I feel mediocre compared to our new hires

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I’m nearing two years in my first post college job and in the throes of a quarter life crisis. This job isn’t my passion, but it is a good paycheck while I figure things out. For context, I’ve struggled with mental health for most of my teenage and young adult life and have finally sought therapy and medication (diagnosed general anxiety disorder and panic disorder) in the last year.

Recently we’ve hired a bunch of interns for the summer and my company sent out little blurbs about them. They are all these amazing, capable humans who have done amazing things (one even did humanitarian work in Rwanda and Latin America), and I can’t help the stirrings of inadequacy in me, looking at their accomplishments. We’re in the research sector, and most of them have much more lab experience than I do, and I know any one of them could take my place and do a much better job, as I had been hired when they were desperate for people and were accepting anyone. I read their bios and am reminded of all the opportunities I could not (or chose not to) take because of my then-undiagnosed anxiety. I can’t help but feel like it’s my fault, that I wasn’t strong enough to overcome my anxiety to be able to accomplish the same things as them.

Do you have any words of wisdom or ways to be okay with my mediocrity when it feels like I’m being increasingly surrounded by smarter and more qualified people than I? I’ve never had a performance review, so I’m not certain of exactly where I stand, but what I have heard has been positive.

I don’t mean to sound like a drag or a mope, and I am really hoping our interns enjoy their experience, I don’t want to burden anyone with my own insecurities.

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 335 comments… read them below }

  1. Weekend Please*

    You already know that this job isn’t your passion. You are comparing yourself to people for whom it is. It takes much less effort to go above and beyond when you love what you do. Also, if someone wrote a blurb like that about you it would probably sound much better than you think. Many of us tend to downplay our achievements or think that in context it is less impressive than it sounds on paper. You don’t have this context about the new interns.

    1. Anonyanony*

      Yes, totally agree with this! And your struggles with mental health don’t help your outlook. Since you are now getting the help you need, and it’s a process, hopefully you will begin to see things cleared. Comparing yourself to others is never helpful unless it lights a fire under you to do something instead of sit in judgement of yourself. You still have so much time to reach your (own) goals.

    2. starsaphire*

      Comparison is a key point here too. I think the saying goes:

      “Don’t compare your day to day with someone else’s highlight reel.”

      You don’t see their struggles; you only see the resume highlights. Maybe the guy who did missionary work in a foreign country also has an abusive sibling or stepparent. Maybe the girl with perfect SATs has an alcoholic parent and struggles with depression. There’s no way to know!

      Comparison with others is impossible because it’s never accurate. The only person you should compare yourself to is last-year you, or last-week you. Have you learned a new skill? Gotten faster at turning around TPS reports? Learned to time your commute just right to get that sweet parking spot under the tree, or get to your coffee place before the last carrot muffin is gone? Those are the comparisons you should be working on.

      Be gentle and kind with yourself. You deserve it!

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Yes! And also, don’t mistake your day to day with your own blooper reel. Your brain weasels are comparing your blooper reel with their highlights, because brain weasels are stupid.

        1. Maven*

          Stealing this! I struggle with the same issues as the OP, and “brain weasels are stupid” is a thing I need to reminded of ALL THE TIME.

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            I don’t remember where I first heard the notion of “brain weasels” but in my head, they’re the weasels from Who Framed Roger Rabbit – stupid mean bullies who revel in hurting folks.

            1. sacados*

              That’s great! It reminds me of the hamsters of madness. There’s an illustrator called Edward Monkton (HIGHLY recommend looking up his stuff) and he has this one piece that’s called the “Madness Hamsters”
              Every night they visit you
              Every night they come
              And bit by bit
              They steal your brain
              And feed it to their MUM

        2. Gwen Soul*

          I am printing this for my wall (well not printing because I am a millennial and have been living on my work printer for years and working form home has squashed that)

        3. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          I am also reminded of Monkton’s Random Hedgehog!

          As soon as I start thinking,
          That I’m sensible and SANE
          The Random Hedgehog comes along
          And fiddles with my BRAIN.

          1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

            Oops, that was supposed to be a reply to sacados’ post about the madness hamsters. Sorry!

      2. Mental Lentil*

        “Don’t compare your day to day with someone else’s highlight reel.”

        Need this in a cross-stitch to hang on the wall.

        1. Kristina*

          In addition to not comparing yourself to someone else’s highlight reel, it’s also important to consider if these interns were born on 3rd base. I’d never even heard of Rwanda or the concept of volunteering abroad until I was about 23, so how could I have done it? Some people really are more worldly or whatever because someone else exposed them to that early in life. But when people are so successful SO young, I find it helpful to remind myself that it’s not something so much that the INTERN accomplished, but their parents. And it’s okay to be envious if your parents didn’t expose you to all of that, but it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you.

          1. Nicotene*

            Also maybe this person has family connections or a lot of money that explain the trip. They probably downplay it to themselves just the way you do: “I only got to go on that trip because my Uncle’s the founder / because my mom paid for it, so it’s not like I’m anything special.” That’s exactly how you sound when you said you were only hired because they were desperate at the time, which doesn’t explain how you managed to stay employed for two years.

          2. jrg*

            1000% this! the fact that they’re able to take an unpaid or stipend based internship for the summer alone shows that they’re likely coming from a place of privilege.

          3. quill*

            I mean, internships disproportionately go to the privileged! Even when they’re paid! Even when they’re advertised!

            But when you’re young and have mental, or physical health problems, the world loves to gaslight you that “everyone gets the same 24 hours” and no, we do not.

          4. GHU*

            Not sure that tearing down others and downplaying their accomplishments is the healthiest/most sustainable way to feel proud of ourselves. :) Maybe the intern worked hard for a paid humanitarian role! Maybe they got a grant or saved for years! Or maybe their mom organized it and their grandpa paid for it. None of that has anything to do with OP’s own accomplishments and what they have to offer to the world, which is also awesome and powerful.

      3. PDX GRL*

        My kiddo has GAD and we talk about a lot about how “comparison is the thief of joy”. It’s a lesson I’ve had to learn repeatedly throughout my life and a lesson my son is now learning every single day. Try not to compare yourself to them. Compare yourself to the YOU 3 years ago, who hadn’t yet addressed the anxiety and it’s hold on your life. You have come a LONG WAY and you deserve to give yourself the credit for that. Not them, not anyone else. You are worthy. You deserve good things. I echo what Starsaphire says above. Be kind and gentle with yourself. You deserve it!

        1. CH*

          I came here to say “comparison is the thief of joy,” as well. It’s not easy to stop comparing yourself to others, but it sure is freeing!

      4. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        This is so important. OP, you are thinking about what they have that you think you don’t (Wakeen did humanitarian work, Fergus had more lab time, etc.). You need to think about what you DO have. Number one is experience. Number two may be that you know how your workplace functions. I am sure there are other items that an unbiased observer would put into your highlight reel.

        I’m also thinking this links to your comment that “I had been hired when they were desperate for people and were accepting anyone. ” After years of hiring lab-based personnel, I can tell you that is not true. You cannot hire someone who is incapable in that type of role. That’s probably your internal voice trying to justify your feelings of anxiety.

        I am glad you are getting professional help. No, that will not create more passion for your current role. However, it may help you see that the stories you tell yourself reflect neither your capabilities nor what you contribute.

        1. HQetc*

          Yeah, as someone with a bit of anxiety brain who also works in a fairly specialized field, I am very familiar with the “well, yeah, they hired me because it was slim pickin’s, so they had to.” But I’ve been trying to remind myself that that is because all of the qualifications that I need to work in this specialized field feel “baseline” to me, I guess is the best way I can put it. Like, well, that qualification doesn’t count, because it’s baseline, so I am only going to “count” the things that go above and beyond. But those qualifications are important and worthy! They wouldn’t hire “just anybody” and on some level you know that, but you aren’t factoring in the vast swaths of people who are actually not qualified for your job in the true sense of the word. That line of thinking is just a way your brain reinforces imposter syndrome, and that goal post will never stop moving.
          Because ultimately, in my case, these thoughts are stemming from a belief that I am not good enough: if I have a qualification, it must be because it’s not that big of a deal or I wouldn’t have been able to get it, and if I don’t have a qualification, it’s because I am not good enough/smart enough/too lazy to have gotten it. Because that line of thinking isn’t really about the qualifications, it’s about self image, therapy is really the best way I have found to make progress on it. (And, in my case because I am very fortunate, friends who are willing to call me on it and be like, “hey, you are undercounting your own achievements again, cut it out.”)

        2. GammaGirl1908*

          Coming to say this. LW also knows she is a good employee. You have NO IDEA what kind of employees these interns will be. Not to tear down people I’ve never met, but any or all of them could stomp in next week demanding a new dress code. They could be late-arriving early-leaving phone drones. They could be people who don’t exist well in an office. Their perfect resume blurbs don’t mean they are perfect.

          You have lots going for you that they may not; you’re just downplaying it against the unknown.

      5. Mayor of Llamatown*

        I came here to say exactly this quote! Their blurbs aren’t going to say “struggles with depression”, or “holds themself to impossible standards”, or “sometimes feels like they picked the wrong career.” Everyone has strengths and opportunities, including you, and including them.

        Also, ask for a performance review! Two years is a long time to go without finding out how you’re doing. As someone who has struggled a lot with imposter syndrome in the past, and then moved into a job that has both mid-year and end-of-year reviews, I found that while I thought I would die from being told things about myself frequently, it actually had the opposite effect. Hearing feedback and not having the world end made me appreciate getting feedback even more.

      6. Letter Writer*

        I am going to write this on a sticky and hide it somewhere in my desk when I need it. Thank you for your kind words <3

        1. BubbleTea*

          I’m going to write a little blurb for you, based solely on what we know from your post!

          “Letter Writer had worked diligently in their role since graduating from college, an achievement made all the more impressive by the fact that they had to overcome personal challenges to do so. Although this isn’t their passion, they are committed to doing a good job and consistently receive positive feedback. In the context of a workplace which doesn’t always provide the necessary structure for meaningful professional development and which has not conducted formal performance reviews in years, Letter Writer nonetheless strives to improve their work and seeks out help from experts when they recognise the need for this.”

          I know basically nothing about you, but all of those things seem to be true. If your brain weasels start telling you that I’ve just put a positive spin on what should be a minimum expectation of anyone, I’d encourage you to remind them that a) that is also true of the new hire blurbs, and b) we see lots of examples of people failing to do any of those things in letters here!

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Oh this is such a huge point. In my opinion how we handle things when the chips are down goes into a quality of life issue over the longer term. LW you are doing super great here. In years to come this will be clearer to see. You have picked up skills/insights that will serve you well for the rest of your working life. It takes time to see this.

            There will always be someone better than us. Always. It’s really helpful just to accept this fact- because we never know when someone is looking at US and thinking we got it all going on. The metric to actually look at and use, is Current Self vs. Earlier Self. Another metric to look at is, “Did I do my best today?”. I can remember days with crippling headaches, showing up for work was a major accomplishment. I did my best that day by showing up and staying at work. On a headache-free day the bar was a bit higher.

    3. Elle by the sea*

      Well, I can claim with certainty that my job is my passion (for want of a better word), but I still feel mediocre compared to most of my colleagues. It’s a feeling that pulls me down occasionally but motivates me to learn and do better most of the time. I guess it’s a feeling that many of us experience. The point is to make sure it doesn’t have a debilitating effect on your professional or personal life, either by doing therapy or changing careers if you figure out that you aren’t in the right job/field.

      1. Autumnheart*

        I agree that this is a fairly common experience. Like you, if I have those feelings, I take a look at my situation and look into doing some of those things that AwesomePeople(tm) have done. Did they volunteer somewhere cool? Could I do that? Did they work somewhere I’ve always wanted to work? Do they have education I wish I had? Okay, what would be involved in acquiring that education myself? Would it be worthwhile?

        Sometimes a little professional envy can be channeled into healthy motivation. But there will always be superstars compared to the rest of us mere mortals. Doesn’t mean we suck though.

    4. NoMoreOffice*

      Not only that, but new employee blurbs only highlight accomplishments and good stuff. They could’ve failed everything else they’ve ever tried to do. The fact you are where you are, with a good job and learning how to help yourself (therapy and medication) is a HUGE accomplishment in-and-of itself! You might not be exactly where you want to be YET, but you’re learning how to get there. Don’t discount your experiences.

      1. quill*

        Yes. My academic career looks ok on paper, because “passed out in my advisor’s office” and “failed cell and molec the first time” aren’t on there! (I got microbiology related jobs since, because they literally do not care that I spent half a semester unsure what a kilodalton was.)

        Likewise “loves to hike, participated in the audobon bird count” doesn’t take into account the days where I am 90% limp by volume, or the 364 days of the year that weren’t the audobon bird count and I have contributed exactly zero things to citizen science regarding birds.

    5. Joan Rivers*

      There’s no reason you would be as great at a job that’s not your passion as someone else is.
      And there’s an old quote that “A big part of success is just showing up” — because you’ll find over the years that that counts too.
      You can learn from a job you don’t love, more than from your dream job maybe.
      Best wishes to you.

    6. Andrea*

      On the blurb: TOTALLY.

      I was giving a presentation at a conference one time, and it was just about my turn to present, and I spaced out for a couple minutes. When I started paying attention again, they were reading someone’s biography, and I was like “wow, this person is a badass” and then I realized they were talking about me. As others have said, I see myself every day, so I know that the achievements are only part of the picture, and I have pretty serious imposter syndrome most of the time. But when you read the blurb, I sound pretty impressive.

  2. Really Just a Cat*

    My partner struggles with this same thing–he started his profession late, and is constantly wowed by those younger than him who have seen to have done more. What I say to him, and to you, is to remember that you have strengths and experiences that are important too! You may not have done things that are so easy to express in a bio, but you have accomplishments as well–including managing an anxiety condition! Try to focus on that–reframe what you haven’t done to what you have, both small and large, and consider how those experiences have led you to be the person that you are. You can absolutely seek out external validation from a performance review, but if you don’t believe that you’ve done worthwhile things, no one can convince you of that.

    1. kiwidg*

      And, I’d add, HR’s job is to make the new hire sound awesome (partly because no one knows what they’re bad at yet and partly because we “don’t talk about those things” with each other. :) ) Celebrate who you are and what you can do – because there are things you do better than others. That’s what being human is all about.

    2. kittymommy*

      I’m very much like your partner. I didn’t get my master’s until my early 30’s with the intent of law school about a year later. Now I’m in my mid-40’s in a job that has mothing to do with what I want(ed) to do and watching people come in being able to achieve those dreams/expectations is demoralizing.

    3. KitKat2000*

      Yes!! My partner also has an anxiety disorder and is going through a tough time in his career right now, and I am genuinely deeply impressed that he gets up early, sits down at his desk, and works every day. Those are ACCOMPLISHMENTS — both on a day-to-day basis, and in the years he’s spent working in therapy, trying medications, and pushing himself to develop the skills to make it all happen. They don’t make it into a resume or bio, but I try to remind him of them every chance I get.

      1. Who am I, and What am I doing here? (VADM Stockdale's opening line in the VP debate, way back when)*

        I’ve had a few successes, and a few bumps in the road, over the course of my life.

        Sometimes I go weeks or months at a time where my main goal is to show up on time and do my assigned tasks.

        I have “colleagues” whose goals aren’t even that ambitious.

        With everything going on in my family, and some personal health and financial issues weighing me down, I’m glad to have a job where I can work my shift and focus the rest of my energy on life outside of work.

        I anticipate returning to a leadership role later, because I enjoy that work, and I realize I’m pretty good at it.

        But it’s pretty important, in the grand scheme of things, to find a way to feel satisfied in whatever role we occupy at a given point in time. Dwelling on the negative tends to magnify the negative feelings and thoughts.

  3. AlexandrinaVictoria*

    Oh LW, do you hear how you’re talking to yourself? Would you talk to a friend like that, or think things like that about them? Please show yourself some self-compassion. You have done an extraordinary thing just by getting a diagnosis and treatment of your anxiety disorders. And I’m sure many other things, too! Comparing yourself to others is a no win proposition. Be kind to yourself, do your best, and believe that you are where you belong.

    1. Gan Ainm*

      Yes and fwiw OP, I’m in a senior position in my company and I do a lot of interviewing and support of our early career programs, and joke all the time with my peers that it’s a good thing I got hired when I did because I’d never be able to compete with the incoming new hires. It’s a very common joke/semi serious thing we all say, at all levels, because the new hires are very impressive (on paper anyway). But it doesn’t diminish my own accomplishments. You have to just get comfortable with being there and the work you’re contributing and the experience you have.

      Also, as someone who got hired in part due to a family connection, I started off feeling unworthy of the job I had, but I used it to motivate me to do well bc I didn’t want to be seen as a failed nepotism hire, or embarrass my connection. Try to use your feelings of inadequacy as fuel to work hard, not to diminish yourself.

      Lastly, I do a fair bit of speaking at universities about my industry and area, and in speaking with professors what I’ve heard is the students today are a mile wide and an inch deep, because they feel they need to have a million things on their cv’s. When I was in school I was in a few extracurriculars that I was truly passionate about and they were very time consuming, today they are members of a lot but not as deeply engaged. That’s a sweeping generalization, and it’s a function of the environment not the students themselves, but I say it because I wouldn’t assume these interns are necessarily heavily involved in every single thing they put down on paper. It might mean they sat in a few meetings. A bit of puffery.

      1. Claire*

        Your first paragraph reminds me of an interview I read with Ira Glass, who said he was pretty sure that if he applied to work at This American Life today, he wouldn’t get selected : )

      2. Pippa K*

        Yes to your last point especially. I have students who could include ‘humanitarian work abroad’ in a bio blurb, and it ranges from ‘went on a one-week mission/vacation trip’ to ‘spent a year learning the language and working in a non-profit in a developing country’.

        All the points made above are good ones, and I just want to add, OP, that you seem like a person who is modest about their own accomplishments but generous in valuing others. I bet you’re a really nice colleague to have.

      3. Golden*

        I agree with your point about modern students feeling the need to absolutely stuff their CVs. I did student recruitment for a grad school at my last job, and almost all of the applicants nowadays seem to have participated in flashy summer research programs all four summers of undergrad (or even high school, with the help of parents), service work, conference presentations, etc.

        I graduated from undergrad not too long ago, and I wasn’t even aware of most of those opportunities existing. I spent my summers wasting time with an ex and doing a few gig jobs found on Craigslist. You’re doing just fine, OP, but I know imposter syndrome (especially in science) is really rough. Hope you can find some good tidbits in the comments today!

    2. Dark Macadamia*

      I feel this way a lot, both personally and professionally. I sometimes need to unfollow people on social media to stop myself from making comparisons, but other times I’ll look at my own profile and be like “oh right, my life ALSO looks fun and busy because I don’t post the times I’m sitting on the couch feeling sad and bored.”

      I think you should ask your boss for feedback, then sit and make your own bio (it can just be bullet points). List all the interesting experience you brought to the job, all the positive things your boss said, and any accomplishment or advance you personally feel proud about. Then when you’re looking at someone else’s highlights and feeling inadequate, you can stop and look at your own highlights too.

    3. JJ*

      Agreed, OP I wonder if you could reframe things in your head: you couldn’t go do humanitarian work because you were sick. You were on a different playing field, and you should be proud that you have taken steps to get help. It’s really, really hard to do that.

      Definitely research ‘impostor syndrome’ and also examine your concept of ‘failure,’ you’re neither an impostor nor a failure just because you were on a different path that led you to a different destination. You definitely have strengths that they do not have, including whatever you’re personally stronger in, you also have job experience and institutional knowledge that they don’t. Don’t discount that! And, of course some of them may be stronger at some things than you, and that’s fine. You don’t have to be the best to be valuable and worthy.

  4. JustAnotherSchmuck*

    Sounds like a variant on the case of ‘imposter syndrome, ‘which after a few weeks I hope you can see you bring just as much to the table as they do! We all have different skills and backgrounds. You know this! You got this!

    I also think that the company and the individuals will do what they can do to inflate the interns. The company because I’m sure they want to instill some confidence in these interns and make them feel welcome. But the interns? Look at how young people on Tik Tok and YouTube and Insta show use their perfect lives! They do magic! They do fitness! The make funny jokes! They do it all! All the while people like me feel like I can barely find the time to cook dinner.

    I’m sure they have done some wonderful things and I bet you have too. So breath, remember we are all schmucks at the end of the day trying to live in this crazy world!

    1. Mynona*

      Sure, but also the interns may actually be quantitatively better or more experienced than the OP. That happens too. Part of getting older is recognizing that you won’t always be the superstar in the room. And that’s as it should be. Try to learn from them so you can be the best version of you and benefit from their advantages and experience.

      1. OtterB*

        This was where I was going, too. You don’t have to be the superstar in the room, especially the superstar on all possible dimensions. But it can be very cool to be in a room full of stars, each in their own way. The trick is believing that you belong in the room.

        1. Chauncy Gardener*

          And those interns also had the resources to be able to go to Rwanda to do what they did. I worked and had to, no international projects for me! Please go easy on yourself OP!

          1. Tired of Covid-and People*

            I always had to work, no unpaid internships or Rwanda trips for me either. Lots of classicism at play in determining who accomplishes what.

          2. Autumnheart*

            I also feel bad for people who have to have stuff like “volunteered in Rwanda” just to be considered for an internship. Jeez. I feel like the need for people to have outstanding accomplishments *first*, just to make a living, has really gone off the rails.

      2. Tired of Covid-and People*

        Part of no longer being considered a superstar when older is not for lack of qualifications, but is due to age discrimination because this society worships youth. That’s NOT how it should be. I don’t see how an intern can be more experienced than someone already doing the job. That said, we can often learn things from those younger than us, so keeping an open mind is necessary.

        OP has imposter syndrome exacerbated by anxiety and low-self esteem. They have every right to be where they are, and need to keep repeating that until it sticks.

        I know the nagging voice of self-doubt and how it can make you want to retreat when in the company of peers who seem so much more accomplished in life. I avoid alumni gatherings because of this, as I went to a high powered university and feel that I am not nearly as accomplished as some of my former schoolmates are. But you don’t know their journey OP, and they don’t know yours.

        It’s ok to wish you had done a few things differently, but trust that you have done the best you could with what you had. And that is good enough.

        All my best to you!

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Those youngsters doing magic tricks on TikTok, they have their Mum to cook dinner for them!

  5. Jyn’Leeviyah the Red*

    I think it’s pretty amazing that you’re noticing this issue and are wanting to take steps to address it. First, anxiety is a beast. Please don’t blame yourself or think that you weren’t “strong enough.” You were, and you are! You did what you needed to do — you “put your oxygen mask on first.” The past is past, and you don’t have control over that anymore — now you can figure out how to release the past’s control on you by looking forward.

    It’s easier said than done — I know from experience! There are lots of great books and therapists who can help you with retraining your mind and letting go of the past. The bottom line is, you’re here, now. You’re here, and you matter, and it’s what is coming next that is exciting.

  6. NoviceManagerGuy*

    How are you doing at the job itself? That’s what your coworkers will see. If you’re still pulling the good paycheck and getting good feedback, chances are you’re doing just fine!

