I’m afraid I’m terrible at my new job

A reader writes:

I was laid off from my sales job due to COVID and scored my “dream job” at another startup as an account manager. I was so proud and excited to start this new-ish career path and felt qualified but also that I was going to learn so much, and I am.

The problem is, I just don’t feel like I’m great at the job, and I don’t feel I can get to a point where I’ve mastered it, or at least to a point when I don’t need my manager’s support on every issue I encounter. I feel like I’m sorely underqualified for this role with regards to strategic thinking and supporting accounts of this size.

I’ve been at the job for almost six months. When should I be feeling comfortable? I started off with tons of enthusiasm, but it’s waning now and I’m pretty much just doing prep for upcoming meetings but have lost motivation to go the extra mile for strategic planning for my accounts. Part of it is that I just don’t know what to do, and part of it is that my anxiety is paralyzing. I sit and stare at my screen and try to figure things out and can’t focus. My manager has told me it took him a year to feel comfortable, but at the same time, he had an incredible amount of success in that year despite not feeling comfortable, and I’m not awesome at the “fake it til you make it” mindset.

I feel like the company loved me during the interview but are now disappointed in me, although I have no real feedback indicating this. I’m not going to hit my upcoming set of goals, but the company also understands they created these targets based on unreliable data and my entire team is in the same boat. I have yet to have my 90-day check-in, and we currently don’t have any metrics to assess performance so honestly, I don’t know HOW anyone would know if I were doing well or not.

At what point should I look for a new job if I feel like I’m not able to do the one for which I was hired? Do you have any tips on how to get my managers to tell me what would be an indicator of whether or not I was a good fit and if I had potential to really excel? I don’t want to sit around hoping I’m doing well and wondering when the other shoe will drop and they’ll discover I’m actually terrible at my job. 75% of my team is new, and we don’t really have any visibility into what each other are doing. It’s also my first job where my performance is not 100% connected to attaining specific targets. Is this just imposter syndrome? Is this the company’s fault for not supporting me more? Am I passing off responsibility for my performance?

I don’t have the energy to keep fighting for feedback or for something that helps me measure my performance. I should note, I am the only woman on my team and the only one who seems to be worried about whether or not I’m doing OK. I know this is a more common thing for women but I don’t want to brush it off as just being that.

Oh my goodness, please talk to your manager! One conversation might set you completely at ease.

You’re used to jobs where you would know precisely how well you were doing because you had specific targets that you either hit or didn’t. That can be very reassuring — you have numbers that measure your performance at any given time, and you never need to wonder. But now you’ve gone from that to an environment where you don’t have those clear indicators, and that can be unsettling in the beginning! (In theory, it could remain unsettling for you in the long term too, in which case you might conclude that this kind of job isn’t for you — but I don’t think things are that dire yet.)

That said, is it possible that you’re not very good at the job? Sure, it’s possible. That happens. But it’s also possible that you’re doing absolutely fine and are exactly where your boss would expect you to be at this point. This job might be one that takes longer to master than other positions you’ve had. You haven’t been there quite six months yet, and a lot of jobs take right around six months to even start feeling comfortable. And that’s just feeling comfortable, not mastering the role! Some roles can take a year or two to become good at, and longer still to fully master. If this is the first time you’re experiencing that, it makes sense that you’re feeling uneasy.

Of course, that’s just guesswork from me since I can’t know from the outside. But there’s someone who can tell you for sure: your boss. In fact, it sounds like your boss might have been trying to reassure you about this already! If he told you it took him a year (twice as long as you’ve been there!) to feel comfortable, my guess is that he’s either noticing your anxiety and telling you there’s no cause for it or preemptively trying to prepare for you for a job that simply takes a while to learn.

But rather than speculating, please talk to your boss about this! Tell him that you don’t have a good sense of how things are going and ask if he can give you some feedback on your work. Ask specifically, “What’s your sense of how things are going overall?” and “Am I about where you’d expect me to be at this point in my training, or were you hoping I’d be further along?” Tell him that you hadn’t anticipated you’d still be needing his support on so many issues you encounter and are wondering if that’s par for the course or an indication that you need to do more to get yourself up to speed. You can also be transparent that you’re struggling with how to assess your progress and ask what indicators he’ll look at when he’s assessing your performance at the end of, say, a year.

