I’m so nervous at work that it’s holding me back

A reader writes:

About six months ago, I started a new job that takes some different pieces of my background and combines them into a new role. I was pretty up-front in the interview process that my skills are self-taught and I hadn’t formally worked in this capacity yet.

I want to do well in this role so badly, but I fear I’m getting in the way of my own success. The job pays well, the work is interesting, and there is growth potential. Beyond that, I’ve always done well at my jobs so my personal bar for myself is set pretty high and I hate disappointing people for avoidable reasons. But I am getting so worked up over wanting to be great at my job that I’m getting lost in the weeds, making mistakes, and dropping balls.

I’m generally a little forgetful and scatterbrained, but until now this has never been an issue because I’ve built systems to help keep track of my work. But with this role, it feels like there is so much going on and I just can’t stay on top of all it. Little details will get past me or I’ll forget to double-check something or forget a certain process or software use case.

We have weekly check-ins and my manager does bring up my mistakes and we do talk through them and I’m pretty good about not repeating mistakes, but there always seems to be some new hurdle down the road that trips me up.

At my six-month check-in my manager said my work was great so far, but it doesn’t feel that way and I’m terrified of being that employee who can’t connect the dots about her performance and ends up getting fired out of the blue.

And on top of all this, I’ve also been dealing with some medical issues and getting married these past six months, and I feel like I’ve been exhausted or distracted way more than is usual for me.

So I guess my question boils down to this – when do these little mistakes start being a big deal and how I do I find some chill in order to actually succeed in this role?

It’s normal to make mistakes, especially when something is new to you.

There is a level of mistakes that would be problematic, of course. But it’s significant that you’re not repeating your mistakes; you’re learning from them and getting it right the next time.

And yes, then you run into something new and make another mistake. But that’s pretty normal when someone is learning a new area of work or working at a higher level than they’ve had to in the past.

It’s also significant that you’ve always done well at your jobs before this. When things have always come fairly easily to you and you’ve never needed to develop your persistence muscle — the mind-set that sometimes things are hard and you just have to work at them and eventually you’ll master them — it can be incredibly disconcerting the first time something doesn’t come easily. You see this with people who always did well in school without a ton of effort and then hit hard classes in college or a challenging job and freak out because suddenly they’re not achieving as easily as they’re used to. But that’s not a sign they can’t do whatever the thing is; it’s just a sign that being challenged is new for them (and for you).

Of course, it’s possible that these mistakes truly are a sign that you’re not well matched with your job. But the third piece of significant info in your letter is that your manager says you’re doing well. There certainly are some managers who are bad at delivering candid feedback, especially when the news is bad. But unless you’ve seen evidence of that in your boss, I’d trust that she would tell you if she had serious concerns about your work, especially since she’s been good about addressing mistakes when they happen.

As a manager, when I’m managing someone relatively new who’s making mistakes, here’s what I look at to determine how concerned to be: Is the person taking the mistakes seriously and learning lessons for next time? Are they adjusting their systems and their thinking to prevent those mistakes from happening again? Or are they being cavalier, not processing the feedback, and continuing to mess up the same things? I also look at the nature of the mistakes. If they stem from carelessness or truly bad judgement, that’s going to concern me a lot more than if they just reflect that that person is still in the middle of learning new processes and systems. Based on what you wrote, I suspect the reason your manager isn’t worried is because your mistakes fall in the “still learning” category, not the “careless/bad judgment” category.

If you can really internalize that — that this is normal for a new job and you’re doing just fine — that will probably help with your nerves. And once you feel less anxious you’ll probably be more present and focused on your work, which will lead to fewer mistakes — and then you’ll be in a more positive cycle that reinforces itself.

That said, there are other things you can do to cut back on how often you’re making mistakes, too. For example, because you know you don’t always remember small details, build in time to ground yourself before you begin any new task. When you’re about to start work on something new, take a few minutes to reflect on what guidance you’ve been given about it so far, any feedback you’ve had on similar tasks in the past, and any reference materials or checklists you should be consulting. Then, write down a short summary of everything that’s important for you to remember about the project. Put that somewhere where you’ll see it while you’re working: Paste it at the top of the Word document you’re working in, or write it on a sticky note on your computer screen. Just being deliberate about those things can help keep your focus where you need it.

Beyond that, try to cut yourself a break! You’re learning how to do a new job that’s harder than what you’ve done before, you’re dealing with medical issues, and you’re in the middle of getting married! Of course you’re exhausted and distracted; anyone would be. New jobs are exhausting even under the best of circumstances. I think chances are very high that six months from now you’ll feel more confident. If you don’t, you can reassess at that point — but take it day by day until then.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 78 comments… read them below }

    1. fposte*

      I was just playing a maker app this week where the game is that you’re creating art commissions for a customer, and if you don’t hit the (pretty easily quantifiable) metrics you get a nice note from the customer saying basically “Oh, that’s not quite what I was looking for–can you try again?”