    1. ErinWV*

      I think OP would benefit from requesting a performance review, which apparently are not regularly-scheduled at their workplace. OP, just let your boss know you would like a sit-down. You don’t need to say you are feeling insecure and need reassurance, but just something like, “I am looking to put my work in context, make note of my accomplishments over the last two years and plan ahead for what I’d like to accomplish moving forward.”

      1. Thought Leader*

        Seconded. A performance review would be helpful here to put performance in context.

        OP, I have hired people with limited work experience who become top performers in their role. I have interviewed and refused to hire people with AMAZING resumes who did not have the qualifications to succeed in the role. Your experience is not the defining factor for your performance.

    1. nonbinary writer*

      The best thing I’ve heard about Imposter Syndrome is that it’s actually a win/win. You’ve got the job so either you are good enough (yay!) OR you’re a sneaky little trickster god who has successfully convinced everyone around you that you’re good enough (also yay!)

      1. quill*

        I’m a trenchcoat full of bees and nobody’s figured that out yet.

        Despite the fact that I keep making an ominous buzzing noise: they think it’s the air conditioner.

  7. P W Neal*

    Perhaps asking your manager for some kind of formal feedback could help? Going two years without anything of the kind seems pretty unusual, or it would be in my industry. I know from personal experience that getting feedback may not necessarily help feelings of anxiety, as impostor syndrome can find ways to magnify the negatives and ignore the positives, but at least you would have some concrete sense of how your work and experience are being viewed.

    1. Janet Pinkerton*

      Yes I 100% agree with this. Even if it’s not a formal review, ask for a feedback session with your boss.

      1. SparkleConsultant*

        I agree! Find a way to have your boss put it in writing. Something I find helpful is collecting emails and other messages of compliments and keeping a brag list with work accomplishments. It’s so hard when you’re deep in the work to pull back and see how far you’ve come. If you’re second guessing yourself it can be nice to have a written record. When in doubt, you’re the right person for the job because you’re doing the work!

        1. Former prof*

          Perhaps while talking to your supervisor you could both think of a particular skill or area of expertise that would be useful to your team. Then you become the indispensable person with that skill. Two important parts of motivation are feeling needed and feeling like you belong. By finding a way to be needed you make yourself feel more valued and happier in your own worth. Maybe you already make that valued contribution but you aren’t recognizing it.

  8. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    Feeling very much the same in my new position, OP, and I’ve found that asking others who know me well professionally and personally what they think my strengths are helps. And this is not meant to bolster myself in comparisons but at least to give me a better understanding of what I am capable of that I don’t appreciate enough. Also, I have GAD as well and found that by trying out new hobbies and filling my off time from work with different things that aren’t stressful but still interesting to me I spend less time worrying about what my colleagues think and am making myself more interesting in the process (even if it’s just family history research or walks or whatever).

  9. Turanga Leela*

    My mantra at times like this is “Life is not a competition.” You are on your own journey. It can’t be anybody else’s, and the point of living is not to do better than other people, but to live your own life fully, and hopefully leave the world a better place.

    It sounds like you are still young, you’re doing fine at your job, and you should be proud of yourself for addressing your mental health issues. To the extent you envy the experiences that your colleagues have had—which is different from feeling insecure because of them—it might help to start looking for opportunities to travel, pick up interesting research projects or volunteer work, or otherwise try out new things that will make you feel happy with where you are in life.

    1. JSPA*

      I also came to say, “Life can include competitions, but life itself is not a competion.” The only meaningful yardstick is the one labeled, “the person I’m becoming.” Additionally, there’s no set speed for getting to any particular spot on the stick–in fact, there are no regular tick marks on it (you draw them on, like a kid’s growth lines on the door frame). If you would like to have done X badly enough that you in fact want to carve out time to do X in the future, then do that! But weigh it against the other things you’d like to do while doing them (not only, like to have done).

  10. Phassire*

    My advice is to invest in you. Try not to focus on what the interns bring to the table and instead focus on what you can bring. I’m sure that you’ve gained a lot of knowledge and experience in the two years you’ve been at your company- and I’m sure that doesn’t go unnoticed. But keep cultivating that. Sign up for trainings and classes in your field, get involved in extracurriculars at your firm, consider joining a networking group. You are not in competition with interns but you can always take steps to make yourself stronger

    1. learnedthehardway*

      This is excellent advice, and offers something concrete and actionable that the OP can do.

      OP, also remember that you have a couple of years of real world experience. Internships and overseas experiences are all very well, but you have work experience.

      And let’s be real here – a lot of what makes these new interns great is the result of privilege. I mean, I am sure they are wonderful people and have done great things with what was given to them, not trying to denigrate their accomplishments. But something WAS given to them, that you didn’t have the opportunity to have.

      So, whose accomplishment is better? Someone who benefitted from a privileged situation? Or someone who worked their way through college, got a job and got a couple of years of work experience, while figuring out what they want to do in future? As a hiring manager, I’ll go for the actual bootstraps candidate, any day.

      1. Cordelia*

        absolutely this. You have done your job for 2 years, that already puts you ahead of these interns – and you have got to where you are despite your struggles with anxiety and depression, that is an achievement. Comparison with others is unhelpful as we don’t all start from the same place – the important thing is how far you yourself have come. Oh, and humanitarian work in Rwanda? I wonder what that actually means? Because unless the intern has specific, in-demand skills that are not available in the country, I wouldn’t assume that is the achievement you think it is – this type of voluntourism can do more harm than good. I’m not saying that’s the case here, but don’t automatically assume it isn’t.

      2. Hare under the moon with a silver spoon*

        Yes so much to this, also try and unpick what it is that is impressive about volunteering abroad somewhere – really a lot of these are quite frankly projects locals dont want and there is a whole industry around “helping in exotic places” basically glorified holidays where people pay to build walls badly no one needed and takes away work locals could do – so from my perspective this “experience” is not impressive in work terms at all.

  11. Zoela Zana Linnmann*

    OP, we all have regrets! I lost a parent at 19 and struggled with depression and panic attacks related to that for years. I missed a lot of opportunities because of it. I’m also just generally not from a privileged background and ended up in a field disproportionately full of those who are. I constantly have to push back against comparison being the thief of my joy.

    I remind myself that I was (am) playing with a different deck of cards than others, and all things considered, I’ve got a pretty good hand. It’s way easier said than done, but take time to consciously tell yourself that you are proud of what you’ve achieved given your circumstances. Forcing self-talk can actually help to change your perspective over time!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I love the card analogy.

      I used to play cards with my father. You had to LIKE losing in order to play cards with him. He was like playing against a computer. He could calculate who had which cards by watching what everyone picked up and threw down.
      I was totally unarmed for this battle. He would apologize to me because I had such a crappy hand. This was a double whammy as I had crappy cards and he KNEW I had crappy cards.

      Then one day it hit me. I have this hand of cards that I have been dealt. I did not chose these cards. But I can chose how I play them and I can play them to my best ability. I used the cards in my own unique way. While I did not win every game, my father said that I played the cards I did get well.

      And there is a parallel to work/life here. We don’t get to pick our life-cards, but we can choose to use each card to the best of our ability. Sometimes we need a lower key job to sort life issues. This time sorting is an investment- no different than money in the bank- because it helps us to secure a better future for ourselves.
      I suggest picturing Future You congratulating Current You for investing in your own well-being NOW rather than waiting.

      1. AKD42*

        I like both of these comments about playing the hand of cards we’ve been dealt!

        When I was moving on from middle school, all the kids in my class got “recognition” certificates from our core teachers. I got “Best Use of Native Intelligence.” It seemed like kind of an odd, not-really-a-compliment kind of recognition. But maybe it relates to the card analogy. These teachers had met my parents, and knew that I came from smart stock. Perhaps they were recognizing me for living up to my potential? Playing the cards I had been dealt well? Anyway, that was 8th grade/35 years ago. I hope I’m still using my native intelligence well!

  12. Tasteful Mullet*

    This may be easier said than done, but it’s time to reframe how you’re thinking about these new folks.

    Is there any way that you could shift your anxiety about having less technical experience into an excitement to learn? It sounds like these new hires have knowledge you’d like to have, too, and if you’re going to be working closely with them- even if they’re interns! -that means you are going to benefit from what they know. Intentionally shifting your mindset from “I’m inadequate and these new people are so much smarter than me” to “I’m going to learn as much as I can from these new people’s skills and experiences” will go a long way. As I said earlier, this is a conscious shift that will take time to sink in, but it’s worth it in the long term to see these new hires as people you can potentially learn and grow from.

    1. MK*

      Agreed! Also, believe it or not, these interns want to learn FROM YOU, and assuming they’re not obnoxious people, they’re not going to be comparing their resumes with yours. Focus on trying to be helpful to them and building good relationships. If they remember you as a person who was helpful and didn’t try to put them in their place or talk down to them, but respected their knowledge, that’s also good for you professionally down the line when they have moved up. I assure you they don’t know everything yet, and you’re the one with the know-how in this workplace. Be interested in learning from them as well, not with the attitude that they are “better” or more qualified than you, but because we all have lots to learn and it’s good to be open to that instead of being threatened by someone else’s knowledge.

    2. Thursdaysgeek*

      I’m an old geek with lots of experience, but there’s always still more to learn. We hired an intern that knew a language that I’m pretty iffy at. We worked together, so I could learn from him. I’m sure he learned from me as well. And that’s a good thing – always be learning.

      Other people know different things from you. There is always something to learn from someone else, and if they are open to it, there is always something they can learn from you.

      And, if you want to improve the fastest, surround yourself with people who are better than you. Play chess against someone who always wins; play basketball against someone who plays better. Being challenged (in a nice way*) helps you improve faster.

      *That is, don’t surround yourself with jerks, even if they do know more.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      TM’s comment here made me think of something I wrestled with. When I was starting out working, the idea of new coworkers did weird things to my thinking. After a bit, I realized because of not having a ton of work experience, I had no orientation to the idea that New People Happen.

      Growing up I saw new people in school. And sadly, they were kind of stared at as if they were from another planet or something. It wasn’t normal to have new person in class. Actually the opposite is true, new people can occur at any time. Resetting that idea from new people not being the norm, to new people are a norm can be a supportive activity.

      To combat my own concerns, I decided to see what ways I could help the new people. Getting to know them as individuals can be a step too.

  13. MissGirl*

    You are still so young. You have another 40 years in your career to accomplish and experience so much.

    I changed careers at 36 so I constantly look at people in their twenties at my same stage of life and I’m filled with regret at those “wasted” years. All I can do is remind myself those years weren’t wasted; they were what I had to experience. Then I look forward and figure out what I want and how I can get there. I only look back to learn from my mistakes and not repeat them.

    For instance I no longer am passive about my career. I don’t leave my growth up to my manager and I don’t stay in a job because I’m comfortable and scared of the unknown. I don’t procrastinate the things I want to do because I’m waiting for some magical time when everything is lined up. I can’t redo the past as much as I long to. I keep moving.

    1. Rage*

      Hell, I’m 46 and am just going back for my Masters and, eventually, my PhD in Clinical Psych.

      OP, you said are still figuring things out, and if you’re still figuring things out in 10 years (or 20 years), that’s TOTALLY OK. Look at me! My Bachelor’s is in ZOOLOGY for Pete’s sake, and I’m working in a special ed school, getting a Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Talk about a career change!

      There is too much emphasis sometimes on how people have to have everything figured out and planned out by the time they’re 19 years old. Baloney. (Or bullsh!t.) Delete those blurbs from your head and tell the brain weasels to knock it off. Your path is YOURS, and nobody else’s, and it doesn’t have to have validity to anyone but YOU. There is nothing wrong with where you are at this point in your life.

      1. meyer lemon*

        We live in a culture that prizes flashy young talent, but there is a lot to be said for being the kind of person who is always open to learning something new and starting over again. There’s a built-in resilience to that mindset, and while it doesn’t always lead to as much prestige, it comes with its own rewards.

  14. LadyHouseOfLove*

    I have a diagnosed general anxiety disorder and I can tell you that comparing myself to others is one of my biggest issues. I used to have a lot of guilt for being a late bloomer compared to my peers. I didn’t learn to drive until I was 21. I graduated undergrad after six years. I just got an MLS while others had already finished their grad school long before. And then I talked to my friends about my feelings about this and they in turn told me their own struggles.

    OP, people in real life are a whole lot different that on paper. They may be accomplished, but they have their own issues, struggles, etc.

    And while they have more lab experience, they don’t know the current lab the way you do. You are the employee. They’re interns. They’re going to look up to you. Believe me, when I was an intern, I didn’t care about who got what degree or accomplishment, I only cared about their guidance.

    I used to compare myself to another librarian all the time. I was intimidated by her because she seemed to know the ins and outs of everything, she was confident, she knew a lot about grant writing, etc. And then as I got to know her, I also learned that she had flaws like any human being. She is often late, she does things the last minute, she can come off as a know-it-all. This does not mean I found her unlikeable. I actually do enjoy her as a coworker, but I realized that I was a normal human being as was she.

    By comparing ourselves to others, we are deifying other people and are not immediately aware of their own setbacks, quirks, and flaws.

  15. Dust Bunny*

    . . . I mean, they may have hired you while they were desperate but you’re still there, aren’t you? They haven’t replaced you with someone else.

    The point has been made before on AAM how school =/= work. Don’t undervalue your real-life work experience and the reputation you’ve build up.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Side note: I remember when Elizabeth Holmes first hit the news and I felt so very resentful and embarrassed that I hadn’t made more of my life . . . but now I’m all like, “I may be mediocre but at least I’m not a con artist.” (I’m not completely mediocre. I’m good at what I do, at least.)

      Your interns aren’t con artists, obviously, and I wouldn’t say the blurbs are dishonest but I’m sure they’re a bit polished up, and none of it changes the fact that they don’t have your work experience.

      1. Person from the Resume*


        From comments above, the blurbs are their highlight reel to show their best accomplishments. They will never contain difficulties, struggle and low points in a announcement like that. These people have had those too.

        And I’m also betting these highlights are bit punched up to sound as important and special as they can be. Not lying per se but worded in a way that sounds more important to someone without all the details and intricacies of the actual accomplishment.

        And there’s nothing wrong with the blurbs as they are, but you should not compare your full life experience with all its ups and downs to their highlight reel. That’s your mistake.

      2. Spencer Hastings*

        “I may be mediocre but at least I’m not a con artist.”

        Haha, I love this! I’m imagining it as a framed cross-stitch on the wall. :D

  16. Richard Hershberger*

    Those blurbs are marketing material, like a glossy sales brochure or an online dating profile. I wouldn’t take them seriously.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      As someone who has written lots of web copy, I agree completely. Please see Artemesia’s comment down below for more on this.

      1. The Original K.*

        Also agree, as someone who has written bios for company websites and has been asked to “punch up” this or that to make people sound more impressive.

        1. Mental Lentil*

          PR person: “They applied for this scholarship. Did you add that? Can you say they won?”

          Me: “No.”

          PR person: “Well, can you say they were at least one of the finalists?”

          Me: “Were they?”

          PR person: “No.”

          Me: “Again, surprisingly, no.”

    2. Reba*

      Yes, it’s like how social media showcases just the highlights and so you think somebody’s life is grand. It sucks! It’s so hard not to compare ourselves to others, and we don’t even have accurate comparison data! :)

      As just one example of how the OP is overestimating the significance of the accomplishments — and not to get into all the pros and cons of their “humanitarian work” as that’s not the point here — that person did overseas voluntourism, likely for a school break. OK, whatever! People who have the privilege to do this kind of travel do it to “give back” but also to add to their resume, as you see happening here. It doesn’t mean this intern is the next Malala.

      By “overestimating” I don’t mean to drag the interns. Just to point out that OP is focusing on these things in a way that is neither relevant to the work at hand, nor helpful to her personally.

      1. Mimi*

        Also, OP, be aware that you are almost certainly underselling your own accomplishments! The things that come easily to you come easily, so you under-value them, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t valuable, or that you aren’t good at them.

        If the humanitarian work in Rwanda was a week or three, Reba is right: that’s much more about privilege — connections, money/access to funding, ability to go on the program – and less about “making a global impact.”

        Even if the humanitarian work was substantive (multiple months) and the intern was arguably doing important, lifesaving work, there’s still an awful lot of privilege there, and I bet you most of that time was flailing. I spent a year in — let’s call it Mozambique — doing development work, and I can put a couple of very-impressive-sounding sentences in a paragraph about my accomplishments. And none of that is a lie, but it also doesn’t cover the bajillionty life skills that people had to teach me, like how to hand-wash all my clothing, or carry water, or cook over a charcoal brazier, just to get me to the level of everyday competence of a seven-year-old. I’m not saying that the things I did there weren’t worthwhile, but my glossy Mimi Promotional Brochure doesn’t cover the fact that the accommodations and gracious welcome I received in “Mozambique” far outweigh any benefits I provided to the locals. (And I am very aware that that year was made possible by the people who donated to help cover the costs, and my student loans, and the fact that I didn’t have duties or limitations and could just leave for a whole year, and had family to stay with before and after.)

    3. ErinWV*

      This was my first thought too. Many of these accomplishments may be exaggerated, embellished, or even outright false.

      And if they are not? Screw them. Keep your eyes on your own paper, and on your own future, because that’s what matters.

    4. Koala March*

      Seconding this.
      I was part of an international program that I saw a fellow participant spin as if they had run or lead it, a huge elite program that they were specially elected for, and made major achievements in. In truth, the program was established decades ago and she was one of thousands of participants newly graduated with almost no real-world skills, asked to be a warm body in an office, and she fulfilled the tasks assigned to her.

      It’s like giving a tour of your house–when guests come over you clean up and make it look its best, but day-to-day it’s actually quite sloppy. The interns have sloppy houses too! Don’t compare your sloppy house to their clean ones!

  17. HR Madness*

    I would try to remind myself that the bios you are seeing are highlighting their best qualities. Sort of like social media, where we put our best foot forward. While they all look super impressive on paper, they may actually end up being terrible (not that anyone wants that!) or lack skills you shine at that aren’t as obvious to you right now.

    Sounds like you are doing a lot of things to help you feel more secure as a person & employee. Kudos to you for doing the work and wanting to find a way to work through this. Good luck!

    1. Spearmint*

      Yep. I did some internships in college that sound super prestigious and impressive on paper, but in reality the day-to-day work really wasn’t any different than the work any other office internship. I still spent the bulk of my time writing emails, formatting documents, doing data entry, and sorting mail.

    2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Exactly this.

      Those bios aren’t showing you things like “failed to make the cut for the volleyball team”, “had to turn in a bunch of extra credit to pass 8th grade English because I hated the teacher and was goofing off”, “my parents arranged and funded the trip to Rwanda, I just wanted to hang out at the pool that summer.”

  18. PT*

    Most people who get to do things like humanitarian work in Rwanda during college have rich parents, so it may not be that they are more amazing than you so much as they had parents willing to buy them fancy line items on their resume.

    I can promise you exactly 0 of my friends without rich parents did stuff like that. They worked crummy jobs that then begat more crummy jobs because the kids whose mommies and daddies bought them humanitarian work in Rwanda took all the good jobs.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Or it might be a church missionary or “voluntourism” group, and those have their own set of cultural issues.

      1. Golden*

        The podcast “The Missionary” is a deep dive into a particularly murky case of this, for anyone interested.

        I’ll never forget one of the other operations they mentioned, where rich voluntourists would pay, come build a wall for a school, feel good about themselves, leave, and then local laborers would tear it down for the next batch of voluntourists to come build again. It’s a very strange business indeed.

    2. The Rural Juror*

      Yep! I missed out on amazing opportunities in college that my friends were able to take because I was working and paying my own way. We could talk about a million instances of privilege (not just financial) that present opportunities to some and not to others. The OP is not being fair to themselves by constantly comparing.

    3. JustaTech*

      Also, sometimes you talk to folks about their humanitarian work and it’s not what you expect. I have a friend who did Peace Corps and had a terrible time and regretted it deeply (because of organizational issues, no one hurt him). But it’s still on his resume because it “looks good”.

      I recently reconnected with my high school class (it was our 20 year reunion) and it was really nice because we’d finally stopped competing with each other and could appreciate each other and ourselves for who we are now. It takes time (and sometimes editing who you keep in touch with) but eventually life stops being a competition and starts just … being life.

    4. Purt's Peas*

      Yuuuuuuup. This kind of thing–starting a certain kind of nonprofit in high school, doing flashy service work abroad–was simply a class marker in my college. Not something that people waved around generally due to the culture of the place, but everyone kinda knew what it meant when it was brought up. These accomplished youths certainly had a lot of verve and ability. But they also had rich parents.

    5. alienor*

      Exactly. I didn’t have an amazing list of accomplishments when I got my first post-college job, because I had spent my entire time in college working to pay my tuition. And in high school I did no activities, apart from the school newspaper, because I had neither transportation nor money for fees, uniforms, lessons etc. So whenever we get new interns at work and I see their hobbies and where they went to college, I always think “yep, that’s a rich kid right there.” It doesn’t mean they’re not talented too–some of them have done really well on the job and gone on to be permanently hired–but they’ve definitely had a huge leg up in life.

    6. Dodge*

      You don’t necessarily have to have rich parents to do that kind of stuff. I know because I did that stuff and didn’t even have a relationship with my parents, let alone their money. I was lucky that I didn’t have children or other obligations stopping me. That’s a privilege in itself, but had nothing to do with my parents financial status and I definitely worked hard to be able to do it.

      I know plenty of people who did use their parents money to do that kind of stuff, but I also know a lot of people like me who didn’t have their parents money. I don’t mean to sound all “bootstrapy” because I’m not, but I also don’t think its fair to entirely dismiss people’s achievements when you don’t know their situation.

      1. Cordelia*

        but I’d suggest that your achievement is in working hard and supporting yourself so that you could have this kind of experience – that’s absolutely an achievement and I wouldn’t want to dismiss that. I think what I am questioning is the idea that these projects – and I don’t know about yours specifically, I mean in general – are anything more than an experience for the person doing them. Much more likely to be a life-changing valuable experience for the person doing the humanitarian work than those having it done to them. I wonder what specialist skills these interns have that weren’t available in Rwanda, because otherwise they are just taking work away from local people.

    7. Tamz*

      Yes! Also, the idea that an undergraduate or college student can do meaningful humanitarian work is… questionable.

      Some may be great but, speaking as someone who has worked in development, it’s usually a learning experience for the student at best, often just an expensive holiday, and actively does harm to communities at the very worst.

      1. quill*

        The more local and less flashy it sounds, the more likely that they were doing any good, as a rule of thumb.

    8. Aron*

      This. I came from poverty and still can’t figure out how I applied for undergrad, got in, did well, and graduated because I had no help and no guidance. But during undergrad, I worked retail 40 hours a week on MWF+weekends and went to school for 12 hours a day on TR. I also had a work study job for two years during that. My first post-undergrad boss, who was a nightmare but superbly masterful at her work, said she hired me over others because doing all that and having an excellent GPA said more about me than fancy internships and volunteer experience. There is something to that, and, when I’m feeling crummy about what I’ve accomplished later in my life while others 10-15 years younger than me are on a higher trajectory (and went straight HS+UG+GR+Doc), I think about what that person said. I walked the whole way with no support but my own, while my peers took a Lamborghini (with all respect to them).

