failed, I am not a good chef, everyone is blaming it on me and trying to shame me for it. These can be small things like a cake being a little dense or pastry not super crumbly but they feel like I’m being outed in some way. I can give great advice to colleagues, saying “It happens, it’s not your fault, food isn’t always perfect,” etc. but it’s something I am really finding difficult, increasingly.

The second issue is linked to that, and it is difficulty with saying to a colleague that an error or action on their part has impacted me and I am not happy with it. Most of the time I just let things go but they do bother me. I feel that there is a sort of spectrum on which to address things. I don’t want to be known as the colleague that always complains and I do want to be kind and understanding. But how do I address things with colleagues that I can’t let go of?

The show is 28 minutes long, and you can listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts (or here’s the direct RSS feed). Or you can listen right here:

Or, if you prefer, here’s the transcript.

{ 15 comments… read them below }

  1. Chopped*

    This is scapegoat syndrome. I have this too, and I was a chef. I always used to think I’d be found out any second and I had no talent. It’s very stressful.

  2. a username*

    It is because you are female, and any time you act confident or self-assured, people assail you and take you down as being full of yourself, abrasive, uncaring, and “not nice.”

    At least that’s been my experience.

    1. Argh!*

      Yes, women have been socialized not to rock the boat, and to take the blame for everything. Studies have even shown that supervisors credit men for positive results and make excuses for them when they have negative results, while women take the blame due to personal qualities they can’t control (and probably don’t even really have).

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        And to take the blame for things other people (generally males) do while never claiming credit for their accomplishments.

    2. Chaordic One*

      I’m not really sure it is only a sexist thing, although it certainly can be. I’ve seen it happen to men, too. Everything you’ve said has been said about men, too. Well, you left out “entitled.”

  3. LightFixture*

    I recommend “Mindset: the new psychology of success” by Carol Dweck to this person (and anyone who experiences similar issues)… this was me go a “T” and I found this book absolutely life altering. (I am usually such a skeptic about self-helpy style books, but this one is amazing and is written from a scientific perspective.)

  4. AnnaBananna*

    Oh dear heart. Remember that the kitchen is always hard/stressful before filtering in your issues. It always seemed like everything was uber amplified behind the line, and I can image lack of confidence being just as amplified.

    1. You ARE good enough, or they would not have fired you.
    2. Shit happens, especially in food. Once you hit critical mass – in which everything is shit and you can’t take it anymore – your self preservation will let you step back and stop caring so much. Because right now you’re trying desperately to prove yourself instead of just making food that you love. You just need a little distance and perspective.
    3. Make sure then that you’re not complaining. There is a difference between correcting someone objectively, and correcting someone with an emotional lens. Pretend you’re their teacher, and it’s just one more thing they need to master. Take the guilt and blame out of it. I know it’s hard to be unemotional about it in the heat of everything but it will help you both.

    I’d love an update on this when you’re ready!

  5. Bea*

    Chefs have a tendency to be seen as angry and perma stressed for a reason. You have a hard job and people have ridiculous expectations but even worse, you have even higher expectations of yourself. Food is an artistry outlet for many for a reason. It’s all about each dish being composed and on point, you don’t want to ruin the person’s dinning experience that you know the front of house has to deal with if they think something is “off”. It’s intense and exhausting.

    You build a shell around yourself and you become a grouch. That’s what the men do. And you crack skulls when necessary.

  6. Extra Vitamins*

    I worked in the kitchen of a “fine” restaurant some years ago. One thing all the new people had to learn was that the ingredients were not always the same, especially fresh items like fruits (chili peppers, argh). If something came out a little different, the chef blamed the ingredients! And except for the Mustard Sauce Incident we generally agreed! Also, if any upline or prep people, or servers, or dishwasher messed up, we were expected to own it and fix it, without causing the chef to be more stressed by having to yell at us. I agree with AnnaBannana above about approaching it like teaching when someone makes a mistake. That worked really well in the place I was in. Yelling really only happened in a couple of emergencies (such as fire NOT mis-arranged garnishes or whatever).

    Also, I’m fairly certain pastry and cakes require magic skills, so you are awesome.

  7. beanie beans*

    This was great timing – I’m about 6 weeks into a new job that is turning out to be more challenging than I expected and my confidence is super low. Good to remember that everyone can feel this way and that a good chunk of my feelings are probably imposter syndrome.

  8. Lauren*

    Good article,This was great timing – I’m about 6 weeks into a new job that is turning out to be more challenging than I expected and my confidence is super low. Good to remember that everyone can feel this way and that a good chunk of my feelings are probably imposer syndrome.thank you for sharing.

  9. TZ*

    My coworker suggested I check out this podcast this week, and the timing could not have been more perfect for me to listen to this at my current juncture at work. It’s absolutely lifted a huge burden to put a name (imposter syndrome) to what I’m struggling with, but more importantly to know I’m not alone. This is a great podcast, I’ll be a regular listener from here on out.

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