      And I realized I was ridiculously determined to avoid disappointing a *pretend person.* To the point where I made myself do it a few times just to try to get over that a little.

        1. fposte*

          It’s called “Let’s Create: Pottery.” The actual throwing of the pot is a pretty small (but significant) component; it’s the learning how to use the design tools where it really takes off, so you don’t necessarily have to be a ceramics person to find it interesting.

            1. Ariaflame*

              It’s actually very soothing when you’re not obsessing over getting all the stars on a pot. You can also make and sell your own pots rather than doing commissions and there you can do whatever you like.

    2. Kendra*


      I think all of us have those times when we feel like all we do is make mistakes, but I also think it can sometimes be hard to see how serious those mistakes actually are (or aren’t!) from the inside. That’s part of why good managers give feedback, so that you have an outside viewpoint to calibrate with, and you don’t have to make yourself quite so crazy second-guessing everything you do.

      1. the_scientist*

        I’m a new manager (although, at 8 months, I’m starting to wonder how much longer I can play the “new person” card) and I felt like I was screwing up and dropping balls left and right when I started. Very similar to the LW, I’m a chronic perfectionist/over-achiever, and the transition from individual contributor to manager was and continues to be very challenging. All managers here have weekly 1:1 meetings with our director, and I found these meetings to be absolutely invaluable in calibrating my self-assessment. My director is extremely no-nonsense and we did have one conversation where she was very stern and unhappy with a decision I’d made and I kind of panicked and thought I’d screwed up forever….and you know what? It was fine. I made it clear that I understood her feedback, that I’d refined processes so it wouldn’t happen again, and we moved on. And I got an excellent performance rating after that incident. That really helped me calibrate my own assessment about what is “a huge deal” and what is “typical mistake for a new manager”.

        It sounds like the LW’s manager is good about giving clear, immediate feedback. This is awesome! LW should continue to take advantage of that. The other thing I would suggest is forming a coaching relationship, perhaps with LW’s manager but maybe also with someone in a similar role with more experience — someone who can help you work through common “first-timer” pitfalls and mistakes and so you have someone to bounce ideas off of.

        1. Someone On-Line*

          I’ve been a manager for six months and I plan on playing the “new” card for at least another year. Two if I can get away with it.

        2. New*

          I’m in HR and I’ve been told that you’re still new to company for at least 2 years. You go through 2 open enrollment cycles, 2 end-of-year crazinesses, 2 bonus/raise decisions, 2 performance review seasons, etc. For a manager, it’s got to be very much the same.

      2. Sparrow*

        I think this is particularly true when you’re used to being on top of things and reliable, because the mistakes feel especially jarring and start to challenge your image of yourself as a worker. I agree that the boss’ outside perspective is super important here, and I’d say some reflection can be helpful, too. I’m willing to bet that OP’s mistakes have become less frequent over time in this new role, and I think recognizing you’re making progress and moving in the right direction can help put things in perspective, as well.

        1. Kendra*

          My mental image here is of a dance class, with floor-to-ceiling mirrors so the students can visually check their own form, and an instructor standing behind them to help out, too. You definitely want to keep an eye on the mirror, but sometimes the instructor’s viewpoint and experience are essential.

  1. Anonariffic*

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned talking to and watching some of my coworkers, it’s that planning any wedding more elaborate than a courthouse elopement can very easily become a second full time job on its own.

    1. Ama*

      Yeah, I just got married myself, and even though I felt like we did a really good job dividing the workload between us and trying to keep the planning work outside of normal work hours whenever possible, I definitely had moments where I made unusual-for-me mistakes at work — I think in large part because when I was focusing completely on something else the instant I left work, some of the little things I can usually trust myself to remember from work day to work day got forgotten completely.

      And then add in health issues — I’ve done that, too, I can’t imagine trying to handle health issues and wedding planning simultaneously.

    2. Meredith*

      I’ve definitely seen people fired… essentially for planning a wedding. Likely as an excuse, but knowing the employers (two!) who did it, nothing would surprise me.

  2. Jellyfish*

    OP, you are learning a new job, facing some medical issues, and planning a wedding. That’s a lot to juggle! In a similar place, I felt like a scatterbrained mess and thought I was dropping the ball all over the place. When I apologetically mentioned it to others though, they seemed surprised.
    Turns out I was managing things just fine, although not perfectly. In my own head though, I knew how much I was struggling to balance everything, and that made me feel completely out of control.