    9. NotAnotherManager!*

      There is truth to this. I work with people who grew up upper-middle class or wealthy, and their resumes are far more impressive than mine. I was a blue-collar kid whose summer job was helping in my parents’ business, and I went to public school and in-state university. Vacations, for us, were trips to my grandparents’ houses. The people I work with went to fancy private school, even fancier elite colleges, and have traveled the world – and yet, we did the same work and got paid the same money. I did better work and made more than some of them.

      I had good friends and good times in high school, I LOVED college, and I learned a lot of useful things at my parents’ business. My home life wasn’t great, but more money or a fancy internship wouldn’t have changed that. If I’m comparing, I have to do it all around – I’m doing far better than many people I grew up with. I’m doing better than I ever thought *I* could do.

      One of my similarly-situated colleagues and I joke that we’re not qualified for the jobs we’re hiring for, yet here I am, in charge of them all.

    10. May*

      Yes, this exactly. It’s unfair and unkind to yourself when you judge your accomplishments (which you are probably underselling!) against the accomplishments of people who very likely had much greater access to resources than you. There’s a very good chance those interns come from wealthy, privileged families.

      And, you have been dealing with an undiagnosed mental health condition! Health problems can and do derail people’s lives all the time, and I think you should give yourself more credit for all the things you’ve accomplished, including taking care of your mental health. That’s certainly easier said than done, but your therapist can be a great resource in working this out.

      My final thing is to recommend that you write yourself a blurb! Or update your resume or LinkedIn or write a cover letter for practice – something where you can list out your accomplishments and see what they look like when they’re put on paper. You deserve that ego boost!

  19. ENFP in Texas*

    My sincere advice is to discuss these feelings with your therapist. They know you best and are best equipped to help you address and overcome these feelings, because I’m pretty sure they are an aspect of your anxiety.

    Everyone has feelings of inadequacy and everyone compares themselves unfavorably to others, but if it’s to the point that it is detrimental to your work and your mental health, please discuss it with your therapist.

    Wishing you luck!

    1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      I came here to say the same thing — these feelings are not a sign that there is something wrong with you, but a sign that you have something you can work on within yourself.

    2. Another Michael*

      Yes, yes, yes! And also talk to your therapist about why you haven’t talked about this with your therapist yet – that’s also something worth exploring. If there’s something preventing you from talking with your therapist about this definitely give some thought as to why and if that’s something that will make you seek out new or additional care.

  20. Squab*

    Hi, and hugs. I like to remind myself that the world is a *very* big place. There will literally always be somebody smarter, or nicer, or shinier, or more creative than you. No matter what criteria you use, you can always find somebody who will beat you. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t great!

    Then I remind myself to act like I am my own friend. If you had a friend who was being hard on themselves for not being as shiny as someone else, you probably wouldn’t agree with them! You would point out that they’re good and hard-working and worthwhile. Try to be that kind to yourself.

    It’s a hard time of life, transitioning out of student-land into adulthood. Being mediocre is the state in which most of us exist. That is enough! You get to have a job and earn a living and have your life.

    If you like books, I highly recommend Radical Self Acceptance by Tara Brach. It’s short. It’s good. Hang in there!

    1. Chauncy Gardener*

      And NOBODY looks at anyone and says “Oh geez, they didn’t start driving until they were 25, didn’t have amazing internships, didn’t learn to read until they were 7, etc” Why? Because nobody knows and/or cares. What everyone sees is what you are doing and how you are comporting yourself in the here and now. Are you good at your job? Are you easy to deal with? Ethical? On time? Those are the things that matter!

  21. HR Exec Popping In*

    I was such a late bloomer. It took me about 5 years to find my field of interest and another 4 to get to a point where I felt fairly caught up with my peers. To this day I still will look at others and think they are much more accomplished at a younger age. But try to remember no one has been in your shoes and that you are doing great when you consider what you have been through and how far you have come. Look to others for inspiration of what you can become, not for validation/comparison of your worth.

    1. TexasTeacher*

      And life, development, and such are not straightforward trajectories. There’s no reason they should be! Meaningful lives are lived many different ways, and not because accomplishments and events make for a sensible narrative.

    2. Anna Badger*

      I’m like this too – I dropped out of uni and worked retail jobs for a bit, and then when I got into working in an office there were all these people on the grad scheme who were both younger and more skilled and experienced than me. There’s a lot of comments here saying that this is impostor syndrome, but sometimes other people really DO have more experience and skills, and sometimes those people will be younger than you.

      OP, one thing to bear in mind is that trajectory isn’t fixed – where you are relative to these interns now is not necessarily where you’ll be relative to them in five or ten or twenty years. Some of them will rise faster than you, but you may well also rise faster than others. I’m now eight years on from that first office job, I’ve worked in three different sectors, and in terms of seniority I would say I’m roughly middle of the pack compared to those of my colleagues who were on the grad scheme, which is fine by me.

      1. Anna Badger*

        …and now I see that while I was typing TexasTeacher said the same thing in way fewer words, ha.

    1. rachel in nyc*

      yeah, my regrets are not trying this or taking that chance could fill the grand canyon. but i’m where i am and i have to be okay with that.

  22. mhu*

    Frankly, many of the interns may have had opportunities you didn’t. This doesn’t mean that they are dumb and didn’t hustle to take advantage of those opportunities, but when a college-aged intern has done humanitarian work in Rwanda they had the opportunity because of family connections. It looks like a flight to Rwanda from NYC is about $1k. It takes a certain amount of luck and family support (especially financial) to take a $1k flight to a volunteer gig.

  23. OrigCassandra*

    Hi, OP. Couple-three things I can suggest.

    First, remember that you’re seeing these folks’ highlight reels, not the totality of their lives. The comparison you’re making isn’t fair to you. Maybe ask someone who knows you well to write your highlight reel? I think it likely that you’ll be pleasantly surprised about what’s in it.

    Second… do you actually want to do any of the things these folks did? It’s totally fine to think “oh, that’s cool” without wanting to emulate it or letting what they did diminish yourself in your own eyes. What they’ve done does not diminish you! I actually had to train myself to rejoice in the accomplishments of others — it didn’t come naturally to me — but I’m very glad I did, because it’s a much kinder, more joyful, and less stressful way to be. (How did I do this? Faked it ’til I made it: made myself congratulate and praise others on appropriate occasions until it became my habitual behavior.)

    Third: what kinds of things do you, you yourself, in your private heart of hearts, want to do, and why? Once you figure that out, how can you make progress on doing them? Once you’re making progress toward your own life goals, the accomplishments of others likely won’t sting much if at all. “Cool, they’re doing that, that’s great — I’m doing THIS.”

  24. Spooncake*

    A good question to ask yourself in this situation is: are they really more qualified? Sure, they look good on paper- and no doubt they are- but you have workplace knowledge and experience they don’t. From the interns’ perspective you’re somebody who knows how this company works in a way they don’t understand yet, and that’s useful info to have.

    Also, from one GAD-haver to another: anxiety is a liar. It will tell you that you’re not strong enough or not good enough, but that’s not true. Every little achievement, no matter how small, is made bigger and harder by having to fight your own brain at the same time- if anything, that just shows how great you really are.

    1. Cordelia*

      absolutely. Don’t automatically believe what your anxiety is telling you, challenge the thought – and every time you use the word mediocre about yourself, stop yourself and work out if that’s true? it sounds unlikely – you were appointed (I don’t believe that’s just because they were desperate, that’s not usually how hiring works), you’ve kept the job for 2 years, you are getting good feedback. But even if it is true, maybe you are just average at this job – so what, its not your passion, its paying the bills and giving you time to work out what you do want to do.
      Discussing this with your therapist is a good idea, they can help you find ways of challenging these anxious thoughts and helping you remember that just because you think it, doesn’t mean its true. good luck!

  25. MistOrMister*

    One thing I’ve noticed during my time in the workforce is that people who look great on paper are not always great, or even good at the job once they start working. Maybe they’ve lied on their resume. Maybe they’re great at office politics so they get good opportunities but someone else has to do the heavy lifting behind the scenes. Maybe they have 0 soft skills and can do the job perfectly but are always stepping on everyone’s toes. By the same token, I have seen people be hired who were desperation hires (the place needed a body BADLY!!) and turned out to be better than everyone else in the office. You just never know how things will pan out. If your feedback has been positive in the time you’ve been at the office, embrace that. Even if one of the interns ends up technically doing a better job than you, that doesn’t make you less of a valued and valuable employee.

    Also, it might help to keep in mind that so many of us feel the same way. That person who comes in looking like they have their life completely together and have done a million awesome things…well, maybe they always feel awesome and like they’re on top of the world. But there is also a really good chance that they look around and see what others have done and think, oh man, how can I compete with that? It is so, so common!! I’ve found that keeping that in mind can help keep yourself grounded.

    1. PT*

      At one place I worked, the worst hires (the ones who were juuuuust competent enough to not get fired) tended to be the ones most likely to get promoted. The people who the average AAM reader would identify as being good at their jobs tended to have high turnover, either they left the company entirely after a few years or were pushed out for stupid political reasons.

      So being Shiny and New at 22 doesn’t mean anything. It could just mean that they’ll get one promotion, stay in that job for awhile, get passed over for a couple of future promotions, and then get fired for some made up reason two months after they come back from maternity leave when they’re 32.

      1. alienor*

        At least where I work, upper management gets really excited about Shiny New people and they’re promoted quickly/get a lot of opportunities, but after a while it wears off and/or another Shiny New person arrives, and they end up more or less like everyone else. I went to a gifted school for several years as a kid, and it reminds me a lot of how we were all treated like we were going to set the world on fire, but at 50 pretty much all of us are run-of-the-mill dentists and accountants and HR specialists–perfectly respectable careers, but nothing remarkable, either.

    2. Over It*

      Yes, this! I’ve also worked with people who had genuinely impressive backgrounds and weren’t hiding any red flags, but that impressive pedigree didn’t necessarily translate to excelling at their current job. Try to forget everything you’ve read about these interns and focus on how well you’re able to work with them. As someone who’s more tenured than them, you have valuable things to impart about the particulars of your workplace, even if they’re more experienced overall. There’s also nothing shameful in learning things from people who are more junior than you. Be open to it, because it can make you better at your job as well. Finally, while it’s not helpful to compare yourself to others, it should also be acknowledged that’s WAY easier said than done. Try to be kind to yourself–you deserve it.

  26. MysteriousMise*

    Welcome to Imposter Syndrome. It’s pretty common, but can be very anxiety-inducing. I’m in my mid-40s, over 20 years in my current career, and at the second highest level possible. I’ve only managed to overcome my Importer Syndrome in the last 3 years or so….Some of the best people I have worked with had it to some degree. Especially the women I have worked with.

    I reckon it can give you an edge – worrying you might not be good enough can help keep you keen, help you focus, keep you hungry. But, you can’t let it control you. Try not to focus too much on what it seems like these people ahve done – they well be in awe or inspired by your experience, your attitude, your ethic – stuff that you don’t know you are projecting to them.

  27. Alexis Rosay*

    Please remember there is a huge difference between being a super accomplished individual and being good at your job. Volunteering in Rwanda does not at all mean someone will be a better Teapot Painter! Also, although it’s not a visible ‘achievement’ in the same way, managing your mental health the way you are is difficult and truly something you should be proud of.

    In terms of concrete actions, ask your boss for a formal review. It’s definitely your right as an employee and I hope it will give you some peace of mind to know that they’re satisfied with your work. If there’s anything you need to improve, it will help you to know what that is so you can tackle it.

  28. Lacey*

    It’s ok to not have done all the things! I used to think I should be going for bigger jobs, working for more impressive companies, have a larger list of accomplishments, etc. But at some point I realized that what was holding me back from doing those things is… they would make me miserable.

    That might not be the case for you. Maybe you would have really enjoyed doing humanitarian work in Rwanda and you let your anxiety keep you from doing it and that’s what’s bumming you out. If it is, I’d encourage you to keep working on your anxiety so you’re not missing out on the things you want to do. But, if it’s just the feeling that you don’t measure up… not everyone has to have those accomplishments. It’s ok to enjoy your life with an average set of accomplishments.

  29. Keymaster of Gozer*

    25 odd years in the workplace and I still have the exact same moments (hi, I’m Keymaster and believe anyone with a formal qualification in IT is better equipped than I to do this job, regardless of their age) and have a lot of problems with low self esteem, depression et cetera.

    What helps me keep on a relatively even keel? I remind myself that yeah, there’s always gonna be people who have done more than me, gone places I haven’t, learnt skills I don’t have….but conversely there’s a lotta people out there who don’t have my knowledge, my experience, my particular set of skills.

    Also, and this one I’m saying is specific to my life, I took up embroidery as a hobby to have something concrete to show for my abilities and I’m now at the point where I can consider myself an expert – even designing my own patterns. So when I show my latest bit of sewing to people they’re 99% of the time ‘wow, I have no idea how you make it look so beautiful!’ and the self esteem boost lasts for weeks. For me anyhow.

    1. Cooper*

      +1 to hobbies with a physical result! Having something tangible that you can point to and say “I did that thing” is so good for my mental health.

  30. Web Crawler*

    First things first, I understand. I look back at my life sometimes and see all the opportunities I could have taken if I’d gotten treatment for my anxiety disorder sooner. So I present you these ideas out of what helps me, but they may not help you.

    If you can stand it, get to know the new hires. There’s a saying- “don’t compare your unedited track to somebody else’s highlights reel”. That email- it was the very tip top of their highlights reel. Getting to know them serves a few purposes.

    First, you get to know their whole selves- they’re not “you, but better”, they’re full people with strengths and weaknesses and insecurities.

    Second, you can share knowledge. You’re a full hire and they’re interns. You have plenty of information here that they don’t, and it sounds like they might have skills that you want to learn?

    Third, my anxiety thrives in the absence of information. Getting to know them takes them from “scary person who’s probably better than me” to “Jose, who’s good at programming and hates paperwork”.

    To add to that last one, ask your higher ups how you’re doing. Squash that anxiety that says you could get fired at any moment by replacing it with actual info. And then write down the results of that conversation and refer to it next time you’re insecure.

  31. cryptid*

    past performance isn’t (or at the very least doesn’t have to be) indicative of future results! you feeling like your background before starting is inadequate compared to theirs doesn’t mean they’ll automatically do better than you now. a lot of this is also going to be learning to be kind to your younger self (easier said than done). if you would not think less of someone struggling with a chronic illness that prevented them from doing big extracurriculars, try to extend past you that same benefit – you were in the same position! part of this, too, is realizing that being academically smart isn’t directly correlated to doing well at work outside of a very few fields, and that most of us will have coworkers who perform differently academically than we did. you’ve been here 2 years, you’re good enough.

  32. Anononon*

    I’m a part of this informal, quasi-professional group solely because of a random internship with the leader years ago. Everyone is generally “good people”, and it’s likely because of this connection that I got my current job, which I love. However, almost everyone else in the group is very Type A and has very impressive accomplishments in our field. I sometimes feel like a slacker when we all get together because I’m not near as much a go-getter. But, at the end of the day, I tell myself that I have a job I love, where I’m respected and valued, and a great work-life balance. If I tried to do what they do, I wouldn’t be nearly as happy because it’s just not me.

  33. Ambient Toast*

    Something my mum always says is that you’re seeing those peoples’ highlights – you’re comparing your worst moments to their best ones.

    Also like another commentator said, this isn’t your passion! Sometimes I feel inadequate when I see my amazing friends climbing mountains or playing piano but then I realize that stuff isn’t what I’m interested in.

  34. Artemesia*

    Don’t let the utter BS of the resume of a 19 year old make you feel inadequate. I used to sort of laugh at the applications of top students to the elite University I taught at — I was involved in the process of awarding scholarships so saw the ‘best of the best’. Many of these students had far more impressive lists of accomplishments than I did — a middle aged woman with a PhD and a fair number of community and professional triumphs. The first thing to consider is that given their youth, most of a long list of ‘accomplishments’ will be pretty thin.

    What does ‘served underprivileged children in Africa’ mean? It probably means they have parents wealthy enough to buy them a spot of exotic service tourism. What does ‘worked with the homeless’ mean? Maybe their Scout troop made lunch for the homeless shelter once. People scrambling to build a resume will make sure to write that down. I am impressed with a student who tutored kids in the inner city for 4 years, or was active in Habitat for several years etc etc, but when you have a long list, most of it is going to be performative in order to pad the resume.

    So take it all with a grain of salt; what their resumes say is less meaningful than what they show on the job in the internship. Some will be hard working, catch on quickly and be a pleasure to work with and some will be slackers. Their resumes may not predict either of those things. And you already have more experience at this job than they do.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      That’s a very good point! I may have only volunteered with 2 different organizations in the last 15 years, but I spent multiple years with each and felt much more involved. It’s like of like the saying, “You can do a lot of things, but it’s hard to do a lot of things WELL.”

    2. Reba*

      This is great perspective from someone who’s seen a zillion of these ‘exceptional’ resumes!

    3. Hi there*

      Exactly. All I think of when I see things like this is that those kids have rich parents. I worked 30-40 hours a week when I was in high school because my parents could barely put food on the table. I did no extracurriculars, clubs, or sports, let alone trips to Africa. Most people do not have the opportunities your interns had, not because they aren’t capable or deserving, but because they weren’t available. It’s great for them that they had that, but it doesn’t mean anything negative about *you* that you didn’t.

    4. irene adler*

      This is an excellent point!

      Decades ago, I worked with a guy who was an absolute a$$hole. No redeeming qualities whatsoever. He was pompous, arrogant, ignorant, condescending, loud, you name it. Used to swipe people’s personal stuff to use- like food or a pillow or a small radio someone had at their desk. Never asked. Just assumed everything was there for his taking. We would explain that he needed to ask first- he just laughed it off. He used to brag about how wealthy his family was (i.e. Daddy gives me money) and then trash his parents. He made fun of his sister’s disability (she was deaf). Wouldn’t lift a finger to help out when things got busy. Horrible person!

      He constantly altered the assay protocols we were required to follow (disastrous!). He broke a piece of easily repairable lab equipment, and instead of arranging for a repair, tossed it into trash. One time he grabbed sponges from the break room to mop up a spilled lab experiment – containing human serum! Then he simply returned the sponges to the break room. We were constantly having to perform damage control behind him.

      Long after he was fired, I came across his resume in a desk I cleaned out. What an eyeopener! He’d been through maybe 5 or 6 jobs in the two years’ time since he’d graduated. Each job description made him out to be a stellar employee with empathy, integrity and a can-do attitude (“pushing the boundaries of success” might have been the phrase used). Lots of amazing metrics and accomplishments. He was an advocate for the deaf community, having volunteered for over a decade working with them. This thing was a couple of pages of greatness. I’d have hired this guy. Heck, I’d have MARRIED this guy!

      Clearly a professional had crafted this thing.

      Don’t buy everything ya read about people.

  35. Asenath*

    I used to have a lot of envy of some people – especially women of about my own age who seemed to have it all together and to do so well at their jobs and have perfect families – sound familiar? And you can probably guess, I was basically looking at someone I didn’t know well who seemed to have it all together, and the rest of it was mostly my imagination and me projecting things on them. I got over it by getting to know some of these people and realizing that they had their good times and bad time, their successes and failures, like anyone else, and yes, some of them were smarter or more talented than I was but also some of them had things in their lives that I was grateful hadn’t landed on me. Now, you can’t find out this sort of stuff about your interns, but you can learn that lots of people have feelings like that, and deal with them. I tried focusing on my own life, my own job and my own interests instead of comparing them to anyone else’s. If there was something I was unhappy about, I worked on it, but since I was mostly focusing on things I actually liked – the job that wasn’t as high status or as well paid as those of some of my contemporaries, for example – it wasn’t that long before I became more contented and now never think that way. Well, almost never! But I don’t let myself get into that depressing state where I think everyone’s better than I am.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      I remember being one of those young people who looked like they had it all together – I was VERY SURPRISED to find that people thought of me that way, because I was doing my best to hold it all together and not fall flat on my face.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Shock of my life when one coworker told me that I always act like I totally have everything under control and know exactly what I’m doing and have a great home life etc. Nah mate, I live in constant pain, my brain tells me I’m worthless about 20 times a day and most of my adult life is summed up as ‘just winging it’.

      2. alienor*

        My own mother told me a while ago that as a 20-something-year-old I had seemed “so organized and together, picking up your dry cleaning and writing things down in your little planner.” At the time I felt like I was skating on the edge of disaster 24/7 (and still do 20 years later) so all I can think is that I’m secretly a very good actor.

      3. londonedit*

        Yes! Same! I remember being utterly shocked at university when someone told me I always looked so organised and focused and put-together. I didn’t feel like that at all! I think I’m a duck, looking fairly calm above the water but paddling my little duck feet like mad underneath.

    2. Artemesia*

      The first time I gave a speech to about 400 ‘footnotes’ in a room I was so terrified that I was fantasizing about jumping out of my hotel window so I didn’t have to do it. Terrified.
      Gave the speech. Terrified. The room was full of important people in my field. Terrified. And then some of my peers came up afterwards and said ‘I can’t believe you could be so calm and collected — I would have been terrified to speak to this group.’

      And years later when someone would say ‘how do you do it all — career, marriage, kids, community, and you write!’ I would say ‘badly’; sort of jokingly but the fact is that when you have it all and do it all, you cannot do it all well. Compromises are made.

      1. The Original K.*

        A family friend once told me “you can have it all but you can’t have it all at the same time.” I’ve never forgotten that, and the older I get the more I know it to be true – regardless of what your definition of “it all” is.

  36. MsClaw*

    “This job isn’t my passion, but it is a good paycheck while I figure things out. ” Almost no one, like seriously maybe .00002% of people do a job that is their “passion”. If you found something that gives you occasional satisfaction, doesn’t cause you physical or mental anguish, and pays decently then you are already doing better than the vast majority of people in the workforce.

    In terms of them having more/better experiences and being smarter than you? Maybe. If you’re lucky you will always work with (at least some) people who are better and smarter than you, and you should look at it as an opportunity to learn. Is there a specific skill one of them has that you wish you had? Maybe think about how you could acquire that skill. Or, is there some other skill/experience you wish you had that you missed a chance to get? Explore ways you could get that skill/experience now. But think about what you’d like to do to increase your skills, enhance your options, etc — not doing something because you hope it’ll make you ‘better’ than the interns.

    1. MysteriousMise*

      This, actually is a great comment. The concept that we should all be “passionate” about our job is baloney.

      1. The Original K.*

        I have a whole thing about how “find your passion/do what you love” is really damaging and is also rooted in classism, and has convinced a whole lot of people that they don’t have to pay their workers well because we should all be working for passion. Many people don’t have the luxury of waiting to find their passion because they need a check or a job with benefits now, today, so they took the thing that would get them a check and/or benefits fastest – and that is fine.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Agreed. I mean, my passion is for sewing (gotta get my daily embroidery done) but my job in IT is what pays for my hobby supplies.

          I like working in IT better than my former career (virologist) but ‘passion’ for it? Nahh, I mean I like my friend Mike (not real name) and enjoy seeing him but I’m not passionate about him.