If your manager seems like a reasonable and supportive person, you could also ask for more coaching on the pieces of the job that you’re struggling with most. There’s no reason you can’t say, for example, “I’m new to doing strategic planning for accounts of this size. Could we sit down and talk through how you’d approach some of them so I can work on building my skills in that area?” It might feel like a bad idea to call your boss’s attention to your weaker spots, but a good manager will appreciate that you’re identifying your own development areas and being forthright about trying to improve.

Now, separately: You mentioned that your anxiety is paralyzing you when you’re trying to work! If the anxiety is specific to this situation and not something you experience in the rest of your life, it might be addressed by taking the steps above. But if it’s something you’ve encountered at other times too, I urge you to consider talking with a therapist about it — both because it could be playing a role in how you’re assessing things at work (it can warp how you perceive things pretty badly) and also because it sucks to go through life feeling anxious!

As for your question about at what point you should look for a new job if you continue to feel you can’t do this one … If you have the above conversation with your boss (and really have it — don’t water down the questions that I recommended asking) and it turns out that he shares your concerns about your work so far, that could be a sign that, indeed, the job just might not be the strongest match. Or, if you talk to him and he’s not discouraging, but he’s also not that helpful — if he’s disengaged, vague, or otherwise unable to help you contextualize how you’re performing — I’d give it more time. Again, you’re not even at six months yet and he’s suggested it might take a year to feel like you know what you’re doing. But if the idea of giving it more time feels excruciating — and especially if your concerns are growing — it might be that this setup just isn’t a great one for you. That wouldn’t necessarily mean that you can’t do the job; it could mean that you’re not happy in roles with this much ambiguity and you’d rather move into one with clearer metrics and goalposts. If so, there’s nothing wrong with that — and that’s actually a good thing to know about yourself, because it can guide your future job searches! But if you can stick it out a while longer to see how things progress, it could be worth it.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

Read an update to this letter here

{ 101 comments… read them below }

  1. IL JimP*

    I think the biggest problem is going from a sales job which is very metric focused to something not is going to take some mind shift to get comfortable with and it won’t be easy to do. Looking for a way to measure yourself screams to me you’re still in the sales mindset. I think starting there and instead of looking for metrics ask your managers what success looks like in the job would be a very helpful conversation to have right away.

    1. Generic Name*

      I think this also happens to “A+” students too. Grades are a great way to know if you’re “good enough”, and if you bomb the first test, an easy solution is to put in more time studying. For many people, being a student is very satisfying because of the concrete feedback, and when they get into the working world where your boss doesn’t give you a grade on your work, it’s really hard to know if you’re doing okay if you aren’t getting any feedback. Unfortunately, many places operate on the “no news is good news” principle of feedback.

      1. Wolfie*

        I’m currently having this problem in a job I’ve been in 2 years. My two reviews have been fine, and my manager told me he’d tell me if he had a problem, but I just… I don’t know what I need. I also feel isolated with everyone working from home, and I don’t think anyone really understands what value I bring to the job, because I’m the first person doing this job for the company. AND I’m really behind from Covid last year.

        Sorry! That was all about me, not OP. OP, just wanted to repeat what Allison said that 6 months really isn’t that long, and I think you should try to keep telling yourself that. Certainly, I think it’s too early to think the job is a wash and to find a new one. Hang in there!

    2. New Job Worrier*

      OP Here – great point! I’m definitely still in the sales mindset and need to be open to some “soft” indicators of progress, I think. Thanks!

  2. Seeking Second Childhood*

    You’ve been there are six months, and you haven’t had your 90-day (3 month) review? There’s my suggested first step: ask for the 3month feedback. Also go back into Alison’s archive and look for the topics about asking for more feedback.
    The three-month review is really just a convenient opener. We all need feedback to know that we are doing a good job. Heck… He might not be giving you feedback because he thinks you are the rock star. Go into it that way, we are all rooting for you.

    1. Lacey*

      Yeah, that stuck out to me too. I’m wondering if the company is disorganized and that’s adding to her anxiety.

      1. Daisy-dog*

        Oddly enough, the only 90-day review that I’ve ever had was with the most disorganized company I’d ever worked for. In general, everywhere that I have worked, the management team is just always busy. Always in meetings and always canceling our 1-on-1s or informal reviews. What this turned out to mean *for me* was that I was doing fine and they had no concerns. Now, “no news is good news” is an awful management technique, but it happens!

    2. Theory of Eeveelution*

      I was about to bring this up. This makes me wonder if LW feels like it’s a “me” problem because the organization is a bit of a mess? I mean, if they can’t even get it together to give LW their 90-day review, I have to wonder what else they’re dropping the ball on.