    I’d say take care of yourself, take practical steps to keep improving at your job, focus on one thing at a time as much as possible, and trust the feedback you hear. You’ve got a lot going on right now, and it’s okay if you’re not handling every moment flawlessly.

      1. Heidi*

        Seconding this. The OP tells us that her boss is happy with her work, so it might help to develop other strategies for coping with the anxiety and exhaustion besides modifying her work practices.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      And not only is she learning a new job, she’s taking different skills she’s used in prior jobs that were self-taught. Depending on what her industry is (software comes to mind), this is going to be a HUGE learning curve because she’s doing a job that other people have had formal training for that she hasn’t.

  3. stefanielaine*

    I was OP!! I landed my dream job a few years ago and immediately REALLY struggled because I was working at a higher level than I’d had to in the past. I don’t want to derail or diagnose but OP or anyone who sees themselves in OP’s story, I highly recommend getting screened for ADHD! I was diagnosed at age 37 and the combination of (for me) medication and understanding my brain better through my diagnosis was life-changing. My doctor told me that it’s *extremely* common for high-performing professionals to get diagnosed mid-career, once they hit the point where their work requires so much of their energy that they can’t spend as much energy compensating with extremely rigorous organization, reminders, etc. as they’ve been able to previously.

    1. Bird Person*

      Hey Stefanie, would you mind sharing a little more about this? I’ve been wondering about this for myself, but smaller things like mixing up words and needing (usually multiple) organizational systems don’t seem like enough to go on.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        I mix up words and get bad brain fog when I’m in the middle of a migraine flare. Which was somewhat surprising for me to figure out, because I don’t get typical migraine symptoms (lie in the dark silence dying), they are far less painful to the point I often can’t tell the difference between a migraine and a regular headache.

        1. Zap R.*

          Saaaaame. My migraines aren’t debilitating because of the pain but because it feels like my brain is trapped in slow-motion.

        2. animaniactoo*

          Yup. I was getting VERY worried about myself and the words I was having trouble remembering/finding/mixing up until I was finally diagnosed with silent migraines (everything but the headache that tells you it’s a migraine, yay!). By the point I was diagnosed, I was triggering 24/7 and to say that I had brain fog is an understatement. I have no idea how it didn’t all fall apart.

      2. stefanielaine*

        I would be happy to! I had considered ADD as a possibility for years but like you, I thought maybe I didn’t have a bad enough case to be worth treating or I was just being lazy or needed to pay more attention. A thing that surprised me when I saw a doc who specialized in ADD is that there is actual, concrete testing for it. Here’s a little more info on that: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Test_of_Variables_of_Attention

        My doc told me that I’m in the 90th percentile (only 10% of people perform worse than I did on that test). She also said it’s VERY common, especially for women, to minimize their symptoms or beat themselves up for not working harder or think they don’t deserve help to be better.

        I still don’t have my drug regimen exactly right but I’m working on it. Ritalin and Adderall didn’t do anything for me, but Vyvanse has dramatically increased my ability to get into a state of deep focus, tune out minor distractions, and get re-focused once interrupted, and that has me performing at a higher level at work than I ever have. I still rely heavily on phone alarms to remember tasks I want to do later, but I spend WAY less time trying to remember what I was doing after I get interrupted by something minor, and I now regularly go days without opening a recreational browser tab at work. Sometimes weeks. It’s pretty great.

      3. Jadelyn*

        I’m not Stef, but I hope you don’t mind me jumping in. My experience has been that how much one’s ADHD is “visible”, especially for women/woman-adjacent folks like myself, depends on how hard your executive functioning is being taxed day-to-day.

        In jobs that have a lot of external structure to hold you in place, often someone’s ADHD won’t be noticed as much because you’re relying on those structures – but if you change jobs and lose those external constraints, suddenly you’re flopping around like a fish out of water. The other time, as Stef mentions, that this often comes out is when your work gets taxing enough that you start dropping balls.

        A couple things you might ask yourself to help you figure out if you want to pursue ADHD screening:

        What happens if you go without your organizational systems, or remove one or two of them (since you said you use multiple, which to me is a yellow flag – I’ve gotten the sense from NT folks I talk with that most of them only use one, maybe two)? How badly does that shake your functioning?

        How taxing is your current work? What would happen if your workload increased or got more complex?

        Also, I’d suggest checking out ADHD tags on social media – I like #actuallyadhd on tumblr myself – and scrolling through to see how much you identify with the things people are talking about. That’s how I decided to get screened: I realized that I was going “Oh, there’s a word for that?” “Oh, other people do that too?” to almost every ADHD-related post I saw. I imagine most NTs might relate to some posts, but if you’re saying “Oh wow I didn’t realize other people did this” to 50% or more you might want to go get screened.