          1. Artemesia*

            LOL. I have a friend who is a nuclear physicist working on dark matter; this is surely a job of passion. Yet her personal passion is sewing; she is fabulous at it too.

          2. OyHiOh*

            While my job is not my passion, it is a good paycheck and intellectually stimulating. In my off hours, I follow my passions in their hobby forms and thoroughly enjoy the ability to pursue them for fun and because I enjoy them, and not because I have to try and make money at them.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          That whole passion thing kind of makes me cringe. The word choice is awful, IMO. There is no job on earth and never will be any job that I would consider marrying and sleeping with every night. To me the word passionate is used by employers when they want some sort of emotional chain on their people. “We want you absolutely gutted if you fail at any point to live up to our unreasonable expectations!”

          Forget that.

          You know, OP, sometimes we can be so introspective we can forget to look at what is actually happening around us. I have had those guilt trippy bosses, and puppy-eyed upper management who manipulated people into doing more than what was reasonable. It’s great that you are working on your own self- but while you are doing that also learn about how people can be manipulated by external forces so that you better recognize when it truly *is NOT you* who has the problem.

          A good way to combat a concern is to figure out if you have concerns that you are not even paying attention to- they register almost subconsciously and really don’t get any active thought.

        3. allathian*

          Yes, this. I like my job, and I don’t get anxious on the weekend at the prospect of starting work on Monday morning. I’m also pretty good at it, and consistently get great feedback confirming that. Sure, we all make mistakes occasionally, but mine have been minor and easily corrected. If I mess up, it’s not the end of the world because people are giving feedback on my work, not on me as a person, and I don’t internalize it.

          I definitely don’t have any passion for my job, though, and I find the concept that I should do so completely bewildering. I’m happy enough to work in an organization that seems to appreciate my contribution and provides me with the means to live reasonably well, and that’s enough for me. I guess I’m glad that I’ve never really bought into the idea that you should be passionate about your job.

          1. londonedit*

            This is me! I think I’ve managed to find a job that uses the skills I have well; I get really good feedback, I’m not often seriously stressed about work, and I’ve found a nice company to work for with nice people to work with. That’s all great. But am I passionate about my work? Not really. I don’t do anything particularly important, and I definitely work to live rather than living to work. Work means I can afford to rent a flat in the place I love living in, and it means I have a little bit of money to spend on things I enjoy doing. That’ll do for me. If I won the lottery next week, I’d totally give up working!

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      This. It is important to find a passion, but it is unlikely for this passion to pay the bills. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There is nothing to kill off a passion like turning it into a daily grind. So find a passion for the weekends.

      1. Homophone Hattie*

        Yes, this! Even if I could find someone to pay me, and pay me well, to do my passion, I’m not sure I’d want that. The pressure and the fact that it would then become my job, that I have to do, would kill it. Instead I have a job that I like just fine, and am honestly half-looking for one that I probably won’t like as much but will pay better.

    3. Public Sector Manager*

      I’ve been practicing law for 26 years. My passion for doing what I’m doing died about 2-3 years out of law school. I’ve stayed in law because it’s a really good job for me–it pays well, it matches my skill sets, I’m good at it, and it’s something that I don’t mind doing on a daily basis.

      If I had a job I was passionate about, I’d be a history professor, or a screen writer for a tv show, or a director of photography on a movie set. While I’m passionate about all those things, the problem is my talents for all those things don’t match my passion. So I’m doing what I’m doing until I retire, then I can afford to have hobbies I’m passionate about.

    4. Allonge*

      Yes! Do you like some of what you are doing, most days, and get paid well? That is what life looks like. Keep your passion for your hobbies and private life.

      And it’s also very much ok to be mediocre (at your job or otherwise). You know about Lake Woebegon, right, where all kids are above average? There is a reason it’s fictional. As a manager, give me all the mediocre – mostly reliable, mostly delivers ok, sometimes messes up people. No rockstars needed.

  37. Fourth and Inches*

    I didn’t have many amazing opportunities in high school or college because I didn’t have the financial support needed to do them. I’ve always felt inadequate because my single mom couldn’t afford to send me to a semester abroad or on a volunteer trip. I did get one summer of research experience at an REU program during college, but I didn’t have a great experience (though I did get amazing fellowship pay).

    Those things change once you get deeper into the real world. Accomplishments and activities from school years fade into the background, and your achievements in the workplace take over. As long as you’re learning your job, mastering your tasks, helping others, and building your professional reputation, you will be fine. Believe me.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      I think I learned a lot more about people and life by waiting tables throughout college than my friends who threw themselves into every extracurricular activity they could find. I would have loved to have a semester abroad…but it wasn’t in the cards for me (financially), either. I was well into my 20s before I was ever able to afford an international trip! But, comparatively, I can still look back at my life and see my experiences as equally important, even if they weren’t as shiny and pretty as others.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      My last boss was pretty burned out by previous employee’s antics. She identified the number one problem as being Former Employee did not ask questions. I thought my questions were stupid- but the field was all new to me. My boss adored my questions- she said “you ask good questions and you never ask the same thing twice.”

      A woman after my own heart. When I supervised the most worrisome people were the ones who thought they knew it all. The best ones were the ones who just continuously grew with the ever-changing demands of the job.

      If you really want an eye-opener ask on an open thread for supervisors/bosses to tell you a story about an employee who appeared confident and knowledgeable. You will see some wild stuff.

  38. anxious_one*

    This reminds me so much of myself it hurts.

    I left university having not gotten the PhD I so prized as my crippling anxiety and depression tanked my last few years. I managed to get a job in a research lab (for me this was a dream job setting, but was not a dream area at the time), but felt incredibly inadequate compared to the people around me who had not been hired when the labour market was so tight.

    I eventually got help for the depression / anxiety and crawled my way out of the hole I was in. I found my place within my org, and became one of their top performers. I love learning, and moved from research area to research area, contributing in each and eventually ending up leading a research team in an area I particularly love.

    Now I’m in my late 40s and the head of research for the organization. Nobody looks at me and says “but you don’t have a PhD” and certainly not “you didn’t do a semester abroad doing Y”. I’ve done the work and proven my worth. I’m highly respected for my scientific knowledge and leadership capabilities.

    These people are not smarter or better than you because they’ve had the blessing to not have to deal with mental illness as a young person.

    Don’t compare yourself to people on paper. People are not lists of accomplishments. A good researcher is curious, open-minded and able to see problems from different points of view. You can’t tell those characteristics easily by reading a little fluff blurb.

    1. Eddie Monsoon*

      omg are we each other? save for the head of a department part (but I have now rejoined the middle class after my mental health went bananas [again], i didn’t finish my phd, and i worked in minimum wage retail for nearly 2y bc it was the only job I could get). Cheers to us, sweetie. Cheers to us.

  39. Cordyceps*

    Easier said than done and it won’t happen overnight but…don’t be so hard on yourself. I just turned 46 and am just now reaching a point where I can fully take stock of a youth spent very bogged down with ADHD, anxiety, and depression…and the alcohol abuse that went along with all of that. It’s practically a miracle that I’m even still alive at this point, much less well-educated and gainfully employed.

    A note about working with “elite” people that seem to have it all together. Yes, those people exist, but in my experience, they are few and far between. A few impressive sounding accomplishments do not a great person make. In my line of work, I’ve worked with a lot of these “elite” people and, to be honest, behind the smoke and mirrors, a lot of them are anything but that.

    1. The Original K.*

      I often think about how Michelle Obama said in her book that once she got a seat at the table, she realized “the table” was BS (I’m paraphrasing) – that a lot of these “best and the brightest” types weren’t actually that bright.

      I went to an Ivy and did have the accomplishments (grades, scores, extracurriculars) that went along with that … but some of the least-bright people I’ve ever met, I met in college.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        A friend of mine worked with some very bright people at a historical moment. (Sorry so vague.) Some of the biggest names at that point were well-known as Certifiable AHs. If I said these names I am SURE that others would chime in to say, “Yep, certifiable is correct.”

        My friend herself very seldom mentions her minor contribution to history. In her mind, it was a part of her life but not the sum total. Additionally, it’s over now and there are other things taking up her time now. Most people do not know the work my friend has done. She places a higher value on friendships rather than activities from 50 years ago.

        Just because people are good at their jobs does not mean that people like them. In extreme cases they can be remembered as a contemptable person and their impressive knowledge is forgotten.

  40. chronic lurker*

    Sounds like you’ve learned a lot about yourself and are starting to figure things out: maybe this is a good nudge to do a little more active 5-year planning. You know the job isn’t your passion, so figuring out what would be is a good start – and then think “ok if I was joining that job in 5 years time, what would my ideal intro blurb read?”. That can help you figure out what things you might start doing now – either within your role, or with your spare time if necessary – that would get you there (and it won’t necessarily take 5 years! but that’s always worked for me as a point that’s far enough away to keep the pressure off, but still near enough to plan for). That won’t (probably) be humanitarian work in Rwanda! It could just be developing a transferable skill to take to a new job. I think that inferiority complex can dissipate a bit if you feel you’ve got your hands more on the steering wheel of your own career, and know more what your path ahead looks like and what you’re working on, and why.

  41. Ms. Yvonne*

    Well, I’m middle aged and spent a long time un/underemployed in my early 40s after a totally effed up episode of my mental illness (mental health issues going on 35 yrs now) and I felt the exact same way re all the shiny accomplished people who had jobs similar to what I’d done before my brainfart. It stung all the more because I couldn’t get back into that kind of work after my hiatus. But what might be useful in your case is that [1] you’ve got it together insofar as you’re getting help to address your needs… honestly, that’s really important b/c sometimes whatever mental illness it is sits around for a while, dragging you down, but you’re not even aware it is there; [2] you’re not in a job/field you love, but clearly someone sees the value you bring (another huge issue – one’s potential is often overlooked – 30 page paper on the subject forthcoming), so despite their accomplishments, you’ve also got something to be proud of; [3] but also, what you’re doing now doesn’t need to define you forever e.g. I was looking for info on a person who used to work for my org – think highly skilled accomplished professional – who is now in school to be a chef… so the person you could instead be comparing yourself to is you; [4] if it is about your knowledge/expertise/experience, that is sooooo so varied (you have something to contribute even if you don’t see the dots connecting yet). I feel for you, dude.

  42. Snailing*

    I think this is so similar to that feeling you get when you look at your old classmates on social media and their lives look so great and perfect – these blurbs were curated to show the absolute best achievements of these new interns. I guarantee you they all have their own inadequacies that that they feel about themselves too – we all do! One may have anxiety just like you; another may have a tough relationship with their family they battle every day; another may have an invisible disability; another may have flunked their humanities class right before graduating and squeaked by with their other strengths.

    There is a reason your company hired you, even if their bar was lower at the time, and there’s a reason why they still employ you. You have value to them, to your coworkers, and to yourself.

    For what it’s worth, I’m 30 and also feel these things sometimes. My friends from college are largely doing much more “high powered” high paying work than I do. My colleagues all have more experience in my field than I do because I switched career paths a couple of years ago. But you know what? I chose to go the route I did versus my college friends wanting more “prestigious” careers (doctors, lawyers, hedge fund managers) – their path was not mine. And even though I’m new at what I do, my company saw something in me and trust me to do my job.

    You also made life decisions and prioritized your own health and wellness, which is amazing. And your company also saw something in you that told them you deserve this job and they trust you to do it!

  43. JustaClarifier*

    First, LW, I kind of feel like this reminds me of myself, and I have a textbook case of impostor syndrome. So I would recommend taking a look at your accomplishments; your company didn’t have to hire you, regardless of whether or not you think they were “desperate for people.” Have they explicitly told you they were just “accepting anyone”? Because *you* got the job over others that applied and they spent the time and money on YOU. Not to mention that if they felt you were lackluster or doing poorly that they would have let you go. So I think you should give yourself more credit than you are.

    Secondly, LW, if you feel inadequate compared to the interns…you can approach this two ways. You could use this as an opportunity to invest time in yourself in a way that you will find fulfilling or cultivate hobbies/travel that you’re comfortable with that accommodate your anxiety. Another way is that you should remember: everyone is different and finds fulfillment in various ways. What may be fulfilling for someone else – and make you feel lackluster – wouldn’t necessarily be fulfilling for you.

  44. Evonon*

    Good for you for beginning therapy and getting on medication! It takes courage to admit you need help so I commend you. What I learned from therapy to cope with my own anxiety is recognizing anxious thoughts and separating them from reality. The harmful feelings you are experiencing from these thoughts are valid, just as when a bully hurts your feelings, but the thought/insults are not. When a bully says “you suck” that’s their opinion not your reality. Just walk away.
    Anxiety is trying to provoke you to act on an invasive thought or indulge in a thought spiral so it’s best to break the cycle. “I’m not as good as–” nope I am going to do a different task, get up from my desk, focus on answering an email or turning on a song with lyrics (instrumental can trap you in a thought spiral since there’s not lyrics to distract you).

    It’s not easy but the more you karate chop anxious thoughts by switch tasking the easier it becomes.

    Thought spiral: I used to indulge by trying to solve the root of my anxiety. “The puddle is deep my shoes will get wet”. Okay, so I’ll walk around it. From there the thought will “yes and” you to the next level and escalate into catastrophic thinking. I may have “solved” the puddle problem but now I’m worried about the puddle being a sinkhole and destroying the earth. So as much as you think it will help, it’s better to not engage at all. Take that brain!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Powerful stuff right here. Go right into the worry.
      Okay so let’s say that these new hires are smarter/better than you- let’s pretend that is true, even though we know it’s not. Befriend them and pick their brains until you feel like you are gaining ground.

      Any time I have done this, I found out that there were only 1 or 2 people who had thoughts/ideas I actually respected. More often than not I found out that they were more LIKE me than ABOVE me. (Yes, I respected these folks also but I pulled them down off the pedestal in my mind. The respect was more like what one would give any fellow human being and less like awe.)

  45. JG Obscura*

    As someone with a mental illness that I have only very recently gotten a handle on (after 10+ years of psychiatric treatment and therapy), I know this feeling well.
    Don’t think of it as you weren’t “strong enough”. Because getting through this kind of thing means you ARE strong. Think of it this way: You were able to get your job even while dealing with an untreated mental illness. That takes A LOT of strength. Mental illnesses (even when diagnosed and treated) are huge hurdles. You persevered in spite of that.
    Don’t chastise yourself for opportunities “missed” because you were struggling with something as difficult as mental illness. What matters is how far you’ve made it now. You’re starting to feel better and the world is open to you in a way it wasn’t before.
    You’re just two years out of college. You’re still young! You’ve got time to grow, to take new opportunities, to pursue what you want to pursue.
    Lastly, jobs aren’t all about “achievements”. It’s also about perspectives. You have a unique perspective. You can use it to help others like you. For me, that’s been pushing for more accessibility at my job (WFH has been a life-saver for me and others with anxiety). You may not know it, you may not feel it, but you’re experiences are inspirational to others.
    Don’t put yourself down for what you haven’t “achieved”. I think you should be proud of yourself for what you *have* achieved. I don’t know you, I don’t even really know much about you, but I’m proud of you.
    Best wishes, and if you ever want to chat, I’ve included my email.

  46. KP*

    OP, let’s talk about your accomplishments with an undiagnosed disability.
    1) You graduated high school
    2) You graduated college
    3) you have good, stable job with career potential.
    4) You recognized something was wrong and you took steps to help yourself. That’s REALLY hard.

    Do you understand you’ve been running a marathon without a leg? And that you’re comparing yourself to those with two legs and possibly had a head start? This isn’t your fault. I am proud of you for recognizing that you needed help and then acting on it.

    I’ve been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and cPTSD. It sucks. It sucked even more when I didn’t understand WHY I couldn’t do all the things everyone else could do with ease. Medication and therapy were life changers for me.

    If you aren’t in therapy, I would really recommend finding a therapist. You’re caring a lot of guilt and shame for things that aren’t your fault. You’re only 25(ish?) You’re doing amazing. Keep going. You have plenty of time.

  47. JillianNicola*

    You can only live your own life, one step at a time. There will always be people with more experiences than you, and there will always be people with less experiences than you, no matter where you are on your journey. Honor the steps that you’ve taken, and applaud the steps that others have taken, because every step is hard.
    You mentioned that this isn’t your passion, and that you’re trying to figure things out. Having a job that you can like or at least tolerate – a job that is giving you experience and lessons on how to be a good worker even if you’re not in love with it – is just as important as anything else you might do. Life isn’t just made of grand gestures and once-in-a-lifetime humanitarian opportunities. At the end, it’s going to be the small, mundane things that make up the bulk of your life, and those things deserve some grace too. I hope you’re giving yourself some space not only to figure out what your passion is and how to get it, but to be content with even the smallest steps you take. Good luck!

  48. Been There*

    First thing, take these feelings to your therapist. She definitely has tools she can share to get you through them. Second, best advice I ever had was “don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” You might have been at the job longer, but they’ve had the passion longer. Those aren’t the same thing. Finally, ask for a review! Even if your company doesn’t have a formal performance management system (and what’s up with that?!), you should be able to get your boss to at least have a conversation. I think combining part of all three of these will go a long way toward making you feel better. Good luck!!

  49. AndersonDarling*

    First off, you were reading fancy bios of the interns. If you paid someone to write a bio for you, you would sound fantastic too!
    Second, the interns may be incompetent jerks. Just because they have exciting experiences doesn’t mean that they are good people or that they will fit into a work environment. Their bios won’t mention how they failed biology 3 times, or how they were banned from Applebee’s for harassing the servers. They are people with good and bad aspects just like everyone else.
    Third, it’s perfectly fine to have these feelings. But I would reflect deeper on what is triggering these feelings. If you can pinpoint something (more education, traveling, “making a difference”) then you can look into those things! You may not be digging wells in a 3rd world country, but if missing out on that makes your heart ache, then there other volunteer opportunities in your area that you could look into. If you feel like you missed out on advanced education, then look into a CE class. If there is a hole in your soul, then fill it in a bit. But, I can tell you this from my own life, when I have actually started to fill the hole, I realized that there wasn’t a hole. I didn’t really want to learn statistics/volunteer at the shelter/get fit…I was just felt inadequate when others had those accomplishments. And then I was able to focus on what was really important to me, and grow that instead.

    1. Ms. Yvonne*

      “triggering these feelings” = smort advice

      re fancy bio, I’ve finding e.g. 29 y olds who were ED of very, very small non profits in field xyz then become “head of people engagement” or some such at much larger org… so it’s that transition to a new kind of prestige in the trajectory of their career that I found outstandingly, weirdly accomplished. How do they bounce from one specialty ( say the ED was for an after school program) but then become part of a totally different field (as that’s what seems to happen)… what networks do they have? What does their cover letter say?

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Omg, yes, do not change yourself into a better version of someone else. BE YOU! and be the best version of you that you can muster, commit to the fact that we spend our whole lives shaping ourselves into better people. It doesn’t happen overnight- it takes a life time.

  50. IKindaGetIt*

    I used to really idolize and compare myself to neurotypical people. It was really helpful to stop thinking of everyone who didn’t have my disadvantages as superhuman. Try to think about everything you’ve accomplished despite your obstacles and give yourself more credit for your successes! Someone who can walk a straight path from A to B hasn’t accomplished nearly as much as someone who traveled a winding, bumpy, obstacle-laden path from A to B, but if you focus just on the most obvious outcomes, it may look that way. Acknowledge the hurdles you have that others don’t and celebrate yourself for jumping over them! You are stronger and worthier than anyone focused on just work-based measures of achievement can fully comprehend.

  51. Brett*

    This is from a context of a large multinational company….
    Our interns are always awesome and could easily make people feel inadequate. They are the best of the best and that’s not a coincidence.
    For those who hire on as employees after their internship, a high percentage of them become early career rockstars who advance quickly. And, to flip that, nearly all of our early career rockstars were interns. This really has a lot to do with how we recruit and mentor interns, which has been very effective.

    1. Brett*

      Realized that I left any real advice out of that context….
      At least for our company, you don’t want to compare yourself to interns. They don’t represent the typical recruited employee and instead represent people that have been brought in specifically because of their high ceiling. Instead, I would suggest our other early career employees work with them and become part of their network. See how they use mentoring and how they are build their careers and it can help you. Just because they are doing very well right now does not mean you cannot do the same.

      I didn’t even start my career really until my late 30s. I was working Burger King at the same age as these high ceiling interns. Now I am one of the people who mentor them.

  52. KP*

    OP, let’s talk about your accomplishments with an undiagnosed disability.
    1) You graduated high school
    2) You graduated college
    3) you have good, stable job with career potential.
    4) You recognized something was wrong and you took steps to help yourself. That’s REALLY hard.

    Do you understand you’ve been running a marathon without a leg? And that you’re comparing yourself to those with two legs and possibly had a head start? This isn’t your fault. I am proud of you for recognizing that you needed help and then acting on it.

    I’ve been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and cPTSD. It sucks. It sucked even more when I didn’t understand WHY I couldn’t do all the things everyone else could do with ease. Medication and therapy were life changers for me.

    If you aren’t in therapy, I would really recommend finding a therapist. You’re carryng a lot of guilt and shame for things that aren’t your fault. You’re only 25(ish?) You’re doing amazing. Keep going. You have plenty of time.

  53. Forrest*

    Lots of people have covered “don’t compare yourself”, “their showreel, your unedited footage” information. One thing I can GUARANTEE YOU is that at least some of those glossy high-achieving interns struggle with exactly the same kind of anxiety, self-criticism, and self-doubt as you– I’ve worked with doctors and academics and honestly half of everyone in any kind of high-achieving career is driven by anxiety and self-doubt, it’s not great. I’ll take your word for it that their achievements are OBJECTIVELY better than yours, but I bet half of them are looking at you and envying your calm knowledge of the subject matter or your confidence in meetings or something. I also guarantee that some of them will ALSO be having a career / quarter-life crisis in the next 2-4 years as they figure out during their internship or later that this career isn’t right for them after all.

    But anyway, you’re getting therapy and meds for that stuff, and you’ll continue to have wobbles and bad days, but hopefully the therapist and the meds will make them more manageable. I wanted to focus on positives you could think about here.

    Firstly, you say you’ve never had a performance review– can you actively do something about that? Because it is really quite rubbish when you want to assess where you are and what you’re doing next to have no external verifiers. Speaking to your manager about having some kind of performance review / objective-setting / career-planning session would be a good idea, and could really help you. It doesn’t have to be the super-formal mandated-by-HR kind, it could just be between you and your line manager. If you don’t have a good manager who will do that, you could see if there are any other senior figures who might be able to do it as a mentor– not necessarily able to comment directly on your work, but certainly help with the goal-setting and career planning parts.

    Secondly, about that “figuring things out”! Therapy and medication is a great start. In terms of looking at your career more generally, what positive qualities are you seeing in these interns that you would like to embody? Confidence? Assuredness? Purpose? If that’s stuff you want, you can start figuring it out– it doesn’t come from nowhere, it’s a process of thinking about your skills, your curiosity, your motivations and your strengths and starting to make a plan for where you want to be. Their presence doesn’t have to be a reproach to you for your failures– it can be a light kick up the arse to think about this stuff if it’s important to you, and to invest a bit more active time and energy in deciding what you want to do about it.