    3. LadyByTheLake*

      I am nearing 60 years old and in all that time (and approximately 15 jobs) I have had exactly one job that had a 90-day “review” process (and that simply consisted of HR confirming that my probationary period was over). I don’t think the 90-day review is all that common, or at least isn’t in my industries (law and finance).

      1. LadyByTheLake*

        Or maybe it is common in some industries or job types, but not enough to generalize that it is a universally accepted/expected thing.

      2. katertot*

        Yep- I’m an early careerist but have never had a FORMAL 90-day check-in with my leader- and I’ve been in multiple leadership roles at large companies that were well-run and well-organized. Were there informal check-ins? Yes. But there were not formal 90-day check-ins.

      3. HereKittyKitty*

        I read the 90 day review thing as it was something that was supposed to happen, but was never scheduled at work. Not that the LW was expecting one naturally.

      4. Sneaky Ninja for this one*

        I’ve been at my current employer 13 years and haven’t had my 90 day yet. And we do them :) But I do have weekly 1:1s with my boss.

    4. New Job Worrier*

      OP Here! The company is trying very hard to create a positive culture with career development in mind, along with opening lines of communication. So the 90-day check in is a company-wide initiative. The main problem is that my manager is currently working two roles which are both extremely stressful and time consuming for him, so I understand he is doing his best. Startup life! But yes, this is definitely an internal thing, not expected across all companies out there.

      1. HappySnoopy*

        Maybe you should take the initiative to schedule a 15-30 min block of time. Even if it’s not a formal 90 day, an informal check-in like Alison suggested.

        If your boss is juggling lots of things, your progress check, especially if in their mind you’re doing fine is not going to be as high a priority. Having a scheduled meeting may help both of you. Them for getting off to-do list and you getting feedback to best succeed.

      2. Mizzle*

        It sounds like your awareness of just how busy your manager is, is making you hesitate to bring this up. On one hand, that’s both respectful and kind – but it might also be counterproductive.

        Would it help you to consider that since this is blocking you (“paralyzing”, you said), this is actually really important information for your boss to have and that you would be helping him prioritize by bringing this up?

    5. Firecat*

      IME this is very common. I’ve worked at exactly one place that actually did their self assigned 90 day reviews on time.

  3. CoffeeIsMyFriend*

    Ugh, I know how the anxiety feels and it’s rough! Even if it is just work related, I strongly recommend talking to someone about how to manage it. Good luck!

      1. Koalafied*

        Part of it is that I just don’t know what to do, and part of it is that my anxiety is paralyzing. I sit and stare at my screen and try to figure things out and can’t focus.

        OP, this is also a classic hallmark of ADD/ADHD. You may look into getting screened for it (your GP can give you a basic questionnaire and refer you to a specialist if warranted), or picking up a book on ADD/ADHD coping strategies to see if any of it resonates with you or helps you, whether or not you would meet the clinical standard for a diagnosis (everything is on a spectrum and you could have trouble with executive functioning without having enough trouble to be a diagnosable condition). I can recommend “Delivered From Distraction” and “The Adult ADHD Tool Kit.” There’s been a growing realization in recent years of how underdiagnosed adult ADD is (especially in women and in adults who were “gifted” children), so there’s a wealth of information and resources out there now that wasn’t around 5-10 years ago.

        1. Koalafied*

          Meant to also add – Google “ADD avoidance cycle” for more info on that and to see if it sounds familiar to you.

        2. Paris Geller*

          Not OP, but definitely going to look into these suggestions as well, since that line resonated with me. I’m a 30-year-old woman, and I definitely wonder if I have ADHD/some sort of neurodivergence. A lot of what people who have been diagnosed with ADHD resonates with me–things like this, and working in productive “bursts” after not being able to concentrate, etc, but there’s also a lot that doesn’t–I’m always on time, for example, and I see a lot of people who have ADHD and talk about it struggle with that. I am also great at concentrating on something once I get in the zone and am not easily distracted–in fact, often times I cannot be distracted, even if something is urgent. I’m definitely going to look into these suggestions for strategies whether I ever pursue screening or not.

          1. Koalafied*

            There are definitely other constellations of trouble with executive brain function besides those in ADHD, so it’s a great idea to look at it more in general.

            Surprisingly, hyperfocus can be an ADHD symptom in certain circumstances. Specifically when the hyperfocus can’t be consciously activated, directed, sustained, or terminated at will but just sort of comes over you without warning and lasts until it’s done with you.