        And of course it’s only a screening! You might not have it. But it’s worth investigating further if you think you might.

        1. Bird Person*

          I’m going to write down that tag to browse tonight, thank you! That’s about how I’ve been feeling, but not sure what percentage was “relatable enough” to act on. It’s nice to know it’s not just me!

        2. Anax*

          Also going to jump in, just to say – there’s a lot of mental and physical issues which cause trouble with executive function, and they can also be worth looking into!

          For anyone who finds themselves trying to get work done, MEANING to get work done, and somehow hours pass with nothing happening… I definitely encourage seeing a psych!

          ADHD seems like a good guess here, but autism, depression, anxiety, and even things like traumatic brain injury can also cause executive function problems.

          Executive function is a limited resource, and anything that wears you out or takes a lot of effort can deplete it – even if it’s something other folks don’t notice, like “remembering to do that task at 3pm”, or “hearing the sound of a blender”, or “worrying about Grampa”.

          (AFAB autistic folks actually have the same issue with “visible” autism – we often are late-diagnosed or don’t “seem” autistic, because if our executive function isn’t being taxed too much, we can “pass” relatively invisibly.)

      4. SarahTheEntwife*

        I don’t have anything to add to the excellent tips on getting screened, but another thing to keep in mind is that even if you don’t “officially” have ADHD, if you find yourself checking off some of the boxes people are listing here, you might find non-medical tips and tricks for people with ADHD useful. There can be a frustrating number of hoops to jump through to get a medical diagnosis (compounded by the fact that having trouble getting your logistical ducks in order may be *the primary symptom you’re presenting with*), but you don’t need a diagnosis to check out productivity tools or tips for managing waning focus. :-)

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ha, I had this in the column originally and my editor took it out because she didn’t want to get into suggesting diagnoses (which I understand). For anyone who wants it though, this was the part that we removed:

      “Also, because you said you’ve always been “a little forgetful and scatterbrained,” it’s possible there’s something more behind that. It might be worth doing some reading about ADHD – and especially how it presents in women, which can be very different from how people tend to picture ADHD – and maybe getting a formal evaluation for it. Your commitment to building systems to help you stay on top of everything is a good tactic for anyone to use but, who knows, it also might have been a coping mechanism if there is anything on the ADHD spectrum happening.”

      1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

        Oh, this is SO TRUE. I’m severely ADHD, and when I am doing something new that I don’t already have established systems for I can flounder HARD. Knowing that I have an ADHD brain (which learns and retains differently than a non-ADHD brain) and structuring accordingly (and taking my meds–not everyone needs them, it totally depends on where you fall on the ADHD spectrum and what works best for your brain, but my case is *really* severe and I can’t function without them) is what keeps me happy and functional at work. Otherwise, I can find myself with the both the best of intentions and the knowledge that I CAN do the job, and become incredibly frazzled and frustrated because I still find myself consistently in the weeds (the way the OP describes). It just starts this whole downward spiral of self doubt, anxiety, and productivity issues and it sucks. Not that I’m saying the OP has ADHD! But women do often go undiagnosed and it can hit you HARD professionally (and negatively impact your quality of life outside of work too), so it’s not a bad thing to look into if you find yourself struggling with things that could be related to ADHD.

        1. scribblingTiresias*

          holy diced wahini, you have ADHD *AND* you survived the Hellmouth?

          you deserve a freaking purple heart or something

      2. A Medical Librarian*

        Yep. I read OP’s post and thought, “Oh this is me and my ADHD when I’m under a lot of stress or dealing with big transitions!” I was diagnosed in adulthood only after both my sons were diagnosed. I was doing a lot of reading on the subject and seeing myself in a lot of the descriptions of women with ADHD. I am usually able to work at a fairly high level without medication. Not to say I have any problems with taking meds – they work wonders for my kids and I take several meds for other conditions, but I coped without a diagnosis for so long that I’ve got my systems and methods down and manage my “deficits” pretty well. But throw in a bunch of stress and new tasks requiring meticulous organization (like planning a wedding or navigating a health issue) and things start to unravel just like OP describes.

      3. CallooCallay*

        And a note of caution concerning ADD/ADHD medications: They can trigger a pre-disposition toward epilepsy. So ask a lot of questions and investigate all the side-effects!

      4. Goliath Corp.*

        IT ME. I self-diagnosed a couple of years ago, spoke with my psych about it and he confirmed the diagnosis. I’m still working on treatment, but it’s been kind of life-changing to unpack all these judgments I had about myself and my abilities.