    Good luck!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      A light kick in the butt. I wanted to mention that. We can use these negative feelings to motivate ourselves to up our game in some manner. People will always remind us of what we could have/should have done. Be choosey- let those reminders work to motivate you where it is appropriate. Really think about what you want to extract from what you see.

      Ex. Amanda always has her reports in on time. Maybe you don’t and it bothers you. However on closer look you realize that what the real problem is that Amanda formats her reports so nicely. You want your reports to look nice too but you just haven’t had time. The solution here, oddly, may actually be to format those darn reports so you are happier with them. Getting them in on time will no longer be an issue because the problem was not actually a problem regarding deadlines. The actual problem was you felt you could do a bit better work.

      I call this letting other people sharpen us. Notice how this all goes to a practical solution, it’s not endless self-abuse. Look for those practical rebuttals to concerns about other people.

  54. JC*

    No real advice, but don’t compare yourself to others- it’s a losing game. I interviewed new grads with masters, mba, phd, tons of experiences and cool activities, volunteering stints- and all of my team (including senior leaders) said something similar- “wow, would the company hire me today if I was a new grad!!?!?”.

    As an aside, quite a few looked incredible on paper but lacked basic social skills and common sense.

    However, it was quite the spur to ensure I’m keeping up to date on new skills and industry changes, but remember having real world experience in a job is invaluable! You are there because you add value to the role- have confidence in yourself!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      We never compare ourselves to people who we think are doing more poorly than we are. That never happens. We only run comparisons where we can fail over and over. We can shift to comparing our own selves today vs our own selves yesterday, instead. “What am I doing better with today than I did yesterday?”

  55. Katherine*

    OP, I know how you feel. I had undiagnosed anxiety and depression that prevented me from taking advantage of certain opportunities, but it’s not too late. There are a lot of people, including me, that found opportunities later in life to do things like international volunteering. You’re definitely not too old to seek out those types of opportunities! I know it doesn’t always feel like it when you’re in the moment, but 25 is not old and it’s not at all unusual to do some of those things you want to do at this time of life. If there’s something that you’re really pulled towards, go for it!

  56. nuqotw*

    First, I agree with everyone’s comments about imposter syndrome, anxiety, etc. Also, college students tend to be very energetic and list every little thing they ever did because there is just not a lot to list.

    Second, it’s very likely that wherever you are and whatever you do, there will be people who are better at some things than you and (although framing it this way is very hard) that’s a good thing! You can learn from those people. However, they can almost certainly learn from you too and you are almost certainly better and some things than they are. In the case of interns, you have professional experience, institutional knowledge, and good judgement.

    (This framing is very hard and I am constantly reinforcing it for myself. I work at a 4 year institution and your question reminded me that we just hired someone and I am sure he is *way* better than I am, and…I can’t wait for him to start. I’m kind of intimidated and insecure about it *and* think he’s going to be an exciting colleague and is going to push me to work harder and do better.)

  57. Spearmint*

    I’ve felt similar feelings myself. I’ll never forget applying for a dream job (a once in a decade kind of opportunity) and feeling fairly confident in my qualifications, and then not even getting an interview. I looked up the LinkedIn page of the guy who got the job, and he was super impressive. He literally founded a student organization at his elite university that was so successful it had spread to other universities, and the organization’s mission was directly related to the job. How could I have ever competed with that? I felt very inadequate.

    What I’ve come to realize, though, is that early success isn’t everything. Sure, some people are impressive when they’re young and stay that way their whole lives. But there are lots of other people who don’t hit their stride until their late-20s, 30s, or even middle age. Every field has people like that, and they’re often just as talented and successful as the wunderkinds who had everything figured out when they were 22, they just started a bit later.

    Everyone’s life and career is on its own timeline.

  58. Emily*

    I got into my graduate program off the waitlist in a year that was especially uncompetitive, meaning that I was probably one of the least competitive students there. Eh! Once I got there, I was solidly average in terms of my performance, completion, and post-degree career. Where you are at 24 or so is just really not all that predictive, particularly when compared to a peer group which only seems very different from you because it doesn’t contain all the people who are actually vastly different from all of you.

    Anyway, probably, some of them will turn out to be better and some won’t. But even if you’re really at the bottom, it’s not some verdict on your overall goodness as a person, or even as an employee, it’s just a function of your at-the-moment skills and performance in one specific role and workplace. There’d be a another role/workplace where you’d be at the top. My suggestion would be to think about your strengths and what you want from work and how to get there.

  59. Random*

    “Don’t compare your daily struggles to someone else’s highlight reel” is something I heard once, in reference to social media, but I feel it might apply here too

  60. M*

    I too have anxiety, and I feel this intensely. I am working toward a Master’s in elementary education, and all of my peers in my cohort currently work in schools. I work in an office. Every time I’m in class, I feel like an outsider looking in, and like a failure and like I’m behind. My therapist and my partner frequently remind me that I do have experience, it’s just different (I worked as a theatre educator for 5 years, so niche arts education experience). That experience isn’t invalid because of my peers’ in-class experience. I have a different lens to view education through, and we’re all in the same classes working on the same things.

    Your life has led you on a different path than these people, and that’s ok!! It’s easier said than done, of course, but worrying about how you compare to others is a losing game. You almost certainly have experience or knowledge they wish they had too, even if that knowledge is knowledge about the company or industry. You can admire their achievements while still celebrating your own. Again, easy to say, not as easy to do, especially with anxiety. You have achieved things, just different things than these new interns!

    I would say that it would probably be a good idea to ask your manager for a performance review, and see how you’re doing in the actual work. It may help re-frame some of how you’re feeling about your accomplishments. Remember, they hired you. In your mind, you may think they were “desperate”. But it’s incredibly unlikely that they would have hired someone who they thought was incapable or not good enough. Ask your manager how you’re doing, and that should easy some of your worry, or at least give you tangible things to work on. Also, take some internal inventory, see what you might really want to do if you’re not loving what you’re doing. Then, find ways to explore that passion and make moves to get yourself where you want to be. It can be draining to work somewhere when you don’t love the work (believe me, I get that). Especially now that you’re getting your anxiety under control, it’s a great time to start spreading your wings more and seeing what options you have.

  61. NewAtThis*

    I could have written this! LW, I know exactly how you feel, and I also know it’s really hard to break that cycle of comparison (especially when you are young). I’m 20+ out of college and have loads of accomplishments to point to, but I also know that those accomplishments don’t define me — I’m greater than than those accomplishments and I really love the person who I and am becoming. Have you spoken to your therapist about this specific bit of your anxiety? That might be helpful. I know ‘hand in there it gets better,’ is a useless platitude, but it will. Getting help is a great step!

  62. No clever username*

    I wasn’t able to read all the comments because there are already so many, so apologies if this was said already, but man…interns. Even if they have done all the amazing things their resumes say, and they are super talented at all these things….they’re likely gonna fail at basic “office human” type tasks, because they are interns. Just wait until one of them accidentally CCs a hundred people on an email chain, or loses an important file, or needs to be told how to do something five times. (None of this means they are bad people, but it does mean they are inexperienced, and everyone has to make these mistakes at some point.) There is a lot to be said for technical expertise but I think a lot of the working world is just, learning how to be dependable and reliable and competent, which you are! Those types of tasks/skills don’t feel as valuable or seem as flashy, but believe me they are important. And might help you get over your impostor syndrome. Good luck OP

  63. Adriano*

    I am a web developer, and programming is my passion. My work, though, is not exactly my passion. And I’ve suffered from depression on and off for much of my professional life (now going for… 20 years? huh). I routinely see people younger than me who have achieved more than I have. I also always want more from myself, but at the same time don’t have the drive/energy to achieve it. I have been able to be ok with my mediocrity thinking of what I did achieve (raising a daughter, making good friends, helping people, etc.) and also accepting that my mental illness has pulled me back, and it is what it is. I am a decent worker, I do what I can, I help how I can, I try. It’s not bad. I want more, and sometimes I achieve a bit more. I will not be the best, the greatest. And… I’m fine with it.

  64. Justin*

    I would not automatically be impressed by huminatarian work in the Global South (and other such things). A lot of young folks from Global North countries who sign up for that don’t end up actually helping the locals very much.

    Just in case you wanted a different perspective on whether or not you should see that as more valuable than your experience – it’s probably not.

    1. Justin*

      I say this as a person with the same issues of comparing myself to others and anxiety tied to it, etc. I know it’s almost impossible to fully stop making comparisons, so I found other ways not to be impressed by what the general public says is impressive.

  65. Off the clock*

    Like others have mentioned, this sounds a lot like imposter syndrome, OP.

    I’ll also add that I was in your position not too long ago, a few years out of college and working in a lab (though as a PhD student), and I felt similarly about our incoming classes of grad students who seemed to have way more experience in certain areas we were working on than me, or were already coming into grad school with publications under their belt from undergrad whereas I had done undergrad research for four years and had zero papers to show for it. There was also the nagging insecurity that despite my years of lab experience, rigorous work ethic, and passion, I had yet to find any good mentors who would help me build my research career, so I figured something must be wrong with me as opposed to my colleagues who already seemed to have it made.

    Looking back almost a decade later, I can assure you the reality was far different than my perceptions. Talking with some of my colleagues from back then, so many of them were also insecure and struggling.

  66. echidna*

    I feel like I could have written this same letter, just with a few different details. For what it’s worth, I think everyone everywhere compares themselves to everyone always until the end of time. There is ALWAYS someone more impressive, grass is always greener, etc. etc.

    I think it is most helpful to me to form a clear idea of what success looks like for ME and try to hold that in mind whenever I feel inadequate. Someone else’s success and happiness is not the same as my success and happiness. Do YOU want to do humanitarian work in Rwanda and Latin America? Or do you think you’d prefer to have a steady job that leaves you with plenty of time to pursue your interests outside of work, or maybe a different career goal like becoming a manager and mentor, or leading an important project, etc.

    It’s also helpful to remember that you had higher hurdles than many, and are doing well despite them. You’re doing great already! You have a steady job with a good paycheck, and now that you’ve started therapy and treatment, hopefully you will find more and more space to grow in the areas YOU want to. I know therapy was helpful to me, and I am now in a place where I feel like I can take or even create some of those cool opportunities I wasn’t able to before. I hope you find that this is the case for you as well!

  67. Nicki Name*

    LW, try reframing it this way: They’re not better than you, they’re just luckier. It’s not like everyone has the resources and opportunity to go do humanitarian work in Rwanda. Plus that person was extra lucky in not having to fight just to keep their head above water with anxiety and depression.

    You’re doing an excellent job with the life circumstances you have. Don’t get yourself down by comparing yourself to someone in entirely different circumstances!

  68. Jaybeetee*

    So a couple things:

    1) Try not to frame your mental illness as “weakness”. The idea that physical health is somehow “valid”, but mental health is a matter if “willpower” is destructive all around. If you got a hindered start to your career due to injury or illness, would you still think of yourself as “weak”?

    2) Not only do people tend to judge themselves more harshly than others do, but you’d be surprised how polished or impressive you might come off to other people!

    I’ve written here before that the first… 7-8 years of my professional life were a hot disaster (graduated into the Great Recession, etc.) I was 29 before I was even starting to get into my present career, and spent years under-employed, temping, going through multiple lay-offs, etc.

    Imagine my surprise – more than once now – when I described that professional past and people were impressed by it! They were hearing about the cool museum job (even if I was 25 in a low-paying “student job” and management was toxic). They were hearing about the impactful research project I worked on (even if I was only there temporarily on contract). They were hearing about prior work experience in a certain field (even if I was temping at minimum wage and honestly broke and miserable at the time), or that Cool Company I worked at (for seven months on contract… there’s a theme). Like… the way I perceived big chunks of my own life, and the way I assumed others would perceive those things, was way different from how this stuff actually landed when I told people about it. I thought it was obvious that I spent years scrambling for any job I could find and that my life was a disaster. Other people say, “Wow, you’ve had some really cool jobs!”

    This applies to everything in life. I’m in my mid-30s and single. I assume everyone who meets me thinks I’m some defective sad-sack. But then people talk about how jealous they are and how “independent” I seem!

    It’s a lesson you learn as you get older, and it’s even more impactful in the context of anxiety. There is no external ledger. People aren’t watching and judging you to nearly the extent you think they are (even your employers). What you think are obvious shames and shortcomings just… may not even be noticeable to others, or may even come off as attributes!

    This is why comparing yourself to others isn’t helpful. You’re going off what they look like to you. You probably have no idea how you look to them.

    1. Adara*

      I love this comment. I also had a varied work history in my twenties trying to find a career path that fit me. When I went back to school in my late twenties for a different career, I felt so late to the party compared to my much younger classmates! Eleven years in that career and I changed paths again in my late thirties; doing something else totally unrelated. All that combined with being a military spouse who has moved every three years or so, and I feel like I’m behind the 8-ball compared with my friends from high school who’ve been able to stay in one location and build a solid path for the past twenty years.

      But when I tell people what kinds of jobs I’ve done over the years? “Wow! You’ve done so many different things and worked with so many different people!” “You’ve lived in so many places/seen tons of cool stuff!” I consider myself a social chameleon and much more resilient to what life can throw at me now that I’m in my forties. I work with younger people who know a hell of a lot more about what I’m doing now than I do and I love talking with them and learning from them. And they like hearing the stories I can share about all the places I’ve worked and the different characters I’ve worked with over the years.

      When I started seeing my own career path the way others saw it, I realized that I was able to gain a lot of different experiences over the years and I can feel confident about what I know in almost any situation.

  69. Detective Amy Santiago*

    As someone in my mid 40s who has dealt with mental health issues since I graduated from college (and possibly sooner, though they were undiagnosed), the best advice I can give you is to be kind to yourself. I know that sounds trite, but it’s so important.

    It is not easy to live in this world with mental illness. You are functioning as best you can and that’s all anyone can ask. I know it’s difficult not to compare yourself to others, but please remember that you have no idea what their situations are or what obstacles they have gone through. Or perhaps they were very lucky and did not have major obstacles to overcome. Either way, the only person you should compare yourself to is you and ask yourself if you’re doing better today than you were yesterday. If you are, then celebrate that. If you’re not, that’s okay too. Some days are going to be like that.

  70. metronomic*

    Agree to try not compare yourself. I am a first generation college graduate who went to a state school. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved (I did eventually get a masters degree in my 30s part time at night), but I didn’t go abroad for a semester, join the Peace Corps, move across the country after college, I don’t speak a second language, etc. like many others at my current job did (a nonprofit). Their experiences are quite interesting and impressive for sure! And I can understand why someone might feel mediocre compared to them, but I’ve found myself feeling mostly proud for NOT being like everyone else. I’ll gladly share that I’m a first generation college graduate from a state school and even feel I’m adding to the diversity of the team.

  71. idwtpaun*

    “I had been hired when they were desperate for people and were accepting anyone.” – I would bet that you’re assuming this because it fits the narrative that your anxiety and impostor syndrome are feeding you, but no manager has ever actually said to you, “You were hired because you were a warm body with no qualifications.”

    “I’ve never had a performance review” – ask for one! Go to your manager and say that you would like a formal performance review because you believe it would be beneficial to your career development. Find out if your company allows people to request reviews from their colleagues or request a 360 review.

  72. voluptuousfire*

    Adding to the chorus of “anxiety is a liar.” My brain weasels (thank you, Red Reader the Adulting Fairy, I have to borrow that since it’s so apt!) make me second guess many of my choices and I may have missed out on opportunities due to that, but I keep on keeping on.

    Also, the privilege/accomplishments made me think of an anecdote from a friend. They had been approached by a CEO of a company on LinkedIn to head up their recruiting team. My friend set up a call and the CEO was a very accomplished woman–went to an Ivy League, worked at a prestigious investment bank, created her own company, and many other accomplishments. My friend said the call was absurd since the CEO really seemed to have no idea as to what she needed in a lead recruiter. She asked questions but overall was a hot mess and didn’t really seem to know what she wanted. After talking with my friend, I realize I had been contacted by the same woman about a year before for the same role. I turned it down since it was way out of my ballpark, but for all her flashy accomplishments, she was a scattered mess and the Glassdoor reviews were in the toilet mainly due to the CEO.

  73. hbc*

    Regret is kind of like anger–it’s useful as a temporary emotion that warns you that something might be wrong, but it’s horrible and pointless to live with it long term. And it’s easy to get stuck in, because there’s no resolving the “If only I’d done X different Y years ago…” loop. Whether by yourself or with help, you need to snap out of the stuff you can’t control and focus on what you can do about it.

    I mean, what if you *are* mediocre compared to them because of your nature and past choices? Does that mean you quit your job and find a place with less brilliant colleagues? I’m guessing not, so think about what you can do to make you less mediocre now, or at least for 2023 You to look back at 2021 You and know you made the best choices you could. Maybe it’s learning something new work related. Maybe it’s taking up a new hobby. Maybe it’s saving up for a trip. Maybe it’s spending more time on your mental health so you can be happy with your accomplishments rather than dumping on yourself for how much you could have done.

  74. knitcrazybooknut*

    You said: I can’t help but feel like it’s my fault, that I wasn’t strong enough to overcome my anxiety to be able to accomplish the same things as them.

    Anxiety has nothing to do with strength, OP. If it helps, think about how strong you were to be able to do the things you accomplished while fighting your anxiety! You were carrying around a 20 pound weight on your leg and still ran a mile a day!

    The mainstream culture equates health to strength, whether it’s physical or mental. It’s not true. So much of my anxiety involves other people, unknown situations, and feeling like I’m going to be verbally attacked for doing something wrong. There’s no strength in pushing through regardless of the consequences to yourself. The true strength is in being self-aware enough to ask for the help you need when you need it.

    I love that you wrote in to Alison. You can see how you’re feeling, and you know this is a trigger for you. You’re asking for help. Congratulations on knowing what you need!

    You’re amazing, OP.

  75. Sled dog mama*

    Someone said further up, don’t compare your day-to-day to someone else’s highlight reel. I would go a step further, don’t even compare highlight reels.
    My career field isn’t my true passion (I was lucky enough to find a career I love and care about but if I could quit and just pursue my passion it would not be this.) I have worked with some big names in my field and when they ask about my career goals I was always a little evasive and sheepish about the fact that I love what I do but I’m not looking to publish or innovate or work in a huge clinic and teach. I really just want to work in a small clinic with regular hours and be good at my job. My current boss (who is a pretty big deal guy in the field) is the one who finally told me not to be evasive or sheepish about what I want for my career and that my field needs more people like me, ones who aren’t trying to create the next best thing but are trying to sort through all the ideas and implement them and in my case figure out how to make concepts from big, well staffed, highly funded clinic work in my tiny one with limited staffing and resources.
    All that is to say that while my highlight reel may look less impressive career wise than someone else I have things that are more important to me and are just as impressive (like putting my daughter to bed every night, which my boss is jealous of).
    Also think of writing a blurb like that for someone who you only know through their resume (or even try to write one using only the information on your resume. I bet that it will come out sounding a lot grander than you think.

  76. Letter Writer*

    Thank you to everyone who commented on my post. I really needed to hear a lot of these (though today probably was a bad day to wear non-waterproof mascara ha), and I truly deeply appreciate all of y’all’s kind words, they mean a lot more than you know. I know dealing with my anxiety is going to be a long uphill battle after letting it wreck havoc on my life for close to a decade now, but I’m ready to slay the Anxiety Dragon once and for all (and screenshots of your comments when it feels harder than usual). Today is exactly one week away from my two year anniversary with my company, so I’m going to try to muster up the courage for some proper feedback with the department head. Thank you again!

    1. OyHiOh*

      Something else, that many comments have alluded to but helps to see written out directly: Experience and achievement are not a zero sum game. Your background, education, and experience, even your experience of mental illness, all bring value to your employer. These things give you a particular insight to the problems that your lab solves, that someone with a more direct line from high school to college to college intern in a lab, does not have. You may very well learn some things from them – diversity of education and experience tends to do that. But the interns are going to learn from you for the same reason. Just by being there and doing your work and thinking through the problems your lab works on is going to teach these interns something about different ways to approach problems that they didn’t know before.

  77. Tara*

    I don’t think you are mediocre or underperforming. It sounds like, even if they hired you when they weren’t in a competitive hiring period, you’ve been good enough at your job to keep doing it for two years. You’re where these interns want to be in two years, which means they’re likely intimidated by you.

    If you want to have the experiences they’ve had, you can go and get them. It sounds like you’re now in a better position to do them well and properly enjoy them. If you decide you don’t want to do them, that’s totally fine – but it doesn’t mean you’re inadequate compared to someone who has done, particularly in the context of a role you’re already doing.

    As everyone else has said and will likely continue to say, imposter syndrome can be a real kicker. The interns probably have similar voices in their own heads. Remember that everyone is trying to figure it out, and we’re mostly just pretending to be competent professionals whilst feeling like three racoons in a trench coat wearing a headset, and you’ll be fine. You’re already fine! You just need to acknowledge it.

  78. John Smith*

    Please don’t compare yourself to others. First, you don’t actually know if what they claim is true and if so, to what extent (I’m gradually becoming more cynical of people’s claims of great accomplishments because they’re full of bull). And so what if the claims are true? Some of the senior managers at my workplace boast about their qualifications and so called achievements, but I’d rather stick needles in my eye than be like them

    And I also see Bright Young Things seemingly brimming with self confidence with supposedly more life experience in their 2 years of adulthood than I’ve had in a lifetime. What I do find with these people regularly is that they’re either very full of themselves and really not nice people (liars, bores, general tw**s), or are trying to compete with their peers who are probably in the same boat and there’s nothing to actually compete against.

    Learn to love and value yourself. There’s a little poem (can’t remember the author) that’s helpful with things like self doubt:

    Once in a stately passion, I cried with desperate grief,
    ‘Oh Lord, my heart is black with guile, of sinners I am chief!’.
    Then stooped my guardian angel, who whispered from behind,
    ‘Vanity, my little man, you’re nothing of the kind’

    Best wishes for the future.

  79. Blisskrieg*

    Timely–I was going through resumes this morning, and in looking at all the accomplishments thought, “why would these people want to work for me?” I think it is human nature to have thoughts of inadequacy, and maybe acknowledging rather than fighting against them might be helpful.

    Also–after acknowledging the feelings of inadequacy, it may also be helpful to remember that everyone looks better when their best moments are distilled into one document. That is not the sum total of who they are or the challenges they’ve overcome.

    My best manager I ever had gave me one of the best pieces of advice I ever got. “Try to never be jealous of other people’s successes.” Decades ago, I remember really struggling with a low paycheck and my brother got out of college and immediately got (what I thought) was a massive paycheck. I was so angry that he just walked into such a great gig. A few years later he had a mental breakdown and has been unable to work since. My paycheck and career have since skyrocketed, but I often wish I could go back and take away the bitterness I felt at that time. I would give up a lot to ensure my brother was also able to pursue his dreams. I wish I had been happy to him!

    Anyhow–again, I think it’s human nature to feel inadequate or jealous, and it might be helpful to lean in (and then through it) to the other side.

    1. Pikachu*

      > I was going through resumes this morning, and in looking at all the accomplishments thought, “why would these people want to work for me?”