            Sometimes this is related to the avoidance cycle, where you engage in “procrastivity:” procrastinating while still technically being productive. In essence, when confronted with a task or workload you don’t know how to successfully complete, that feels bad. When you avoid it because it makes you feel bad, that also makes you feel bad. But when you encounter something productive you can do well, that feels good. So over time we can develop an avoidance strategy where we, for instance, react to an inability to focus on a big project due in the morning by… mopping the floors or spending an hour minutes tweaking the document’s formatting to perfection or falling into a Wikipedia hole. Episodes of hyperfocus often occur when we’re engaging in these tasks that we understand, to stave off the frustration and guilt associated with the thing we’re actually supposed to be doing but avoid because we don’t understand exactly how we’re supposed to handle them or how to figure that out.

          2. LC*

            (Early 30s woman here, diagnosed with ADHD at age 24) There is honestly so much more to ADHD than what most people immediately think of (little boy bouncing off the walls, etc.). The things you describe could be due to any number of things, and they definitely don’t mean that you absolutely have ADHD, but they’re common enough experiences in people with ADHD (particularly adults and particularly women) that if any of it resonates with you, I think it’d be so worth it to look into it more. Especially as an adult woman. (I could go off on a whole thing about how ADHD presents in women and how it can affect diagnosis, or lack thereof, and treatment, and everything else, but that is way off topic and far too expansive for me to go into here, so I will un-digress.)

            I’m always on time, for example

            Do you work in overdrive to make sure that you’re on time? Like, it’s a thing that you cannot be late. Overcompensating for stuff like that is super common in people with ADHD.

            I am also great at concentrating on something once I get in the zone and am not easily distracted–in fact, often times I cannot be distracted, even if something is urgent

            Yeahhhh so ADHD is poorly named, for many reasons. Like, very very poorly named. We don’t have a deficit of attention, we have a hard time directing and regulating our (sometimes overabundant) attention. In addition to not being able to give attention to something your brain doesn’t want to, it can also be really tough to direct attention away once you’re locked onto it. I’d say that this is textbook ADHD, but like the name, the textbook (DSM V) sucks, lol. This is a very familiar experience for ADHD folks.

        3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          It has happened to me and I’m definitely not ADD. When I experienced paralysis, it was more what OP was describing: fear of not doing the job properly because there was nobody to tell me I was doing great, or assessing my work in any way.

  4. Detective Amy Santiago*

    In addition to everything that Alison said, I’d like to remind you that we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic that has had far reaching effects on most industries in one way or another. It’s entirely possible that your management has no way to accurately assess your progress because current circumstances are unprecedented.

    Definitely schedule time to talk to your boss and please update us!

    1. New Job Worrier*

      You are so true! We are remote 100% which adds to it, so I’m not getting my normal dose of office chatter. And our team is currently building itself out, process and measures of success included – I didn’t realize that part of it until I started though. Thank you! I’ll send an update if it’s exciting enough lol!

  5. misspiggy*

    OP’s comment about having to fight for feedback makes me wonder whether management also don’t know what success looks like in this new team and this new operating environment. Just in case that’s what’s going on, I’d do my own mini strategic planning process and decide what I think might be signs I was doing well in my role – but setting targets for two years down the line. Then I’d work back to see whether I can improve what I’m doing now for those aims.

    To identify what strategic targets might look like (rather than smaller, more easily quantifiable frequent metrics), I use my old boss’s advice. She said to imagine what might or might not happen if I wasn’t involved with X piece of work and nobody was available to fill my shoes. It helps if you can look back at a similar process you were involved in and how it panned out with your input.

    But OP should definitely not fall prey to the idea that there is One True Metric for this job that she’s not clever enough to have picked up on.

    1. Again With Feeling*

      This is great advice. I’m in a similar role to OP’s at a startup, and it can be a really tough adjustment. As others have said, schedule check-ins with your manager, proactively seek specific feedback, and share your specific pain points. This type of role can also give you *a lot* of autonomy, which may be good or bad depending on your own work style and preferences. As misspiggy said, you can take advantage of this autonomy by designing goals or doing a basic sketch of a strategic plan for your accounts, and then looping in your manager for feedback, rather than waiting for them to get you started. Speaking from personal experience, therapy (and medication, if appropriate) for anxiety can be life-changing, too.

  6. Chantel*

    Tough call. I’d say that ultimately, if you’re not feeling it, then you’re not feeling it, and it’s time for list-making: pros and cons of the role itself, pros and cons of leaving, pros and cons of staying.