    3. Picard*

      Me. Totally me. The problem is getting the later in life diagnosis. :( I live in a very small town and there are just not very many doctors. I go to my internist about once every 4-5 years and thats about it (and they change about as often!)

    4. AnotherSarah*

      Whoa–this (“once they hit the point where their work requires so much of their energy that they can’t spend as much energy compensating with extremely rigorous organization, reminders, etc. as they’ve been able to previously) is me, and really helpful.

    5. Kiwiii*

      My boyfriend laughed at me when I suggested I might have ADHD because I’ve always been high achieving despite some executive function issues, but then I started reading him the list of how it presents in women and it was immediately like “so you and your mom both have ADHD, probably, I’m sorry for making fun of all your lists”

    6. PopJunkie42*

      I literally was wondering if I had written this letter and forgotten about it. I just started a new job and had really bad training. On the one side I had the person I was taking over for/training with who is VERY critical and was very unhappy with almost all of my work. On the other side of me was my (excellent) boss who was very hands off and supportive of everything I was doing, and great in our one-on-one meetings. So I felt like I was getting really mixed feedback. I don’t have ADHD but I definitely suffer from anxiety and my first three months on the job it was just off the charts! Fortunately things are going well and after getting through something I thought would be a big disaster (it was fine, people even said it was better than last year) I realized I am not going to get fired at any minute. Most higher-level positions, I would hope, would have some understanding that the job is complex and takes a lot of time to learn.

      I did hate the feeling of making a ton of tiny mistakes, though. I’m still coming across new things every week and just stumbling through them a bit. Pretty much everyone (aside from my judgy counterpart) is completely understanding as I work through, though.

    7. J.B.*

      Even if OP doesn’t have ADHD, she might benefit from some of the organizational strategies. CHADD has great resources. My kid does not have ADHD but does have anxiety and is gifted, and organization is definitely a challenge. Link will be in follow up.

  4. Zap R.*

    Oh, sweetheart. I’ve been there. Granted, I have some executive function issues that make certain organizational tasks really difficult but it sounds like we’re in remarkably similar situations.

    The secret is cheat sheets. Make charts. Leave notes. Create a Knowledge Base folder for yourself and save it on your desktop. This solves three problems:
    1) It gives you a way of accessing all of the fiddly bits of information that you’re brain can’t or won’t retain
    2) It lets your supervisor know you’re serious about improving
    3) Putting it all together will show you how much you actually *do* know and hopefully make you feel a little better about yourself.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*


      The best thing I did when I started my current position was, after a few weeks, type up all my handwritten notes into a variety of checklists/reference material. I’ve actually been thinking that I need to update my materials because I’m constantly encountering new things that haven’t come up before (my work is cyclical, so some things might only come up once every couple of years).

    2. Jadelyn*

      This! I just re-organized and re-printed one of my checklist sheets for a major monthly report I do. I keep it pinned on the wall right next to my monitor so I can reference it whenever I need it.

  5. Purt's Peas*

    I think you’ve found & named the key in your letter already: in previous jobs, you had systems, and in this job, you don’t. While the official answer is totally true–mistakes are OK and it’s expected to make mistakes while you’re new–I think you probably do have an accurate read on the situation, that you’re making more mistakes than you’re used to making.

    Luckily, you know that you need a system to help with this, since that’s how you normally keep all the balls in the air. I think it’s an important part of your new job to actively figure out your new system. It seems like you have a LOT going on, so I’m not surprised you haven’t been able to spend the extra energy on this kind of thing, since it seems it’s not quite what you’re used to!

    In terms of what your systems should be: 1. is there existing software for your role? Ie if you’re moving into project management, can you ask your boss for access to project management software? 2. In the interim before you find a system that works for you, a notebook is your friend. Pop your to-do list in there, the meetings that you have, notes on processes you take–5 minutes at the beginning and end of the day to focus & refresh yourself on any notes you took will help. 3. Do you have a system from a previous job that you can cobble into place to help you in this one?

  6. Witchy Human*

    I deal with a lot of self-doubt at work. Sometimes as a mental exercise I try giving myself grades. If I have one minor mistake out of ten tasks, it’s a 90%, and I’m still at an A-. If I make a couple then, yes, it’s a C. But while that C isn’t great, it’s also not full-on failing and it definitely doesn’t mean I’m an irredeemably bad student.

  7. Artemesia*

    When I was young my giant brain could manage a million separate things without missing a beat — now in my old age I have to build that structure. I would have a routine where every morning you review your systems. To do list for today where you then reflect on prioritizing. And for every project, its own pert chart, or flow chart, or task list including points where you need to reach out to other stakeholders for input or feedback. There is great comfort in knowing you have everything laid out and nothing is going to get lost because you systematically review those lists at a regular time each day and when working on each project — this comfort in being organized on paper the quells the panic that comes from ‘did I forget something.’ build the structures that work for you — I used lots of post it tags when writing to organize things physically — some people use phone alarms keyed to meeting times or times to shift to a new task — but routine — every day going to your organizational structures and checking to see where you are really helps. And every time you cross something off you get a little burst of satisfaction that makes you feel like you are getting it done.