      That is a fascinating insight into a recruiter’s viewpoint I have never even considered.

      1. Blisskrieg*

        ^They were all so impressive!!! It was easy to forget that I might have something to offer them back:) My best manager ever also gave the advice to hire the best you can and stand out of their way. Naturally you don’t want to hire someone who will be bored in the role, but aside from that, hire the very best you can and they will make the whole department–and you by extension–shine.

        Learned so much from that woman!

  80. Chilipepper Attitude*

    My heart goes out to you. I have had periods where I felt like you do. I hope you can trust that the best thing you can do for your self is to Focus on yourself!

    You will likely hear this many times but it can take a long time to sink in. Be excited for and interested in what they are doing/have accomplished. But don’t compare yourself. First because it only hurts you and distracts you from what you want for you.

    Second, because you have no idea what is behind the facade. I read a book once by a woman who despaired of ever losing weight and looking professional. She interviewed lots and lots of women to try to find the key to success for herself. She finally found the ultimate professional woman who seemed to have everything. She asked the woman if dieting while handling professional meals was a problem. And she waited with baited breath for an answer she was sure was going to help her (the author) solve all her problems. The professional woman said no, but the flecks of vomit really bothered her. Turns out, the so called professional who had it all was bulimic!

    I also want to echo what others said – the blurbs from HR are supposed to make them sound awesome. I have read blurbs about coworkers that sounded truly amazing but were … not. Once you are working there you will know the reality. Sometimes people are as good as the description but often, they are just ok or are completely awful human beings. I have even had HR give coworkers credit for projects they barely looked at, just to have something nice to say in those blurbs.

  81. Former cool intern*

    I was one of those “cool interns” who studied at a great school, graduated with honors, worked abroad, etc. And then I came back with extreme culture shock and had to take a job in retail because of my own struggles and the economy (yay 2008!). I felt so behind my peers who had gotten great jobs in their chosen careers right out of school and I was working barely over minimum wage. 10+ years later, and it’s all evened out – someone took a step back, I found a job that has turned into an amazing career, someone had to leave a terrible job with nothing lined up. Life and careers aren’t a straight line at a consistent pace, and comparing yourself to them will just make it all harder. Even if you are in different places now, that doesn’t mean it will be like that forever – one of the interns may leap past you, but you might leap past them later. Just keep doing you and keep working on yourself – that’s the best thing you can do to be successful (however you define it).

  82. Data Analyst*

    I have been in a similar situation – when I started at my last job there was a student intern who got promoted to full time and they were just clearly amazing at what we did, very passionate, fast working, kind of a phenom! And so it was tough for my anxiety – I had a lot of imposter syndrome and distorted thinking, but then also this person WAS legitimately awesome and better at many aspects of the job than I was. I ended up taking FMLA and going to an anxiety treatment program. I had a list of “banned” behaviors I would track in a little notebook, just a tally for how often I got the urge to do X thing and how often I was able to resist it. One of mine was “comparing”, specifically comparing myself to this person. Just tuning in to it was super helpful. And the next step was learning to sit with the discomfort. Rather than trying to push away the feeling of inadequacy by reassuring myself (“I’ve worked more places, I am experienced, I did such and such awesome thing, I’m valuable because of this or that other skill that they don’t have”) I would just say “okay yep they’re better than me at X and that feels bad to me but it’s okay.” If you try to reassure it away, it will just balloon and keep bothering you.

    1. Data Analyst*

      Oh and I should say, I don’t suggest “oh just go to treatment” as a blanket solution – for me it was necessary because it was kind of debilitating, sometimes I could hardly send an email because I would be picking at and second guessing every single word. I always like to bring it up though because I’d been in “regular” therapy for years and still needed more help.

  83. Keyboard Cowboy*

    It sounds like they look good on paper but you haven’t done much working closely with them. Time after time, my impostor syndrome fades when I am up close and personal with someone else’s work and see that they’re either really not that much ahead of me, or not ahead of me at all. Getting to know them more personally might also help you to not feel insecure compared to some idealized person you built from a resume.

  84. Storie*

    You’ve had so much compassionate and wise advise in these comments. This is why I love this commentariat!

    But I would just add—perhaps you can use the specific realization that this job is not your passion (whereas it is for others) to make baby steps toward finding out what is. There’s not a rush. It’s not pressure. It’s good to know things like this, and start thinking about what would make you more invested. You don’t even have to know—maybe just areas to explore is a place to start.

    Also, fresh hires always seem shiny and exciting, before anyone knows their deep flaws and while they are on their best behavior!

  85. Anony4839*

    Stop comparing yourself to other people and stop blaming yourself on your mental health. Your health has nothing to do or should it be in the way of achieving your accomplishments.

    There will always be people who are both better than you and also below you in the real world so just get into that mindset. Also, I worked with a ton of interns and new grads who are good on paper but takes so much training to show them how to utilize our work applications. They might be good in school but don’t have real work experience.

    Also, a lot of times, their accomplishments aren’t as big of a deal as they appear. For example, one could be the “President of xxxxx club” but probably just held a few meetings with their friends, or they could have done humanitarian work in Rwanda but probably just played soccer all day with the kids. It’s not like they built a new water irrigation system and even if they did, they certainly didn’t do it alone.

  86. Pez*

    As a person with a diagnosis, we often feel pressured to just do it and fit into a box of what we should be able to do and then feel deep failure when it doesn’t work out perfectly. It feels like we have to throw everything away since we dont fit perfectly. We’re humans, look for what works well for you and plays to your strengths instead of some platonic ideal about shoulds.

    Also did they actually have skills to help people when going to other countries? Or was it really a vacation?

  87. Aggretsuko*

    Honestly, sometimes some people are just “perfect” and there’s nothing to be done but accept it.
    I’m inadequate as heck, I would never get into the college that I got into today because I wouldn’t be smart enough to get in now, I’m not promising at all and I’m a nobody. Sometimes people are just stars. You gotta live with ’em. Also, the younger you are, the more important it is to be “perfect” these days, so there’s that as well. I just have had to accept that in some people’s eyes I will never be good enough, including my own. Just….live with it. Don’t get angry, don’t get upset, just…that’s what it is.

  88. Cant remember my old name*

    Things I’ve had to reframe for myself that may be helpful for you:

    1) I shouldn’t feel bad that people accomplished things through avenues to which I never applied. Because there’s no evidence I couldn’t do this too if I set my mind to it!

    2) the existence of more accomplished people isn’t news. Never in my career have I felt that I was the most accomplished [insert here] in my field, so coming in contact with highly accomplished, highly successful peers, should change little about my perspective on myself. (Note: I’d encourage you to consider if these bios provided you with any info you didn’t already have).

    3) the focus on youth is harmful and sucks the joy out of things. I am in my mid-twenties and so many of my peers and social media in general tends to push this narrative that we need to accomplish all our goals in our twenties. I’m sure you have great things ahead of you. I’d like to encourage you to consider whether your greatness will be any less great if you accomplish it years from now or after your peers.

    Good luck and I wish you well.

  89. Susie*

    Hopefully one of the many stories shared in response to your question will help you start to reframe your perception of this situation. Please keep at the hard work of engaging in therapy.

    I had my “dream job” at 25. I had Director in my title and I was creating impactful policies. My resume from that period is super impressive. The job, however, exacerbated (maybe even sparked) issues with anxiety and depression. I had to take some major career steps back to seek treatment and have since decided my goal is to have a job that I can log out of (most days) at the end of the day and be able to engage in my family and hobbies.

    From my perch, you are ahead of the game–you are seeking treatment much earlier than I did and have financial ability to figure things out on your own time. The investment you are putting into yourself by learning about boundaries you’re comfortable with at work because it’s just a job, not a passion, and engaging in treatment are building an incredibly sound foundation for your future success. Even if that future success is to be a renowned expert in whatever field you choose OR it is to take a paycheck and focus on diverse interests (or whatever combination of those choices you pursue).

    Good luck–I hope you can find ways to manage your anxiety and enjoy this time of self discovery. (easier said than done, I know)

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I can so relate. When I started over in a career in my field, at 30, after a move to the US and several years out of work in my field prior to that, I was anxious to learn, do, and be All The Things and to have work take over my life and just eat and breathe work. Instead, I made a wrong career move and ended up in a large, boring company that I couldn’t get out of. Decided to stick it out for flexibility and benefits, as I had young children at the time. Then one day realized that I really like having “a job that I can log out of (most days) at the end of the day and be able to engage in my family and hobbies”. It is absolutely a valid and enjoyable/fulfilling way to live.

  90. Zeeblet*

    I’m lucky enough to not have to deal with too much anxiety most of the time, but have had periods of time where the anxiety was overwhelming and really effected my day to day living and my work, and I’ve previously lived with a couple of people who really struggle with their mental health. I remember a comparison that helped us a bit to reframe (mm, foreshadowing pun) dealing with mental health issues:

    If your eyesight is bad, you might strain your eyes a bit to try and see a bit better but there’s only so much you can do to help without getting an eyetest and getting glasses to help correct your vision. Once you get glasses, you can look back at all the things that were impacted by not being able to see properly and be frustrated, but you wouldn’t think “If only I’d been strong enough to get over my bad eyesight and been able to see properly” because your eyes were how they were. Other people wouldn’t look at the things you weren’t able to do and judge you for not being able to do them – your eyesight wasn’t good! Obviously this is not a perfect analogy or whatever, but anxiety and the like are health issues that impact your ability to do things – not being able to power through them and do all the things anyway isn’t a reflection on you.

    If you haven’t already heard of them, I’d highly recommend reading about spoon and fork theories which are entertaining but also useful – I remember them as this:
    Spoon theory where we only have so many spoons and everything we do uses them up – mentally healthy people have an abundance of spoons so don’t notice using them up, other people have to carefully allot their spoons to tasks throughout the day and they’re on a tight budget.

    Fork theory where everything you need to deal with sticks a fork in you of varying size and there are only so many forks you can have stuck in you before you’re unable to do anything else (that’s just science). If you get near your fork limit, even the tiniest fork being stuck in you can tip you over the edge and make you unable to do anything. Mentally healthy people have a much higher fork limit.

    All this is to say – yes other people who are younger may well have achieved more than you feel like you have and it’s hard, but a lot of them won’t have to deal with the same stuff you do on a daily basis, which is probably harder.

  91. Red Wheelbarrow*

    Oh, OP, I have so much sympathy. Like you, I’ve struggled with mental illnesses, including severe social anxiety. I still have to manage these conditions with medication, therapy, self-care, and human connection, especially during hard times. There have been times when this wasn’t enough–I’ve been hospitalized four times in the last three decades. But overall, I’ve become a lot happier, more functional, and more confident than I was in my twenties.

    You deserve SO much credit for your work to treat, live with, and work through your mental illness. That is a serious, tough job! To do that while doing your paid work–and doing WELL at it, based on your feedback–is doubly impressive. Mental health management is hard work, and your work on it shows dedication and strength.

    Ironically, the mental illness itself can make it hard to give yourself the credit that you deserve for this work. Through the lens of anxiety or depression, your accomplishments shrink to “mediocrity” and diminish in importance next to your human shortcomings. It can be easy to see your illness as a flaw or weakness rather than as what it is–a tough challenge your body and circumstances have thrown you, one that demands real strength to handle. It’s OK if you handle it imperfectly, and it’s OK if you’ve handled your job imperfectly while dealing with your illness. That just means you’re human. It’s still an accomplishment!

    (Not suggesting you put it on your resume, obviously! But if you can manage it, I think you deserve some determined private patting yourself on the back.)

  92. llamaswithouthats*

    Don’t know if I have great advice but want to chime in that you’re not alone. I’ve had a choppy career path but ended up in a job/organization I really enjoy. I actually am in charge of hiring seasonal interns. All of our intern candidates are amazing and the irony is that when I was in college I probably wouldn’t have gotten an internship in my company bc I wasn’t as advanced as these kids are. Fwiw, I’m not super bothered by it, but sometimes it does remind me of how much more I could have done in college. Like you, I have mental health ish that was undiagnosed for most of college, so I didn’t have any coping mechanisms built in at the time.

    1. llamaswithouthats*

      Also while it’s not the point of this letter, a lot of those voluntourism missionary trips are total scams. I roll my eyes when I see them on resumes now.

  93. anonymouse*

    I’m going to ignore the intern concerns right now. They are not and issue; they a catalyst for a depressive episode.
    So, the part that matters about YOU is:
    “as I had been hired when they were desperate for people and were accepting anyone.”
    Not (really) true.
    For this to be 100% true, (and think about that for a minute) no other person applied for the job? Everyone from the most junior team member to the CEO made a pinky promise to hire the first person who applied, because we need a warm body. So no, desperation is not the whole story.
    You interviewed well so they hired you…
    Stop thinking that they GAVE you a job. They gave you a CHANCE to do a job.
    And you did it.
    For two years.
    You are doing great!
    I know you don’t have a lot of career experience, and you read a lot on this about those coworkers/employees who can’t/won’t be fired that makes you think it’s a widespread thing.
    It is not. It is not normal; it is not good business.
    Companies do not keep people who have fewer skills/experience/background in their company’s industry out of desperation.
    So forgive the person you were, love the person you are now.
    Learn from how to anticipate and navigate triggers in the future.
    Again, you are doing great.

  94. A Teacher*

    I won a 40 under 40 award a few years ago in my area. They read a lot of highlight reels before they got to me and I was like, “whoa, I don’t even match up with these people, I’m a teacher and athletic trainer.” Then they got to my highlight reel and it turns out I did match up to what most of them did–and in some cases had done more. I’m sure you have your own highlight reel that you don’t think is a big deal. Other people would probably disagree with you and think you are a bigger deal than you think.

  95. Wry*

    A lot of great advice above. Someone said “don’t compare your day-to-day to someone else’s highlight reel” and one thing I would add to build on that: try to get to know the interns/new hires better, so that you start seeing them as real people rather than impressive blurbs. You’ll probably find that despite their accomplishments, they have insecurities too. They might also be impressed by you in ways you hadn’t considered.

    I’m just thinking back to someone who started in my department as an intern and was hired full-time afterward. Before her internship started, my boss sent around her resume (she tends to do this with interns and new hires but I remember this intern’s in particular) and I remember looking at it and thinking, jeez….she’s so impressive and accomplished. I mean she was taking a crazy courseload on top of extracurriculars, and I couldn’t help but compare myself to her, which I think we all do sometimes. But once I got to know her as a person, I stopped thinking of her as the faceless person with the impressive resume and instead as this cool person with a good sense of humor who’s fun to talk to. Obviously you’re not guaranteed to like all the people your company hires, but you might really like some of them, and it’s good to give yourself the chance to see them as something besides a blurb.

  96. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Two random thoughts from me on this:
    1) I was taught that, if you are surrounded by people who are good at, and excited about, what they do, that’s your chance to grow, learn from them, emulate them in some ways etc. OTOH if you are by far the best in your workplace, this means you’re in a dead-end job with no room to grow and is Not a Good Thing.
    2) No performance review in two years has really jumped out at me. One, you need feedback on how you’re doing. Two, does this also mean no raises for two years? (I know this is not on topic, but.)

    1. Letter Writer*

      No performance review, no raises. I get paid pretty decently for my position and am able to live comfortably while being able to have a flexible schedule to attend therapy, so I haven’t pushed it. I didn’t delve too much into why since it’s a complicated story about HR (the company I work for is pretty small), and we didn’t have money for raises until recently since COVID actually saved my company from shutting down. There are talkings of starting up performance reviews again, but nothing certain.

  97. hodie-hi*

    All these comments have been wise and helpful, with practical advice. Refer to them often. Over my 30+ year career, I’ve occasionally gotten nice feedback in writing. I’ve kept all of it to read whenever I’m feeling down or less motivated. Start your collection now! You could even keep a little diary of moments that you got verbal compliments or positive feedback.
    Aside from that, I ran across an essay yesterday that could help with perspective. I’ll post the link in a comment below.

  98. AnotherLibrarian*

    Let me start by saving every person I know (myself included) had a quarter life crisis. You get out of college, you get a job and it’s like… is this all there is? Add an anxiety disorder (which I congratulate you for getting treated at a young age, mine wasn’t diagnosed until I was in my early 30s and I wish I’d sought treatment sooner) and you’re basically stuck in a loop.

    As many others have said, you’re comparing yourself to people’s “best moments” salesman intern bios, rather than to real life experiences. You have the job. You’ve kept the job. If you do want some reassurance, there’s nothing wrong with asking your boss how you are doing. Your job doesn’t need to be your “passion”, it just needs to be something you are good at and reasonably enjoy. You are okay, Letterwriter, even if your brain-weasels are trying to tell you otherwise.

    1. gmg22*

      Oh man, I could take your whole first paragraph and apply it to myself. So very true, all of it!! The early 20s to early 30s are HARD. It can seem like everybody around you is moving fast, “checking the life boxes,” etc, and the comparisons can sometimes swamp you. Everyone on this thread has given wonderful and compassionate advice. I gotta say that once I got my quarter-life crisis over and dealt with as it needed to be (therapy woot woot!), by the time I got to the point where the allegedly stereotypical midlife crisis is supposed to begin, there was no reason to have one. :-D

  99. Mandi*

    These are all humans with strengths and weaknesses. You undoubtedly have strengths they do not possess. Also, introductory bios are always written to wow and impress the readers. “Humanitarian work in Rwanda” could be a one-week mission trip with a church, or living there for 2 years.

    Just be your fabulous self and view them as equals!

  100. Temperance*

    LW, I also have GAD and struggle as a person from a non-wealthy background in an industry almost exclusively populated by rich people (law). I just had a call this morning with a mandated intern who is clearly from a privileged background; imagine having your father make a call and get you an internship because you think you might be bored having the summer off while you’re abroad. (Seriously.)

    Only rich people or a very few, well connected or lucky middle class ones get to do overseas humanitarian work. Don’t compare yourself to them. I often feel like a loser in comparison to people like my intern, who get to frig off to Europe because they’re rich and their parents can “make a call”. But you know what, you’re kicking ass, especially if you did it all on your own and without family money.

    1. llamaswithouthats*

      I also get forced to hire well connected interns all the time. It’s annoying because they get to bypass other candidates who are more qualified and put in more effort.

  101. Jj*

    Sometimes for me it’s about the radical acceptances. Like accepting that yes, they are probably better qualified than you. Yes, they may have been hired over you if the timelines had been different. And also? You were hired when you were hired. You have this job now.

    There are 7 billion people in the world! We won’t all be the most qualified in every, or even most, of our endeavor’s. There isn’t enough “best at” spots like that to go around.

    You can have a glorious, wonderful, fulfilling life being the “one who snuck in while the getting was good”. My best friend’s mom manages an entire it department for a major company, with out having ever earned a college degree. She got in at a good time. She could never had done that today.

    Let your self worth come from the stuff in your life that matters to you most. If you could give general advice to the 7 billion people out here on this planet, what would you encourage them to prioritize, and take to heart ? How would you hope they evaluated themselves? Can you try that for you?

    Someday, if you want it, I hope you find a place more to your liking and where you feel you really shine. But it’s okay to have a career as “good enough”. Most people do.

  102. Onelia*

    OP, I feel mediocre at my job ALL THE TIME. I feel like I’m slower than everyone else, I have to work twice as hard, and that I’m just not naturally good at it. Over the past few years, though, I’ve realized that is mostly my anxiety talking. A few points I thought about when reading your letter:

    1. Bios and blurbs always make people sound great. Most of the time, people write their own. Heck, after looking at some of the ones I’ve written, I sound like a rock star.

    2. Just because someone has amazing experiences and big credentials doesn’t mean they will do well at the job. You’ve obviously established yourself in the position, and that’s the main thing! One of the hot shot local lawyers in my town (practically a celebrity) took 3 tries to get into Law School and 2 to pass the bar, I think. My writing instructor did both on her first try and burnt out/dropped out 3 years into her career.

    3. Find ways to help build your confidence! Learn new skills and take development opportunities. Learn something that nobody else in your department has, and then establish yourself as the local expert. Do conference opportunities (if that is a thing) and get your name out there!

    I also think asking for a performance evaluation is a good idea! I didn’t get one either for the first 6 months of my new job and it made me a nervous wreck. I finally asked if there were areas I needed to improve at, and they all looked at me like I had 3 heads and said they didn’t provide any feedback because I was doing it so well! Go figure!

  103. Pikachu*

    Sometimes people with anxiety and depression try to look inward and it’s too dark to see anything. Maybe let someone else hold the flashlight for you and help you see what you struggle to see on your own. A therapist, career coach, even a trusted mentor. If your anxiety is the dementor, let a supportive person be your chocolate. You are far more skilled and accomplished than you realize.

  104. BeenThere*

    This post could have been me a few years ago. I royally screwed up in college and I felt guilty and ashamed and inadequate. I lucked into a job because they really needed people and I felt desperately insecure when I compared myself to the other new hires or to the summer interns.

    Here’s the thing though. After I got that first job, no one ever asked me about my college experiences again. They wanted to know about my work accomplishments and experiences. It’s sort of like when you go from high school to college- you work so hard to get into college, but once you’re there what you did in high school isn’t important anymore. You’re a professional with valuable experience now. Don’t burden yourself with regret over opportunities missed- focus on all of the opportunities that your current job can offer for your career. (Easier said than done, I know- but I promise that in another 2-3 years you will hardly think about college!)

  105. Macaroni Penguin*

    Perhaps frame things as “I’ve done the best that I could. And I have my own unique strengths and awesomeness.” Sometimes, reminding myself that I made the best choices that I could information and resources that I had available helps. Like the OP, there have been opportunities in the past that I didn’t/couldn’t take because of GAD. This is regrettable, but I try to be kind to myself and focus on accomplishments. To end this on a funny and story, I went to a medieval festival where I saw an eight year old mounted archer. This little girl was (in my mind) an Olympic Level horse riding athlete! That eight year old child prodigy was spectacularly more accomplished and impressive than I was as a twenty eight year old adult. But you know what, that’s fine. I’m extremely good at opening pickle jars.

  106. Jojo*

    Hugs LW. Sometimes I really wish those of us who are older could download what we’ve learned in life to the younger folks who are struggling. For example, you’ll notice throughout the comments that a lot of us read the blurbs that are upsetting you in a very different manner than you are. When I read about the humanitarian work in Rwanda, I literally rolled my eyes. I mean, maybe a 20 year old has done significant work in Rwanda, but after 25 years as a professional, my experience says that work is most likely a short term resume padding trip that was enabled by a wealthy parent and has little to do with the person’s potential as an employee. I’ve so worked with a lot of people who have impressive degrees. Some of those people are impressive. Many, sadly, not so much.

    I am glad you are seeing a therapist and have a diagnosis. This is just a start of the journey for you, you will learn new things about yourself, progress, and sometimes stumble and fall. But over the long term, you will continue to grow and improve, and that’s a wonderful thing. Something I think you might want to talk to your therapist about is some of the black and white thinking you are having. It reads to me like you think that these interns are AMAZING and because you don’t have identical experiences, you aren’t worthy of your job. But that’s not really how it works. The world isn’t made up of just a few amazing people and everyone else sucks. Reality is that most people work so they can pay their bills, do a good job, are reliable, and go through life in an unremarkable way. And you know what? That’s good enough. What you are currently doing is good enough, and you are worthy of your job. You just may need some help convincing your GAD of that.