    That inner feeling is telling you something, and it seems you’ll have to do some major exploration to figure out what it is.

  7. Dust Bunny*

    So it says that this is a startup and feedback sounds weak . . . could part of the problem be that the company doesn’t know where it wants to go yet, either? I’ve had a couple of jobs where I felt like I couldn’t get it right and in retrospect I realize it was because “right” was a moving target, or because management’s goals were unclear and I didn’t actually have any way to know what “right” was.

    1. Sasha*

      This! And in a start up, you are often a department of one, so you can’t even ask your boss or colleagues because although they might technically be your line manager, they may have very little idea of how your job should be done.

      My husband has worked in lots of startups, and as a strategist his line manager has been the CTO (dev background), a project manager/owner, and the head of new business (a B2B sales role). He was senior enough to be happy working unsupervised, but anybody new to the role would have been stuffed.

  8. DG*

    If OP has been working remotely this whole time, that could be adding to the anxiety and feelings of uncertainty. The conventional wisdom of “it takes six months to feel comfortable in a new job” doesn’t necessarily fit with our new way of working.

    It wasn’t until I went 100% remote post-COVID that I realized how much explicit and implicit feedback I got in face-to-face settings that are nearly impossible to replicate remotely – small talk while walking to a meeting with someone, reading body language in an in-person check-in, comparing experiences with colleagues over lunch, etc.

    1. New Job Worrier*

      OP here, yes definitely – the remote work probably has a lot more to do with it than I expected. Thank you for the feedback!

  9. Regardless of Personal Cost*

    I have an anecdote! Which may or may not be helpful, and is definitely not medical advice:

    Even before the pandemic, I wasn’t the most confident person. The additional stresses kicked me right over the edge and I was an anxious, paralyzed mess at work. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t plan, I couldn’t adjust to sudden changes. After a humiliating crying jag, I spoke to a psychiatrist and was put on medication.

    I didn’t realize it until about a week ago, but my bosses immediately noticed a change in my performance. Without the anxiety taking up half my brain, I could plan ahead a bit more. I managed my time better, and hit my mark much more accurately. I’ve spent the past months thinking I was going to get fired and that it was time to look into a second career, and a week ago, one of my immediate superiors started pushing me to take a (very minor) promotion.

    So. Medication doesn’t help everyone. It doesn’t address underlying problems. It doesn’t make the situation better. But it can help by giving you some mental breathing space so you can engage with those problems in a way that makes life easier for you. By now, your insurance should have kicked in. Maybe use them and talk to someone about anxiety?

    1. DG*

      May I ask what, if anything, you disclosed to your employer while you were struggling/figuring out treatment? I’m in a similar boat at the moment and am wondering if I should disclose what’s going on and ask for some minor accommodations or just keep my head down in the hopes that my new medication will kick in soon.

      1. Blinded By the Gaslight*

        Word of advice: you can/should ask for workplace accommodations without disclosing your specific medical needs/status. Talk to your doctor about doing that, and work with HR directly. I would strongly advise against revealing your mental health specifics to your supervisor. It is just not their business, period.

        In my experience, I had a supervisor initially be sympathetic to my mental health disclosure, and then use it against me months down the line, including revealing the reason I took FMLA leave in a department-wide email. Once you let the cat out of the bag, you can never put it back in. Protect yourself first.

        1. Wisteria*

          I have also had a supervisor reveal information on my FMLA request. If anyone is thinking about making an FMLA request, there are privacy protections that go with them, and it might be a good idea to research those and remind everyone of them during the process. Be careful with your tone as you do so. You don’t want to sound accusatory, more a breezy “of course I am going to mention this, it’s a part of the process”.

        2. DG*

          Thanks for the gut check. Your situation is exactly the kind of thing I could see happening at my workplace. In fact, one complicating issue is that my supervisor has a close familial relationship with our HR director… (yes, it’s *that* kind of workplace)

          1. Snailing*

            Wisteria’s advice above could play here too, and Alison often recommends in – throw in a nonchalant line about “of course you’ll keep this confidential since it’s an expected workplace norm and a legal requirement; I know Supervisor wouldn’t let it get in the way OF COURSE but I find it easier to just not let it factor in to my worklife.” If you approach it as what any reasonable person would do, whoever you’re talking to is more likely to play as that reasonable person.