  8. OrigCassandra*

    OP, you sound like a highly self-sufficient person who values being self-sufficient. I’m like that too. A thing I (and maybe you too?) forget when I’m in situations like this: it’s okay to ask people for help. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay!

    It’s okay to ask for help with the wedding planning — you do have to be careful whom you ask because worst-case this can turn into a control fight, but you strike me as having good instincts, so take a step back and think about what you can delegate and who might enjoy helping.

    It’s okay to ask for more frequent feedback, or specific types of feedback, from your manager. It’s okay to ask who might be available to help you juggle stuff. It’s okay to ask for training on processes (or whatever) if you need it.

    It’s okay!

  9. Jaybeetee*

    I experienced some of this at my current job – for the entire first year or so, I felt like I was just this terrible employee screwing up everything. One issue is my manager even acknowledged that I wasn’t trained as thoroughly as I should have been, and she was quite hands-off in general, so I think I flailed more than was necessary. But at a year and a half now, every performance review I’ve gotten has been glowing, and she’s commented that I actually picked up a lot of things *faster* than expected – this is apparently the sort of job, with long-range projects, where people stay “new” for a long time. I was used to jobs where you would be completely trained up and off to the races after the first month or so, so when I still felt clueless at 6-8-10 months, I freaked out. It’s only in the last few months that I’ve been able to settle down and accept that I don’t actually suck at this.

    So LW, if your reviews are good, give yourself permission to breathe a bit. If you’re noticing specific mistakes in your work, maybe troubleshoot ways to deal with those. Allow a little trial-and-error. Accept that especially as you move up the ranks in working, there will be some jobs where you *don’t* know the ropes at 6 months – and everyone knows that, expects it, and that’s okay! And if you’re not sure how to approach something, don’t be afraid to ask questions – the problems I did have here, often came down to me trying to reinvent the wheel or guess at how to do something, when there was a set procedure and I should have asked instead.

    But take a breath. Your reviews are good, your feedback is positive, everything is going to be fine.

  10. Me*

    One year. That’s how long it has taken in every new role to feel like I’m not a moron and do in fact know what I’m doing and hiring me wasn’t a horrible mistake. This is whether my move has been a very very similar job but at a higher level, or a very different role.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Agreed. Get through that year of firsts. Apologize when need be, don’t make the same mistake twice and just be prepared for the suck of it all. That is my method. Once I adjusted to this “lower level of existence”*, I had a few surprises, such as there are times during the first year where I am actually contributing something. It might not be major, but I can catch little, “glad you are here” smiles.
      Sometimes our own crappy thinking blinds us to seeing what is actually going well.

      *I referred to it as a lower level of existence because I expected me to knock it out of the park. The fallacy there is I have to know which park and what “it” is that I am knocking out. Doing the foundation learning and grinding through tedious tasks does not feel like success. And it won’t, either. Because of how we define success. We don’t include things like subject orientation or the mundane in the definition success.

  11. TechWorker*

    I have a report with similar traits to this and I agree with everything Alison says! If your manager is happy with how you are handling mistakes and saying you are doing a great job overall – please believe them! You don’t want your manager and colleagues to end up feeling like they constantly have to reassure you (I don’t know whether this applies because I don’t know how visible your nervousness is).

  12. Elbereth Gilthoniel*

    Hi OP and others that relate,

    I recently read this article, and it came to mind as I was reading the question. It is “How to Deal with Constantly Feeling Overwhelmed” by Rebecca Zucker in HBR. It had a couple of questions to work through and some book recommendations. It may help with how to move past feeling like there is so much going on.

    And I second all the good advice already given. If you manager says you are doing a good job, try to play their voice in your head as a response when your inner voice says you are not doing a good job!

  13. Kiwiii*

    This feels like almost exactly what I’m running into at NewJob (I’m about 2.5 months in). I LOVE the work and it easily combines parts of two previous positions I quite liked with something I did sometimes in college as a hobby, but I don’t feel organized enough or like I’m learning fast enough or like I’m retaining enough information, despite being given mostly praise with the rundown of mistakes.

    I think a lot of my insecurity here is tied to general anxiety I have about myself and also that mistakes in other workplaces were treated as a Much bigger deal (usually by terrible managers), but it’s like — how do I tell if this more understanding management style isn’t just … an act to lull me into thinking I’m doing fine? How do I know when to be worried?