  107. boop the first*

    Whenever I see someone in my realm of interest win huge awards or perform big events or whatever, I get a rush of fear in my heart, not just a feeling of being so far away from what “success” is, but also just the fear response of thinking “uh oh, is this something I have to do to build a career? Because I can barely leave the house, let alone show in faraway lands and/or save the world.”

    Sometimes it actually helps to think of my parents, aunts/uncles, grandparents, siblings, other adults I know, because all of them are relatively unknown and minimally educated. They just lived ordinary lives, getting by. It’s not the best possible life, or the most comfortable life, but they did what they could and no one will ever bust down their door later to demand greatness.

  108. Sharon*

    Please talk with your therapist about these types of thoughts so they can help you develop coping strategies and learn to reframe things. This isn’t so much a workplace problem as a problem you are having with thought processes that drag you down. Your manager doesn’t seem to be saying to you, “OP, you’re just not as good at XYZ as these interns are. You’re going to have to do better or we’re going to have give your job to one of them.” The interns may or may not be better than you, but guess what? It doesn’t matter! You don’t have to be the best, most highly qualified person at your job! You only have to meet the goals set for you.

  109. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Your anxiety is putting these lies in your head and this doubt.

    Look at your reviews and your interactions with your team members first. Don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone puts on their best, shiniest faces in an intern position. They’re fresh and with a lot to prove. Yes, they are impressive. But that doesn’t mean you are not as good on other levels.

    Please work through this with your care team, you can work through it.

    I’m also clinically depressed with anxiety. If you can disconnect yourself from how you view others, it is a life changer.

    Most humans are mediocre and just average. That’s okay. It’s okay to be “good enough” when it comes to work.

  110. Cats14*

    Hi OP! As a person who constantly thinks bad things about myself, especially in comparison to others, I can definitely empathize with how you feel. But here’s a different perspective that might help. When I graduated college, I could have been one of those interns you’re talking about – I had a perfect GPA, loads of awards, accomplishments up the wazoo. And then I got to work and just . . . sucked at it. I had spent so much time focusing on academics and extracurriculars that I had never had much actual real job experience, and had no concept of works norms, professional expectations, etc. Sure, I was pretty okay at the actual content of the work, but I was a nightmare in every other way – late all the time, took feedback extremely personally, overly eager for validation, and utterly shocked that my boss wasn’t there to make me feel special and praise me. On the other hand, I had lots of colleagues my age or a little older who weren’t as “accomplished” or “talented” as me at the actual work, but they carried themselves professionally, with little drama, and understood they were there to work, not feel to be made to feel special for how smart they were. And guess what, my bosses MUCH preferred them. My point is, college accomplishments don’t necessarily show you at all how someone will succeed or not in the actual workplace. I hope this helps a little!

  111. anonforthis*

    Hi OP! Imposter syndrome is completely normal and no matter where you are in your career you can experience it! Being in my 20s in general was awful, and if I could go back and say anything to my 25 year old self it would be, “it gets way better.” All of the advice focusing on what narrative you are telling yourself – absent the colleagues you work with – is great. In general, devoting 90% of your mental space to 1) reminding yourself of your strengths and the value of your experiences to who you are and what you contribute to the world, 2) how you want to change to improve yourself, and 3) building relationships in your personal and work life is a good way to go. That only leaves you a bit of time to worry about politics and compare yourself to others :). It sounds like you are able to provide for yourself, and are taking these enormously, life-changing steps of improving your mental and physical health. In terms of the intern situation, first, our highlight reels always sound more amazing then we feel they are, and second, it is truly a gift to work at a company/organization that attracts amazing people. We should all aspire to work with people that are smarter than us, and have different experiences and different perspectives. Once you reframe how you are seeing yourself, this will be easier to appreciate. Take good care.

  112. DrSalty*

    Hi OP, honestly I think this is something better suited to discussing in therapy vs addressed at work. Nothing your boss can say will help because the root of the problem is likely your anxiety. Look up “impostor syndrome.” It’s rampant in science and you are far from alone. Good luck!!!

  113. rabbit10*

    Know that a lot of that resume stuff is fake. Oh they volunteered in Rwanda did they? Really? At what age? With what skills? For how long? Did they pay to do this or were they paid?

    Look up the scam of voluntourism. So much of what goes on elite CV’s is padding, scandalous, purchased or more.

    They may not be as ‘accomplished’ as you think.

  114. hodie-hi*

    Here’s another thought. I have many friends who are amazing, athletically accomplished people. Where I live is full of people doing a lots of amazing athletic stuff on a daily basis, including one particular sport.
    I do not have the level of interest or commitment or ability to do more than struggle to keep up and learn by osmosis. None of my amazing friends brag or show off, and they invite me to join them. They also compare themselves to their peers and constantly try to improve, because it’s their passion. I don’t compare myself to any of these people because while I enjoy it a lot, it’s not my passion.
    However, when I’m doing this particular sport with entirely different people, they think I’m great at it.
    My point is that it’s all about perspective. Nobody expect anyone to be Super Awesome at something that’s not a passion. If you dial it back a notch, you get to competent and adequate (mediocre), and there’s nothing wrong with that!

  115. smirkpretty*

    I recently volunteered for a big, demanding daylong event. During the setup, I overheard several of the other volunteers chatting about their amazing jobs that involved international travel and fascinating projects. Most were quite a bit younger than me. I was feeling very behind and down on myself about it.

    At the end of the event, the volunteer supervisor took me aside asked me if I would be interested in co-leading the event next year. She said of all the people there today, I was the most proactive and able to anticipate/solve problems. She felt like I was her assistant and she wanted to recommend me to the organizers for a leadership role. I was stunned. It was my first time doing this event and I had simply applied my general administrative skills where needed throughout the day. The other people – the ones I had been so jealous of – were apparently ok but did not go above and beyond in the ways that were really critical to the success of the event.

    It’s so easy to underestime the impact of the thing we’re doing Right Now. Brain weasels are cruel and distracting. My guess, LW, is that your work is valued and important to your team in ways you don’t always see. On that volunteer project, I was just doing what I do while feeling small/stuck/behind. It turns out that “doing what I do” really makes a difference.

    Keep doing good work trust that you’re on the right track.

  116. DoubleE*

    I also live with anxiety and spent some time in a role that wasn’t exactly the best fit for me. I definitely lost the ability to evaluate myself objectively. I saw a lot of things that I perceived as shortcomings and couldn’t see the things I was doing well. Ideally, a manager would be giving regular feedback, but mine wasn’t and it sounds like yours isn’t either. If you haven’t already, ask your manager directly to give you feedback on your work. You could also look for a mentor or a trusted peer to help you get perspective. It can be hard to see it in the moment, but your harsh evaluation of yourself is probably the voice of your anxiety drowning out the logical, rational part of your brain.

  117. Medusa*

    OP, everyone is different, and everyone has a different journey. They might have more experience than you. But you are gaining valuable experience now. And you also learned things about yourself, and have been taking steps to improve your mental health. And, as you said, this isn’t your dream job, so when it’s time to move on to something better, you will be able to take all the experience you’ve gotten at this job, as well as the personal growth you’ve had.

  118. anonphys*

    Hi OP, it sounds to me like what you’re experiencing might be resulting both from your personal mental health struggles and a healthy dose of imposter syndrome (this is a very real thing that many people experience). Although I obviously don’t understand your personal struggles, I am very familiar with imposter syndrome and your words resonated with how I’ve frequently felt on and off for most of my professional life. In my case, I’m a female research scientist with a M.Sc. in an extremely male-dominated start-up/industry (I was the only female scientist on our ~20 person team when I was hired!) where nearly all of my colleagues hold PhDs in my discipline and the correlation of PhD/first-author papers smart, competent colleague holds strong. I’m still fighting that perception (externally and internally because I’ve absorbed that viewpoint as well) most days. Just yesterday, a new hire (with a PhD) that I’m supervising asked me a question that really made me doubt my value and my intelligence.

    I want to share a couple of strategies that have helped me, keeping in mind that I know these feelings of inadequacy will likely never fully go away for me (but maybe they will for you, I don’t know!).
    1. surround yourself with people who will build you up and remind you of your value and your particular strengths. I have a particular group of girlfriends outside of work who help build me up and validate my feelings. I also have strong connections with some of the other female scientists in my organization, which is equally important for peopl
    2. you mentioned not having had a performance review. I don’t know what those look like in your field, but at my org, we do “360 peer reviews” and I’ve found these really helpful for building up my confidence particularly in the way my colleagues see me. As a manager I’ve used them multiple times both for constructive feedback but importantly also for validating my employees’ value and essentially giving them a “mandate” to keep doing things the way they are
    3. This completely depends on your manager and the nature of that relationship, but I am very fortunate to have a manager who I can talk to about some of the struggles I’m having, particularly when they walk the line between professional and personal/mental health. Things like feeling tokenized, having a particularly severe bout of imposter syndrome or being frustrated with how I or one of my colleagues is being talked over in meetings but also more mundane things like feeling I’m not productive enough, struggling with time management or feeling inadequate for the tasks assigned to me.
    4. In my case, a lot (but not all) of my self-valuation struggles stemmed from having made the choice to not pursue a PhD. I went as far as to apply and interview for a PhD program at a prestigious institution on another continent a few years ago. I decided not to do it (at the time, it wasn’t a good fit for my partner who was looking for a postdoc) but that whole experience made me realize that that’s a path I could take if I want to and I felt more in control when I turned it down on my terms. I also found that a lot more time/experience made me appreciate the unique assets that I brought to the company that my PhD-level colleagues didn’t.
    5. Recognize that what you’re seeing of your new colleague interns is *not* the whole picture. It’s what they consider the best parts or the parts that they think they should be sharing. They may have experiences that you don’t (and that maybe you wish you had) but you also have experiences that they don’t and you’ve grown from those experiences/have perspectives and skills to contribute as a result that they don’t have. We live in a society that likes to convince us that our value as people or as colleagues goes up with particular milestones (PhDs or doing humanitarian work) but that’s just not true. You have value, and value that only you can bring.

    I wish the best for you OP!

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      I really appreciate your perspective here. While a lot of these types of experiences have something to do with imposter syndrome, things are a bit different when you’re also dealing with an actual difference in credentials.

  119. Kiki*

    I think there’s a lot of great advice in the comment section already. I want to bring up three points:

    1.) Early accomplishments are often about access more than merit
    As someone from a rural, modest background who went to prestigious university with lots of hyper-qualified folks, one thing I want to point out is that a lot of opportunities people have when they’re young aren’t necessarily about merit– they’re about access. When I took my first public health class in undergrad, I was astonished to find out that the girl next to me had already interned in a lab at the CDC. I felt like trash– I barely even knew what public health was and had spent my free time in standard extracurriculars and working at a grocery store. What I found out later, was that this girl didn’t even like public health and had only gotten an internship at the CDC because her mom’s close friend worked there. I did better in the class and caught up just fine. Just because someone comes in with more qualifications doesn’t mean they’re better than you our will outperform you– they might, but it’s not a given!

    1. Kiki*

      2.) Earlier isn’t always better
      Lots of tremendously successful people didn’t do the spectacular things they’re known for until later in life. In the US, we overly emphasized youth and precociousness. Samuel L. Jackson didn’t get his big break until his mid-fortis, Vera Wang didn’t design a wedding dress until 40, Julia Child didn’t really get into cooking until her 40s. Sometimes great things take time. And when you’re young, you may not even know what the great thing you want to do is yet.

      3.) You have unique experiences and skills that set you apart, even if they’re not glamorous
      I pivoted to software engineering from an entirely unrelated field, so I didn’t formally study software engineering or have any special internships or training. Someone gave me a chance and hired me and I started from there. I was always paranoid about not having a CS degree or never having interned at a FAANG company or whatever. I have now worked with a lot of people who have those experiences. Guess what? They’re not better than me! A lot of them have deficits in their skillsets that I gained through my different path. Sure, I may have a perfect grasp on every aspect of computer science theory, but in the day-to-day I have better communication and organization skills than many of my peers. They can spend all day writing perfect code but can’t convince anyone to use it without my help. I’ve ascended the engineering ladder faster than many of them because of my non-glamorous, non-technical skills. I’m still working on my technical skills, don’t get me wrong. But at the end of the day, that’s not the only thing that’s valuable in my job.

    2. Hales*

      This, this, this! As a person with a similar background, so many of the experiences my peers had were a direct result of their privilege. One such example was our psychology department had an internship program with another prestigious university where students would conduct research at the other university for 12 weeks over the summer. The program was in my field of interest, but when I reviewed the application process, I realized students would only receive less than $1000 stipend. That stipend would not fully cover a short-term rental in the high cost-of-living city the internship took place in, much less cover a student’s other expenses. There was also no financial aid available for the program. The students who ended up with that internship were not necessarily the best candidates, but instead the folks whose families could pay for all their expenses over the course of the internship.

    3. llamaswithouthats*

      Yep this. A lot of “accomplishments” are just proxies for privilege: unpaid or low paid internships, expensive extracurriculars, fancy degrees, international travel or study abroad, etc.

      1. Aron*

        This, and coming from a privileged/wealthier family has different norms than coming from an underprivileged/poor family. Growing up, going to college wasn’t on my radar, as not one person in my entire family (including extended) had ever attended college. We were paycheck-to-paycheck, lived off food stamps, and ate discount food with moths and ants. My best friend in high school took me along on a campus visit for fun, and I ended up going to a small state university satellite campus within driving distance from my house. But studying abroad? Mission trips? Grad school? A doctorate? That’s all stuff other people did, not stuff people like me did. Heck, my family couldn’t afford the $100 high school field trip to an art museum in Chicago, let alone mission trips, study abroads, internships, and college extracurriculars, such as the undergrad department honor society that met on days I was working at my full-time job to pay for tuition, so I couldn’t do it and consequently lost out on my department’s most prestigious honors award for student performance, because I wasn’t involved enough outside regular classes. Privilege and money is a big deal.

  120. Warm Weighty Wrists*

    Hi OP! I absolutely understand the feeling you are describing, and there is something I try when I am feeling that way. When I feel tempted to dedicate a lot of thought to another person, be it from imposter syndrome or wondering if they like me or romantically, I do two things.
    1. Remind myself that I have no control over that person. They have their life and they make their decisions, and most of that has nothing to do with me.
    2. Consciously turn my attention and actions (the action is important) to something that feeds and improves MY life. I’ll work out, hug my partner, take care of that work task I want to avoid, text a friend to tell them how much I like them, etc. etc.
    The point is to practice turning my attention to my own life in the present, which is the only thing I have any say over, and doing something positive that helps me feel good about that present. I find it really helpful, and I hope you do too.

  121. jonquil*

    Well first off, sounds like you could use a performance review, formal or informal. Getting real, intentional feedback from your manager can help give you something to focus on at work related to your own goals, rather than wondering how you stack up to others. Performance reviews can be anxiety-provoking, but your therapist can help you make a plan to request, receive and process one.
    Second, doing humanitarian work in Rwanda is great, but it doesn’t (for example) teach you how to act in an office environment, or write good lab logs, or any of the many other things that account for satisfactory performance in your job. If everything you’ve heard about your performance so far has been positive, there’s a good chance you’ve got that stuff on lock. That’s great! Come work for me, please.
    Third, this may be an opportunity for you to understand and work on your triggers. This is another great one for therapy, but it’s useful to observe and reflect on the things/situations that produce highly emotional, disproportionate reactions in ourselves. Was getting triggered (if you’d classify your reaction as that) by the intern bios a one-time thing, or is there a pattern here? What can you learn from it?
    Finally, your adult life has just begun! You are just getting started, and you’ve got so much opportunity ahead of you. You are going to be in the working world for another 40+ years, which is enough time for two careers and a life reinvention in the middle. That’s also plenty of time to get your anxiety to a manageable place and to do the things you might have missed… and as an adult with more resources and savvy and prefrontal cortex development, which is honestly pretty rad. I’m rooting for you!

  122. Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler*

    Oh man Letter Writer I feel you. Here’s the thing: you now have greater empathy for people who have struggled. You know what it’s like to not accomplish everything immediately, for whatever reason. This will ultimately equip you to work much more effectively with a wide variety of people, and find the strengths and the good in **them.** That’s a skillset that should NOT be undervalued.

    Also, as someone with a long career in international development…ignore the college humanitarian work. (We often do.) Everyone who’s saying it’s a function of privilege is 1000% correct.

  123. Vax is my disaster bicon*

    OP, I also have generalized anxiety disorder, and I’ve struggled with the same type of feelings of inadequacy in the past. For me, the were rooted in a core belief that if anyone really knew me, they would realize I was worthless. I’ve since put in a lot of work with therapists, and I’m happy to say that this isn’t nearly as much of a problem for me anymore! I would really encourage you to discuss this in therapy and see what underlying beliefs or fears you might want to work through. You deserve credit for your accomplishments, too! Hopefully with some support you can shift your focus away from comparison.

  124. Chickaletta*

    Oh man, I would much rather be grouped with people smarter than me than dumber than me. As they say, if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

    I work with people WAY smarter than me, and there are times when I wonder if I could be in their position/job if I had just taken a slightly different path here, made a different decision there. But I am mid-life age now, and have learned to be content with how things have played out. Having worked around idiot jerks before, I would prefer any day of the week to work around kind geniuses, even if I feel inadequate from time to time.

  125. meyer lemon*

    If you have the opportunity, you might find it meaningful to help train and mentor some of these interns. They might sound flashy on paper, but I’m guessing a lot of them are coming in with the typical insecurity of starting a new job and would appreciate someone with more experience being able to show them the ropes. In my experience, training is often a useful way to get a sense of how much you’ve learned since you started your job. There are probably tons of useful skills that are second nature to you now, and you don’t necessarily notice them until you’re coaching someone who hasn’t developed them yet.

  126. Whinkling*

    OP, I am impressed with the clarity and easy eloquence of your submission. Add THAT to your arsenal.

  127. Sparkles McFadden*

    Once, I my boss asked how I was doing. It was a pleasantry, but I responded with “I am currently struggling under the weight of my mediocrity.” My boss laughed, shut the door, and proceeded to tell me about his own self-doubts. He also mentioned the value I brought to the department. He talked things that I didn’t think were impressive or terribly valuable. When I said exactly that, my boss said “You’re devaluing those skills because you’re the only person who handles those things and you’re thinking ‘If I’m doing these things it’s because they’re not important enough for anyone else to do.’ This is just the sort of self-doubting thing I do too. People like us…we think this way. When it spurs us to focus and work harder at things, it’s very helpful, but we have to make sure we don’t undermine ourselves.”

    This was an incredibly kind thing to say. When I thanked my boss and commended him on his wise words, he laughed again, saying “I am spitting your own words back at you.” Apparently, years before I reported to him, we worked on a project together and I said much the same to him when he was at a low point, struggling to solve a particular problem.

    We humans are often so much more perceptive about other people than we are about ourselves. We are often kinder and more generous to others than we are to ourselves. You’ve accomplished a great deal LW. You are just having a hard time getting the perspective to see that.

  128. Elizabeth*

    I feel like this A LOT. I have a BA from a reasonably good school and a few jobs under my belt but I work with people who have ivy league degrees from undergrad to law school, experience working directly with Senators and celebrities, and are basically on paper way, way more impressive than I am. In part because I was so anxious for so many years I could barely go outside, nevermind apply to graduate school or pursue fancy internships!

    For me, it’s very helpful to remember they wouldn’t have hired me if they didn’t think I was at least good enough. And they wouldn’t keep me on if I wasn’t pretty good at my job. And one thing I’ve learned is that an impressive resume doesn’t mean you know how to do everything — whether it’s the Harvard grad who can’t construct a readable sentence or the guy who was a senior policy person in the White House who can’t figure out how to PDF a document or the person who’s worked at a bunch of impressive places but doesn’t know how to share credit and so everyone thinks he’s an ass. Plus, you’re not out of time to have new experiences! You’re gaining experience now! And you’re doing the work on yourself which is essential … you’ll be so much better off long term for taking the time to know yourself and learn how to care for yourself and your wellbeing.

    It’s also worth remembering you weren’t weak or not strong enough — you have a chronic illness! And you didn’t have the tools and resources to treat it until now! With generalized anxiety your brain literally isn’t making all the chemicals it’s supposed to in the balance it’s supposed to! So saying you or I weren’t strong enough to overcome our anxiety is like me saying I wasn’t strong enough to enjoy the strawberries that gave me hives. It’s not about weakness. It sucks to have missed out on things … but that happened in the context of an untreated illness and now you’re taking the steps to make it possible for you to actually be able to choose to do things you want to do! That’s great! Taking to steps to get treatment , despite the way our culture frames mental illness and the shame so many of us carry around it, shows how strong you really are — try to remember that!

  129. Chrissie*

    There is a saying that if you are irreplaceable you are unpromotable. Having said that, enjoy learning from your colleagues and they will no doubt learn from you. Also, like many others have commented maybe explore why you aren’t as passionate. What would your dream job look like?

  130. Anonmousey*

    We all, every last one of us, have our own paths through life – our own struggles, our own achievements. In a society that values certain kinds of pictures of “success” and “achievement” well above others, it’s hard not to try and use those pictures as a kind of yardstick to see how well we’re doing when compared to people we consider peers (or even younger). But those yardsticks are ultimately kind of meaningless.

    I’ve done pretty well in my career thus far (about 15 years in). I’ve had steady advancement in title and salary, have almost always had exemplary reviews and references, and even managed to accomplish a few things I’m pretty proud of. It’s not my passion and I’m not at, like, the top of my field or anything, but I’m a very solid performer and highly valued. (For a bit of context – I’m a web developer/programmer, and I’m a woman, and the field is very male-dominated.)

    That’s my highlight reel. It doesn’t show the ENORMOUS amounts of impostor syndrome I’ve struggled with, literally that entire 15 years. It doesn’t show the time I was laid off, or the time I was stuck in a job I *knew* was a horrible fit for me and was dreading coming to work every day. There are certain areas of my field that I’m weaker in (remembering/keeping track of names of concepts, and when it comes to coding I’m very solid but not as solid as those who are passionate about it), and other areas that I’m stronger in (soft skills like communication, working with clients/end users, leadership and mentoring, problem-solving, seeing the bigger picture), and when I meet people who excel in areas that I’m weaker in, it makes me feel like I’ve somehow fooled everyone this whole time into thinking I’m more valuable than I am. But in reality, the things I’m stronger in are actually ALSO really valuable. And these are not either/or concepts – teams that include people like me AND people who excel in areas I don’t are stronger than either of us alone.

    And absolutely none of this highlights the worth of myself as a human being, the things I’ve struggled with or accomplished outside of work, which are JUST as important if not moreso than anything I’ve done with my career. The beautiful things I’ve accomplished in my hobbies, the friendships I’ve built over the years and the ways I’ve supported them, the responsibility I’ve taken to educate myself about important social justice issues and work to contribute/help where I can, the way I survived an emotionally abusive marriage and divorce, the massive amounts of work I’ve done in therapy to work through years of trauma – all of those things are real things to be proud of, even if society doesn’t really care to put it on their measuring stick of “success”.