    2. Mental Lentil*

      I was thinking along these lines too. If the anxiety was there before and is now getting worse, or if the anxiety is starting to spill over into other areas of their life besides work, it’s a good idea to speak to a therapist to at least get an assessment.

      the anxiety taking up half my brain

      Been there, done that. Don’t want to again.

  10. Mbarr*

    Did I write this letter without remembering it? OP, you have my utmost sympathy. I just floundered for 2.5 years in a similar role. I felt woefully inadequate, but never quite bad enough for anyone to fire me. I thought about job hunting a few times – but I was being paid more at this job than I could hope to make anywhere else.

    I’m torn on what to say (other than, “I completely and utterly sympathize with you!”). I know that feeling of inadequacy and it’s TERRIBLE. I developed anxiety about work. I think it could damage your morale long term if you stay in the role, BUT, try to give it another few months before you jump ship. You might be able to carve out a niche where you excel. That being said, if this job and accompanying anxiety is affecting you outside of work, take your mental health into account and leave if you need to.

    For myself, I finally got a new role in the same company and just started last week. I can feel my anxiety melting away with each day I’m away from the old job.

    1. New Job Worrier*

      OP here – thanks for your comment and for the support! While I don’t like anyone else to go through this stuff, it’s helpful to know I’m not alone. Congratulations on your new job, that is so exciting!

  11. It can really take a year!*

    I want to speak to the manager’s comment about it taking a year to get a handle on the job.

    In my department we have a position that I held for 3 years and have had to train several people to do since I moved to my current position. I told ALL of them, it WILL take you at least a year to get a handle on this job! None of them believed me.

    It honestly takes a minimum of a year. The actual tasks of the job are not difficult but the nuances and the constant adjustments and the late changes you have to handle can’t be taught, they can only be learned through doing. In addition there are multiple things that only happen one time a year, again, I can explain them but until you have actually DONE them, you won’t have any idea what’s involved.

    Trust the manager or trainer when they tell you it will take a year. You may be the type of person who picks things up quickly, but it’s still going to take that year to really understand everything involved.

    1. Reality Check*

      Yup, I was coming here to say that for my first year at this job I could hardly go a half an hour without asking a questions. Took me 3 years to get the hang of it. Normal for my position.

    2. SansaStark*

      My job is the exact same way. It’s a one-year cycle so you won’t even SEE some of the stuff you’re trained on in March-April again until next March-April. We tell new-hires the same thing – you have to be here a year to even see the whole cycle. Then another year to understand it. Management expects and encourages questions. You can’t know what you can’t know. Maybe this job is similar?

    3. knitcrazybooknut*

      I started a new job at a university a year ago, almost to the day. All the other people in my same position say it takes three years to really have a handle on the job. We’re on the academic year schedule, so everything cycles through. The first year, you hang on for dear life. The second, the tasks kinda seem familiar. By the third time around, you might actually remember what to do.

      I’m lucky enough that I worked in a different division of this university for six years before I got this job. There’s about six months of information administered via fire hose when you start here that would not be sustainable as I stepped into this role!

    4. Snailing*

      YES. I’m also in an account manager role (in employee benefits consulting) and I am the poster child for picking things up quickly and rolling with punches without seeming stressed.

      But it’s still taken me over a year a feel even comfortable doing this work because (1) it’s a complicated, constantly updating, and new-to-me industry (2) the nature of the accounts is that they renew every year so I didn’t have hands on experience with each client until a year long cycle and (3) there is just so much to juggle and there are often no metrics for me to measure success by.

  12. eons*

    Did anyone else read the first 2 paragraphs and just know the LW was a woman? Why do we do this to ourselves?

    1. Generic Name*

      It’s pretty hard to believe anything else than “you are worth less” than (statistically speaking) actually getting paid less than a man for the same work, being told (verbally or non-verbally) that we are not welcome in certain roles or certain industries. We are steeped in the message that we aren’t good enough and must work harder/longer/better. So yeah, we are doing it to ourselves, but not in a vacuum. We are doing exactly what society tells us we must do.

    2. New Job Worrier*

      OP here – NONE of my male colleagues have given whether or not they’re a good fit, a second thought!

      1. Ray Gillette*

        When women agonize over these kinds of details, everyone tells you it’s normal. When men agonize over these kinds of details, we get diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

      2. SnappinTerrapin*

        Not necessarily.

        We are socialized to not reveal our concerns about our weaknesses.

        As someone pointed out above, there is a real risk of our own concerns about ourselves being used against us down the road.