  14. banzo_bean*

    This reminds me of a recent tweet I saw about meta imposter syndrome.

    Meta imposter syndrome: When you know a lot of people have imposter syndrome, but you’ve witnessed them be successful, unlike you the real imposter.

  15. Surrogate Tongue Pop*

    I keep track of my “stuff” and also reminders about using certain processes for certain work on a Kanban board. Sometimes this setup is literally behind me at my desk on my small whiteboard. Everyone can see it and it’s fine, because they’re more curious about my reminder/work tracking system than what’s on the sticky notes. It helps to keep me calm and organized to have something to refer to just by turning around in my chair. Best of luck to you!

  16. Alice*

    Here’s how I would look at it: do you trust your boss to be honest? Because your boss knows more than you about whether you’re picking things up about the new job. Unless you have a reason to think that your boss avoids giving negative feedback, accept when she’s telling you when she says your work is great so far.
    Of course, that’s easier said than done…. Maybe it’ll help to have a big picture conversation — not “I want you to reassure me that I really am doing a good job” because that sounds needy! But “I want to make sure you know I am interested to hear any kind of feedback you want to share, positive or negative, tactical or strategic.”

  17. Ella*

    I’m convinced it takes a full year to become truly comfortable in any full time job. Every time I’ve started a new job (beyond a basic part time food service/babysitting/etc, and even those take some time to learn and adjust) it’s been at least 6 months before I felt like I was approaching competence, and a full year before I felt confidence in myself and my work. Many of my friends have told me about feeling similarly: that after about a year they finally stopped worrying about constantly making mistakes and not knowing what they were doing, and were able to really settle into the role.

    I think Allison’s advice about taking your time, believing your manager when she says you’re doing well, and then reassessing how you feel in another six months is a good one. My money would be on you feeling much more confident once you’ve been in the job for a year.

  18. hayling*

    There’s a discussion upthread about getting screened for ADHD, which I think is a great suggestion. As someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I’d also recommend talking to a doctor about that. Your anxiety comes through really strongly in your letter, OP, and I feel for you! Anxiety can create so much internal negative self-talk. I go to therapy and take medication, but honestly it’s sometimes just helpful to say to myself “hey it’s okay, that’s just your anxiety talking”

  19. Amy Sly*

    Anyone have suggestions for how to deal with something like this situation when your boss isn’t giving you feedback? I’m in a weird situation where my boss (commercial director at the site) is technically more of a grandboss (commercial director for the international company), with the result that it’s very hard for him to make time for feedback. I’m also in a job for the first time where my time is very unstructured and vague (e.g. “we’ve been buying our llama shampoo from Yzma for years, so get a contract in place” with no real guidance beyond out of date templates and a legal department on the other side of the world) and I am really floundering. I can’t find the boss to get answers, so I just spin my wheels in anxiety and distractions. (e.g., why I’m on AAM during work hours)

  20. Roy*

    I think this person should look into some general talk-therapy or other kinds of treatment for anxiety. It can make a world of difference.

  21. This is your anxiety checking in*

    This is not an uncommon feeling. You are not the only one. But you don’t need to live this way. Sometimes when you’re in the vortex it’s hard to find your way out. Therapy and medication can help manage the constant worry and reduce its interference with your life. Talk to your doctor, call your EAP program.

  22. Not So NewReader*

    OP, I feel ya.

    Self-care is super important. I assume you have some things going because of your recent medical issue. However, it’s good to look at the basics periodically and see how those are going: regular hydration, fruits and vegetables, sleep/rest, perhaps you have a hobby that helps you just chill out and brings you back down to earth for a moment. All these basics are deceptively helpful as they help the mind and body to function better/sharper.

    Making my list for the next day each night saved my life. I had one job where chaos was the norm. The time just before leaving was oddly quiet. So I’d use that time to make my list for the morning. None of this coming in and standing there for 10 minutes or longer trying to figure out where to start. Oddly this helped me sleep better also.

    Now how is that self-talk doing? I am betting you see the hole and no donut. When I supervised people I could not help them to see they were doing well, IF they would not LET me. Pull your guard down. Decide to let your boss help you to see you are doing a good job. Sometimes we have to take the boss’ word for things, even if we are unsure about the boss herself. I bet you make note of everything the boss raises an eyebrow at. You need to also note every time the boss is pleased so you can replicate those happy moments on another task. Keep track of the positive with the same gusto you use to keep track of the negative.
    Oh, that is tiring? Good. You have excess energy to burn up because of new job jitters. Why not burn some energy on positives?