    None of these things should be measured on a timeline, either. Our path is our path, and as long as we’re each moving forward on that path, one step at a time, as best we can, in a direction we care about – that’s the thing that matters most of all.

  131. quill*

    OP: Please keep in mind that your interns are in a phase of their lives when people are actively making these opportunities for them to do the things you find impressive. It’s not shameful that you’re not doing as much as them now, and it’s not shameful if you didn’t have those opportunities at their age, since the availability of opportunities to do things like going abroad to do humanitarian work as a student is dependent a lot on money, connections, health, and the availability of someone to take on some of the work of living for you, whether that work is maintaining a habitable home, accumulating enough money to support you, or giving you the scoop on volunteer opportunities.

    This is also why, even when internships are paid and near where you can live during them, they tend to be more competitive than actual jobs and go to the people who have the support described above.

    On a more personal level: You’re comparing your everyday existence, which you are used to, to single events that these interns have accumulated over the last decade or more. Much of it isn’t going to be relevant for them much longer, professionally. For example, when I was 21 I definitely would have listed writing for the college newspaper, the honorable mention I got for a short story contest when I was 15, and anything else even remotely relevant if I were coming up with accomplishments for a job related to writing. By the time I was out of college for over a year, literally no one would have counted those as relevant. But I went into, then out of, lab work and people barely ask about my first four jobs now. (And I’m still in my late 20’s, it doesn’t take that long!)

  132. Van Wilder*

    Reminder: you graduated from college. You have a professional research job. You accomplished all this while struggling with a major health problem(s). You are awesome! There are so many people out there that wish they could have accomplished all that you have at your age.

    As for your question, I’ve been there. I still am there, in many ways. Two things to keep in mind:
    (1) Institutional knowledge of your employer is very valuable. I don’t know your specific field but in my experience, it takes a while to get a new person up to speed, even if they have prior experience. So don’t think that all your experience counts for nothing and that you’re suddenly expendable.
    (2) Some of these professionals may have better experience than you. Good for them! Be a cheerleader for them. I know from experience that it’s hard to see someone who started after you surpass you. But a good mentor wants to find the most talented mentees, and mentor them to the point that they’re in the position to offer the mentor a job someday. Any chance you can think of yourself as a mentor and feel pride as your new colleagues achieve success?

    Best of luck!

  133. Sauron*

    LW, I know this feeling so so well. I work at a large corporation with a history of hiring VERY impressive interns and I have this feeling every summer when they introduce themselves. I just find it helpful to remember a few things. First, if all of your accomplishments were written out so they were in their VERY best light, you would probably sound just as impressive! I feel like a dweeb every day but in the right wording I can sound very cool, and I’m betting so can you. And secondly, some of us do interesting things at different points in our lives. I’ve noticed that a lot of the people who had amazing experiences early in their lives had parents who were able to help them afford those experiences, or were unencumbered by things like health issues or responsibilities at home. We don’t all have the same opportunities at the same time and maybe your time to do cool things will just come a bit later. And finally, not all of us funnel all of our skills into our jobs or things that relate to our work. I’m not the star employee at my company (although I do enjoy my team and do good work), but I’m a good friend, a good roommate and I channel a lot of my energy into hobbies and passions outside of work! We’re just all different :)

  134. Cyrus*

    There’s already lots of good advice here. I just want to add one thing I learned in my teens from a mentor figure: “Don’t compare yourself to someone else. Compare yourself to yourself.”

    As in, the relevant comparison is yourself a month or year or five years ago, or even your hypothetical self today if a relevant comparison is possible. Not a different person with different circumstances. Have you grown since then? Learned relevant stuff? Been better organized? Shown more self-discipline? If so, then it’s progress. Take the win. If not, then try to do better today, so it comes out better the next time you compare.

  135. Violette*

    I’ll echo all the comments about not comparing yourself to others.

    I floundered in college the first time around in my late teens and 20’s and didn’t get my Bachelor’s until I was 51, and my Master’s the following year. I am in a new career and my peers are 15-25 years younger than I am. It would be really easy to kick myself for not being where I am now back when I was 26 but. . . 26-year old me was, thanks to depression, completely incapable of being where 54-year old me is now.

    In my department, there are three of us at the level I’m at. The other two come from wealthy families, didn’t have to work while they were in college, have traveled the globe, and have had lots of other opportunities afforded to them that weren’t even in my realm of awareness. One is married to a multi-millionaire and all of their paychecks just go straight into retirement savings. (So, even in retirement, they’ll be far, far ahead of me).

    I, on the other hand, was raised in a desperately poor, desperately dysfunctional, and desperately abusive family. The fact that I am still alive, own my own home, and had the ability to go back to school and change careers is an incredible achievement and isn’t lessened because I work alongside people who got their faster and easier than I did.

  136. New Mom*

    Hi OP, I had a similar experience years ago but it all turned out okay :)

    I started at my now-organization after I had worked for three years as an ESL teacher overseas. It was my first time working full-time in the U.S., and my first non-teaching role. When I started there was only one other person in my orientation and we both have unique but similar sounding names, lets say I was Malinia and and she was Malinah (I don’t know why but for some reason this made it worse in my head).

    Malinah was the same age or a little younger than me but she was so accomplished. She had started her own nonprofit as an undergrad, and had been interviewed, and there were so many videos, interviews with her that came up with a google search and she could speak so thoughtfully on all the aspects on the org that we learned about in orientation when I was struggling to digest all the new concepts. I felt like everyone we met in orientation was super impressed with her and by comparison I was unimpressive.

    But then I started my role, got used to the office lingo, how they did things, and I eventually found my groove and I genuinely enjoy my work. It’s been years and I know I would be totally comfortable in a job interview, and it was okay that I just was new at the time. Also, we tend to be extra hard on ourselves so while you may be thinking the other interns have done more of x and y, they are likely looking at you and seeing someone who has accomplished completely different things than them.

  137. iglwif*

    Oh my gosh, OP, I feel this so hard! It sucks to feel like you’re a mediocre person surrounded by high achievers, and I know this from experience because I’ve felt like that for huge swathes of my life.
    Just a few points to consider:
    – You feel mediocre, but that doesn’t mean you are. You’re still employed! You’re getting paid! So you’re certainly doing a good enough job that your employer is hanging onto you. They’re not obligated to do that; you still have a job because you’re doing it just fine.
    – That’s the case even though this isn’t your passion. That means you’re able to bring enough enthusiasm, skill, energy, and competence to a job that you don’t looooooove to do it well. Not everyone can do that.
    – Working while anxious is no joke. It’s hard. The brain weasels lie to you all the time, and they do it very effectively. I’m not gonna say “don’t listen to the brain weasels!” because I know from experience that it’s not that easy! But if you can find ways to remind yourself that the brain weasels are lying liars, that will help some.
    – I do not find myself impressive, but sometimes when people look at my LinkedIn page or ask me about what I do, THEY find me impressive. It’s always surprising to me! But it’s a good reminder that the way you see yourself is not always how others see you.
    – Sometimes (not always) the way people get all those volunteer and extra-curricular experiences, or get into “prestigious” or “selective” schools (in scare quotes because I think the US university admissions system is complete bullcrap), or get prestigious internships that they can afford to take because not getting paid for a few months is no big deal for them, is by having wealthy parents. Just saying.
    – There will be something each of these interns struggles with that you are good at.

    I’m not sure any of this is helpful but I am sending you supportive vibes!!

  138. Minerva*

    At 2 years you’re barely out of being an intern yourself.

    This job isn’t a passion for you, that’s fine. But recognize that you won’t have the same career as someone who is passionate about it. That’s also fine, if you are willing to accept that. If not, look at finding the passion, or a job where not being passionate is more ordinary.

    The interns have great resumes, but they may be great at what they’ve done or mediocre. Maybe they are bound for great things. Maybe one is a slacker who had a family connection and did just enough to not get fired. Maybe one is great technically but needs to learn how to not be a jerk. Maybe one is sweet and competent but insecure. Do yourself a favour and get to know them as people and be amazed by them and sing their praises if they need a reference, or help them improve what you can.

    At my current job before I showed up I was “The Professor” because I’d been an adjunct for a bit. When they got to know me, I was just . I bet some of your coworkers could have bios just as impressive but you never have seen them, so they’re just people (maybe scary competent people).

  139. Dancing Otter*

    The more you learn, the more you realize there is to learn. Stupid and ignorant people don’t know they are stupid or ignorant.
    So realizing you don’t know everything, recognizing where you have room to improve, is a GOOD sign.

  140. Analyst Editor*

    I’d say, don’t let it get to you until you see these people in action.
    It is true that things are very competitive in a lot of domains, more than ever before… But a lot of that is grade and resume inflation. And building houses in Rwanda (how well? With how much autonomy) doesn’t necessarily mean you’re intelligent or the most diligent or competent at whatever your jobs is, or that you’re pleasant to be around, or any of these things. So chill, act with authority and they will respect it, and good luck.

  141. El l*

    I’m going to focus on one angle you mention: That you feel regret at not having dealt with anxiety in enough time to take advantage of college-age opportunities.

    I can tell you this is a regret virtually every human has had. Multiple, and in spades: “If I’d known what I know now,” or “If my thinking had been what it is today,” and so on. Especially the successful ones! Even if they may have nailed something you didn’t (debatable), you probably nailed something they envy you for. That’s just how people work. We find flaws.

    So: Remember how hard it was to get a job? What an accomplishment that was. Focus on that. And be glad you got it right eventually.

  142. LiteralGirl*

    I completely identify with your feelings in this situation. I’m 54 and have come to my position in part because I was in the right place at the right time. There are people 25+ years my junior who are being hired right out of college and hit the ground running. My lack of progress earlier in my life was definitely due to undiagnosed depression and anxiety, along with some difficult life circumstances.
    My best advice is to recognize what you ARE doing and give yourself kudos for it. If you want to transition to another field, you have time.

  143. Galahad*

    In the immortal words of Taylor Swift “Shake it off”.

    LW. I think it is time for you to join a club and / or volunteer in your community. What can you do today to live YOUR best life?

    AND…. there is plenty of time to earn money now and do the bucket list when you are 45+. Ask me how I know!

  144. Brain the Brian*

    Beyond all the comments about imposter syndrome and GAD — with which I certainly agree! — I wanted to jump in and address the point that these interns may genuinely have had valuable experiences in their college years that you did not. They also seem to have found work in the field that will ultimately be their long-term industry. You are still searching for your dream industry — or at least that’s how it sounds — and are likely to leave at some point.
    Whether you see it or not, you almost certainly have valuable workplace experience that would benefit these interns.

    Perhaps there’s potential for an informal, two-way mentorship between you and some of them: you share insights about the working world / professional culture / your company’s procedures / etc., and they share insights from their service abroad / college clubs / etc.? If you’re thinking you might move industries at some point, your position would presumably open up, and someone needs to know the tricks of the trade that you’ve learned in the past few years. At the same time, you might genuinely benefit from learning about the experience some of the interns may have had — whether that benefit is from learning about a career pathway, finding out something interesting about yourself, or just plain old confirming that This Is Not The Work For You. Regardless, you can benefit from mentoring anyone — it’s informal management experience, in an odd way.

    I’m not suggesting that you formalize the setup — just topics about which to chat in the hallways / at company events / etc. If nothing else, you’ll get to know some new people beyond their resumes.

  145. NinaBee*

    Ah good old anxiety talking.. telling you these things to keep you ‘safe’ and small and in your place. There’s not much point in trying to reason with it or changing its mind.. BUT what you can do is flip the script. How about instead of using their achievements to beat yourself up, focus on celebrating the SH*T out of the cool stuff they did. Like over the top, WOW AMAZINGNESS! Let the feeling of being really happy for them infiltrate you, and think of all the amazing people they may have met or helped along their journey, or all the amazing things they may have done, and really celebrate them as people for doing what they’ve done. Feeling that joy and curiosity and love inside of you will change your energy, and maybe there will be some for yourself left over ;) Let it be so big that there’s no room for feeling bad about yourself.

    1. Eviltwinjen*

      You have just blown my mind with the use of the word “safe”—as someone with intense anxiety about failure and imperfection, that really resonates. Anxiety lies and tells you it’s trying to keep you safe!

  146. AKD42*

    I enjoyed all the comments on this, but I haven’t read them all before I wanted to say this: there are so many things NOT related to experience that can make you a valuable employee. Having a positive attitude. Being the kind of person who shows up on time, works diligently, asks questions, learns from their mistakes, remains curious and enthusiastic, and goes the extra mile to be helpful, are all great qualities to cultivate, no matter how many internships or volunteer trips to foreign countries you’ve made. Keep at it, just keep focused on continuous improvement! And ask for that review!

  147. Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii*

    Comparing yourself with someone else is self defeating. There will always be someone else better than you at something. Even Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates can’t compete with other people in areas such as marriage longevity or personal happiness despite having almost unlimited money.

    The only person you are truly in competition with is yourself.
    You didn’t slack, you did what you could with your mental health issues. You are gainfully employed and being treated for your health conditions.
    No one can change the past but the future is unwritten. Decide what you want to do with your future.

  148. Jordan*

    Hi friend! I think I was you 15 years ago. I’m in my mid-thirties now and am not magically cured of my anxiety or imposter syndrome, but I think I’ve gotten a lot better at dealing with and avoiding regret. A few things I try to remind myself of that you might find helpful:
    * We know ourselves better than we know anyone else, but we assume we know other people just as well only from what they show us. This isn’t true! Who knows what their lives are like. Who knows what their own insecurities are. Know your mind is not putting you on an even playing field with them, because you know more about and are more critical of yourself than you can ever be of anyone else.
    * What would you of 5 years ago think looking at you now? What would they be psyched about? What have you accomplished that you actually dreamed of, but you’ve let yourself forget because you’re focused on where you think you fall short vs what you’ve achieved? I guarantee there’s a lot, but our anxiety brains are always looking out for danger, it’s easy to forget how we’re safe, happy, and fulfilled in ways we weren’t before unless we actively work to remind ourselves.
    * What anyone else has accomplished or what they can do or who they are (or seem to be, anyway) actually… has nothing to do with us. They’re on their unique road, and we’re on ours. Would it be cool to have / do / achieve some of the things they have? Sure seems that way sometimes, but who knows what’s on your road that someone else wants, and more importantly, what’s ahead for you that you can reach. Where you are now isn’t forever, and what you can have for yourself isn’t related in any way, shape or form to what someone else already has.
    This is the hardest part, but try to turn regret into inspiration, or at least a chance to look inward and understand your feelings. You have time, so why do you wish you had something that someone else does? Is it because you really want it, it aligns with your values, it’s something you’ve been working towards but haven’t gotten to? Or is it because our capitalist grind culture has set some specific achievements (and the younger somebody gets them) as The Good Things To Do and everything else is amorphous and undefined or outright devalued? The more you decide what you want, or at least what you want to explore, the more you can be confident when you see someone else Being Cool and Accomplished and go hey, awesome for them, not really on my todo – or hey, awesome for them, maybe I want to look into this more because it gels with these core values of mine I’ve thought a lot about.

    Finally, there is no timeline. There is no expiration date after which if we haven’t achieved All The Things we are too old and it’s over. I absolutely used to think there was, especially in my 20s when it’s that interstitial and foundation-building stage between a lifetime of school and a lifetime of everything else. But at 35 (and with friends in their 40s and 50s) I can promise we all still feel we’ve got this huge stretch of time in front of us to inch toward what we want. The trick is just to be able to look backward now and then and go cool, I forgot I didn’t used to always be here and that I’ve actually already made it so far.

    Good luck friend, anxiety is the worst but you’re working on it and that’s the best any of us can do.

  149. Labrat #5*

    You’ve shown that you can overcome difficulties, you’ve shown that you’re reliable and competent. You’ve had good, stable employment for 2 years right out of university (for a lot of people it takes several years to get that kind of job stability). These others might have impressive sounding CV’s, but you have good qualities of your own they may not have. You’ve already proven yourself in the job while they haven’t yet, and they could well be feeling some anxiety about that. And if you’re working directly with them, you’ll probably have things you can teach them too. From someone else who has confidence issues, you have a lot more to feel good about than you may realise.

  150. Diatryma*

    I can’t make myself not comment.

    You are okay. You are doing fine.

    My coping metaphors, when I get caught up in thinking I’m worthless, and I apologize that this is kind of a mess but it’s been sitting in my head all day bubbling:

    You and everyone else are walking in the woods. Some people do rock-climbing and some people walk in the creek. You find waterfalls and interesting plants. Even if you stick to the paths, even if you follow the map, you have different experiences. That doesn’t mean one person is winning at ‘day spent outside’. You’re just finding different things, and that’s okay.

    At one point, I held on to the fact that if I were my age and had conquered a drug addiction or something, I’d be an Inspiring Story or something. So not having that to deal with, that’s a win. I also looked at my years of not being employed in anything like my field, or with a living wage, as my self-destructive phase. It was a really subtle self-destruction, based almost entirely on mental and emotional sabotage and with physical manifestations mostly around when I will get to retire. Also, at the age I was having the drug-habit talk with myself, my father was still in college, and everything turned out great for him.

    I remind myself that Past Me had her reasons for everything. I didn’t study abroad because I thought I’d need credits in my major and all the programs advertised to me were full of gen-eds. I didn’t move to California because I was paid more in the Midwest. I made my choices, and they were the best choices. I got good things from them and I had good reasons.

    School is a terrible way to learn how to be an adult. Nothing is like school the way school is like school. There are no seniors or proms or everyone going through milestones at the same time.

    There’s always some twit who’s shinier. Let them. They can’t be you, and it’s okay to be you. No one is grading you on being a person. If you want to be graded on being a person, you’ll have to write your own rubric, and I suggest you test it out on others periodically to make sure it’s calibrated right. Be as kind to yourself as you are to others.

  151. Quidge*

    Bit late, because UK, but here goes:

    I know someone who feels the exact same way about you dealing with your anxiety that you feel about the intern’s work achievements. They came to treatment late, due to lack of availability/stigma throughout their youth, and concentrating on other areas of their life, but feel regretful and envious of much younger people who are further along in their recovery. Ultimately, I’m not a better person because I got a head start, and they’re not a worse person because they have feelings about un-level playing fields.

    It doesn’t take less work overall to succeed and be happy depending on what order you tackle your goals in. There’s a ‘recommended’ order, but most of us do what we need to when we need to, and it sounds like you’re doing that fantastically.

  152. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    OP, a vanishingly small number of humanitarian internships actually accomplish anything. People go to these places and spend a summer building a school or installing solar panels, and everyone feels good about it, but the school never gets used because no teacher is appointed, or the NGO sends out a teacher who then gets yellow fever or dysentery, and the solar panels work but some minor thing breaks and so the electricity goes to waste. I nearly signed up to a programme to work with refugees, then I saw that I’d have to spend a week getting trained, and then work for just one more week before being sent home. It really didn’t seem worth it.

  153. Properlike*

    Hello, fellow anxiety-brain sufferer. I’m old enough to have mid-life crises now (!) but here’s something it took me this long to realize: All the “false starts” I had, the careers I did well in just enough before skipping to a different career (for workplace, field, and geographic reasons), the volunteer work I put in… individually, it’s nothing spectacular. There are people in all of these fields making money and big names for themselves.

    What I *do* have is that no one has this unique mix of skills and experience that apply across a variety of fields. It’s valuable. There are many people like us. “It’s all material” as they say, but in this case, “it’s all part of your toolbox.”

  154. DrRat*

    Dear OP, there are some great points on here, but I’d like to add just a bit more. I have a high IQ (it’s genetic, nothing to brag about – it’s like having brown eyes). It took me years in the work world to realize that being the book smartest person in the room did not mean I was the best at the job. In many cases, especially in my early years, being intelligent was not nearly as important as “soft skills” and knowing how to work well with people, get things done tactfully, etc.

    So for many jobs I have had, if you saw me on paper, I might wow you. But there were people there with much less impressive credentials who were actually better at the job. Even now, in my current position, I am excellent at my job – but there are at least two people on my team whose credentials are not nearly as impressive as mine and who are better at the work than I am. On the same note, I came in with a training class of 20, and many of those people had these “wow” credentials on paper – and almost all of them were not able to handle the day to day stress of this position and are now gone.

    I think of a former friend who was smoking hot, super smart, witty, successful, etc., and who always attracted any guy she met. Until they actually dated her, at which they ran for the hills, because day to day? She was a train wreck.

  155. Hapax Legomenon*

    I’m late to the party but I wanted to say something about that “they only hired me because they were desperate” thought. Even if that’s true, so what? Every day since has been a chance to prove you don’t measure up, but you’ve proven the opposite.
    Almost two years ago, I had a full-blown meltdown at my toxic job. My then-boss temporarily reassigned me to another department while the organization prepared to get rid of me. The manager I was to report to got a call along the lines of “We’re sending someone with Issues to work under you, keep an eye on her,” and she tried to resist having another problem child foisted off on her but was ordered to keep me. After a few weeks working under her, I felt a million times better and became a good employee, and the new manager went to bat to keep me in her department, and none of my coworkers cared how I got there because I did work that was good enough to make things run well. If you are still there after two years, it’s not because they’re desperate. It’s because you’re good enough.

  156. Nonshiny Resume*

    I never post here but this one got me very defensive for you! These interns may have experiences you don’t have, but you have plenty that they do not—namely working in this actual job for a few years. You need to see yourself as they certainly see you: THE knowledgeable person who has worked this position, who understands the daily requirements outside of short term internships and has a better long-term view. I also would caution you to assume all of the shiny background stuff was really that shiny! It’s super common for young adults with the money and support to have these resume-boosting experiences that frankly, most of us don’t have access to.

    You and your experiences have value, and don’t let shiny resume comparison rob you of that. Even if they have done your job before, you and your interns have things to learn from each other—you aren’t competing. Surrounding yourself with people who are better than you at [whatever thing] is the only way to get better at [whatever thing], anyway. Appreciate whatever stuff they bring to the position without letting insecurity take away that opportunity for growth.

    It sounds like you’re learning to be kind to yourself, letter writer. This is another place to do so!

  157. phred*

    These interns appear bright ‘n’ shiny, accomplished and talented. And they may be. But you know what? You can do things they can’t. You have life-forming experiences they don’t. And they never will. They may not have been good experiences–I lived on food stamps when I couldn’t find a job in the 1980s recession, and I’ve been renovated out of two apartments–but they probably changed your outlook on life. I’m a librarian in a teaching hospital. Next month we’re getting a new class of residents, most of whom could out-brilliant me any day of the week. But I can do a literature search they couldn’t possibly do as fast or as well, even if I don’t know what all the big words mean. And very few of them know what it’s like to be an inpatient for a week totally dependent on nurses for almost everything. I do. Concentrate on your accomplishments, and on the people you’ve helped. Just last week someone thanked me for helping her while she was in school. One colleague says that I’m the reason she’s still a librarian–I was friendly and supportive after she left a horrible boss. And finally, make note of the good interns. You and they may be able to help each other someday.

    1. phred*

      I should have added: I’m sixty, so I’ve had more time to gather experiences. When I was your age (TM) I would have looked up to you as an amazing success compared to me. :-)

Comments are closed.