        I can’t offer any better advice than what you are receiving. I understand most of what you are feeling, for what that’s worth.

  13. Jennifer*

    I think maybe it’s time to accept that it isn’t a good fit and start making plans to move on. There’s no shame in that and struggling through isn’t worth the strain on your mental health.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      This is not logical. LW has had ZERO feedback and anxiety on top of that. Alison’s advice is good: a single conversation with her manager could clear everything up.

      1. Forrest*

        A little of column A, a little of column B— it’s definitely a good idea for LW to talk to her boss and get some outside feedback. But it might be that her boss saying thing are fine and she’s not in any danger of losing her job doesn’t calm the anxiety. The external performance isn’t the only thing that matters: you can be good at a job but still decide it doesn’t suit you because it requires more uncertainty than you can cope with. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I think it’s a good idea to talk to the boss, and specifically mention the things you’re agonising over. The longer-term strategic stuff can maybe be broken down into smaller chunks, and you can draw up a schedule to, for example, get the marketing materials done for each product by a certain date, and then start the campaign roll-out in September once everyone’s back from the hols and the manager has signed off on your plan.
          The one time I felt paralysis like this, was when I was given a huge project to work on, by myself. I had to write content for language learning software. I had to write texts for listening comprehension, then write multiple choice questions to check whether the student had indeed understood. I had to put in links to grammar rules, and make sure all the vocabulary had a suitable definition and translation in the dictionary. There was a lot of work involved in all that, and it was difficult to provide the questions answers and explanations when you had no idea whether anyone would find your text in the least bit interesting.
          Once I’d flaked out on the project, it was given to an older woman, who calmly stated that she would need a whole team working on it: the most creative would write texts, and others would write the questions, then people who were good on detail would go through putting in the links and dictionary definitions. Turned out I was the best at producing interesting texts with plenty of teaching potential, and I was also very good at the other stages too. It was good to have confirmation of my talent, I just needed someone to hand my work in to, and be told yes, that’s good, now finish it.

  14. Beenthere*

    Lots of good advice I’m seeing – your letter echoes a lot of what I’m feeling in my new role as well. I’ve been here 6 months and it’s hard to know if you’re actually doing a good job and ‘keeping up’.

    The number one thing that has helped me is asking my peers for calls. Like, spread the love because it’s not their job to be your coach/mentor necessarily, but pick your biggest account. Create a list of key questions you have – issues you haven’t been able to resolve, gaps where you’re not sure what to do, etc. Then go to your peer and ask to have a brainstorming session. What you’re looking for is advice on /how/ they solve problems. People aren’t going to judge you for still asking questions – you’ve only been here six months! You’re still a newbie! This is your first time in this kind of role!

    If there isn’t a team process for working strategically with clients, your best bet is seeing how your peers actually do that. Do they have spreadsheets they use for tracking? Ask for a copy to crib off of. Do they run a report or search in Salesforce to keep on top of things? Ask them to show you how to set it up. Who do they go to for X kind of problem? What metrics do they track about their own performance?

    Ultimately if this job crushes your soul, you can move on guilt-free. But if the company culture is fairly healthy otherwise, try to stick it out a year to see if it’s really not a good fit.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Ooh, this is excellent advice, and I’m bookmarking it for when I get a new job.

  15. sequitur*

    I hear of so many people struggling with whether they’re good enough for a job or not, to the point where some consider self-selecting out on that basis and leaving a role where they’re convinced they’re not good enough rather than waiting to hear if their employer actually gives that feedback, begins to actively manage their performance, etc.

    Something I’ve learnt in my career is that capitalism is generally pretty ruthless when it comes to shipping out people who are perceived as underperforming. The vast majority of employers (not all, as we see on these pages often, but many) will be extremely proactive about managing your performance or moving you on from the business if they don’t think you’re performing well enough in the role. You don’t need to do them that favour prematurely just because you’re feeling less confident about your own performance, or because you’re a highly conscientious type of person.

    The odds that you’ll find out from your employer if they don’t think you’re performing adequately are already pretty high, why make their job easier for them when your other options are to carry on being an actually adequate employee (if the performance problem is in your head and that perception isn’t shared by your employer), or at least to carry on getting paid by them while they take action to try to improve your performance (if you are indeed underperforming in their eyes)?

    Obviously this isn’t always true – some employers keep people around for a bafflingly long time when it’s clear they’re not performing, some will let you go without warning or any kind of formal performance improvement process – but in general, it feels fairly safe to say that if you haven’t already heard from your employer that they’re concerned about your performance, those concerns might not actually exist on their side.