    The worst times I had changing jobs is when I stayed at a job for a long time. I have had three jobs where I stayed an average of 9 years. It’s really hard to let go of the familiar and step off that cliff in to the unknown. This is not something that would have improved with time, in other words if I stayed on average 12 years the jump would have been even HARDER.
    All jumps are hard. I think it’s good to be realistic. It’s hard changing jobs, it’s NOT a walk in the park. One little tool I have found helpful is to picture me five years out: I am in current job, I know my job like the palm of my hand and I am good at it. Get that picture in your head, this is where you are going. When the road gets rough, pull that picture out and tell yourself, “Five years from now I will be so glad I went through this transition and learning curve. I am investing in me now so that future me will have something to be proud of.”

  23. AnonAndFrustrated*

    OP you didn’t mention your age but if you are of perimenopausal or menopausal age, it sounds like estrogen-depletion brain fog could be at play. It’s a very real reason why women in their 40’s & 50’s start making more mistakes, having memory issues, develop anxiety/depression, have mood swings…the list of symptoms is extensive.

  24. NotMadJustDisappointedScientist*

    Hi OP, are you me? Seriously, I could’ve written this! (Except for the parts about illness and marriage though.) I’m so glad this got published because I was about to write in with something very similar. Started a new, demanding job 6 months ago, after mostly being in academia. It’s been a lot of learning curves, which has been a shock after performing so highly in school. I’ve been beating myself up with all my mistakes, some of which have been fairly serious given my line of work (government). Now I realize that the organizational systems I’ve had in place for so many years no longer apply, and I haven’t developed any for this kind of work environment. Maybe, at 31 years old, it’s time for me to get screened for ADHD. In the meantime I’ll try to be more patient with myself :)

  25. Chaordic One*

    This is me and my current CSR job. There are just so many different aspects to the job. The questions from customers are just so random and there are so many things that customers and my coworkers in other departments can do incorrectly and that I’m expected to fix, that it is extremely difficult to get your head around all of them. Fixing mistakes made by coworkers is the worst! It seems like I never really do any one task often enough to get comfortable doing it. It is impossible to know just what other people in different departments have done or said to the customers and there is usually no way to contact these people. It is always like starting from scratch.

    And it is really difficult to find someone more experienced to help you figure out how to solve problems when the customer is urgently waiting on the phone for you to fix things. Then there is the clunky old phone system and the awful old, antique computer system that makes things worse.

    It is the kind of place where I’ve seen and heard stressed-out coworkers crying in the restroom or in their cars in the parking lot because they’re so stressed-out and frustrated, not knowing what to do, or if they’re doing the right thing. Experienced CSRs in the organization have told me things like you really have to do the job for 2 to 3 years (or 3 to 4 years) before you really know what you’re doing. (Our poor customers.) I hope I can hang in there long enough to master them without getting fired for mistakes or quitting in frustration.

    The only really good thing about the job is the comparatively good pay and possibility of advancement if you can stick it out. There are not very many other employers that pay as well or that offer as good of benefits.

  26. No Name*

    Been there, done that and it is awful. Here is what really helped me:
    1. Find a mentor. I have a person who is very experienced and I am able to casually talk to in the office. I don’t think he knows I view him as my mentor (this not a formal or assigned arrangement) but he has been really helpful in recalibrating my expectations of myself, prioritise what is important and giving me perspective on things I thought I was failing at eg how timesheets are actually used by the partners and why my time written off is okay.
    2. Work out when you are at your best and review your work then. Also take a break from the file before checking it. I am at my strongest for finding mistakes first thing in the morning. I finish my files the day before, check and reference them. Then first thing in the morning, I take 10min to double check the file before putting in to review. My rate of mistakes dropped drastically when I started doing this. After lunch is also okay for me but I am not as strong as first thing in the morning.
    3. If you can’t leave the job until the next morning to check, take a break before doing a final check. Work on something completely unrelated for a while.
    4. Have cheat sheets. My mentor gave me a few handy checks he does whenever completes a certain type of file and I stuck them on my wall. Now I do them without thinking about it anymore.
    5. Cut yourself some slack. They hired you knowing you would need training and knowing you would make mistakes. As long as you are not repeating the same mistake over and over, and not learning from it, they will understand. It is really hard to go from being the competent golden child to accepting mistakes are going to happen. Ironically when I stopped stressing about being perfect, my work actually improved significantly. I had myself so worked up that I was thinking I should quit before they realised how monumentally badly I was doing. Which was entirely in my head. I had been doing very well and making the mistakes expected of a newbie but I couldn’t see it. Good luck.

    1. No Name*

      The other thing is I asked my coworkers what they do to prevent mistakes. It helps to be specific on this rather than a generic eg, when doing xyz process, do they have any checks or cheat shoes they use?

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