  16. ABK*

    Re: staring at your screen just feeling anxious and inadequate. It took me a long time to learn that if I don’t know how to do something after a few attempts, just ask. It’s sooooo much better to just admit that you need some help than to stew for months thinking you’re dumb. Put together some initial ideas, then go to your boss and say “I need some help putting together the strategic plans.” Mention that this is new to you, but you have some thoughts. He might have a template for you, some examples, be able to set up some working sessions to walk you through, pair you with someone else who knows, etc. You might feel like it’s risky to admit you need help, but I think that’s a lot better and more assertive than doing nothing and feeling dumb.

    1. Anonym*

      Yes! Alison’s example of asking the boss for their way of approaching it is great. Even if you’re doing something super successfully and confidently, it can be really helpful to understand how others do it. Also, most people love being asked this sort of thing – it took them a while to build their skills and approach and it feels good to share that.

    2. Allonge*

      Also, ask to read previous strategic plans. I know that it stands to reason many of these were created from a blank piece of paper, but I promise you that 90% is copy-pasted from last year or a previous project with new dates and data.

  17. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Please don’t assume you stink at your job just because you don’t have any evidence! I am also in a new job this year, and one challenging colleague made me feel like I’m a terrible worker and person. It got bad enough that my boss and his boss got involved — and they both took me aside to say I was doing fine!

  18. Me*

    No matter whether I have started a completely new job or received a promotion it always takes a solid year before I feel like I have any competency. Last round wasn’t even a formal change just a complete shift in job duties from something I dabbled in to making it my full focus. I’m approaching a year and finally starting to feel confident – I’ve been with this place in some capacity for 13 years!

    My point is 6 months is not enough time to feel like you’ve got it down. And the more complicated or bigger change the position is for you, the longer it’s going to take. Definitely talk to your managers about how things are going, but Usually (unless it’s a toxic hell-hole) you are going to actually know they are unhappy with you.

  19. Jane Austin Texas*

    Oh, man, I feel this so hard. So, let me give you the quick speech I end up giving to most of my mentees once they’re in new jobs. Being new sucks. It sucks not to know where the bathroom is, it sucks to have to ask directions to the mail room, and it sucks to ask for specialty office supplies to set up your desk. There are like 1000 other things about being new that also suck, insert your own here. The only cure for being new is to not be new, which is going to take time. So while you are new, let yourself be new. Use your newness to ask the questions that nobody else is asking. Use your newness to ask your manger how you’re doing and what you could improve. Use your newness to rethink your goals. Be patient with yourself while you learn, and give yourself the same “newness grace” that everyone around you is giving you.

  20. lb*

    I took a new job at the end of 2019, that was the same title but in a totally different industry. It took me fully a year to be comfortable in the role. One of my biggest frustrations with the job is that I didn’t have experience to fall back on – so many situations were totally new to me. So the parts of the job that are daunting now, LW, might become easier for you over time; have your boss help you come up with some strategic plans, and as they work or don’t work, and you tweak them or expand them (and so on & so on) you’ll have that knowledge to use for new clients & new plans.

  21. Blinded By the Gaslight*

    OP, I also just changed industries and am in a totally new job with a huge learning curve, and I just hit my six-month mark. I totally empathize with you. Definitely schedule a check-in with your supervisor, but also take note of your own learning accomplishments! Three months ago, I was straight up panicking in this job, but now six months in, I notice that I answer questions more easily/confidently, I’m getting projects done faster and with fewer errors, I have a better sense of the landscape of this role and how it interconnects with my coworkers and our customers, etc. But I am also still very much in “learning mode,” I still ask lots of questions, and I know I’m not working to the fullest capacity of this job yet – because I haven’t been doing it long enough to Know All the Things. And like you, people I work with say it takes a year-plus to really feel confident in the job. If your supervisor is saying that to you, believe them, and take comfort.

    However, a few years ago, I *did* have a job that I regret not quitting after the first year – but that job was a total nightmare rife with bullying and chaos, and I unfortunately, naively, thought I could fix it and that working through the challenges would strengthen my skillset. (facepalm) Oh, it strengthened my skillset all right! My skillset in recognizing the signs that an organization is terrible for me, and I need to bail immediately.

    Don’t throw in the towel just yet. Talk to your supervisor, take note of your own accomplishments, ask questions that help you understand better the things you’re struggling with, and get assistance with your anxiety. Also – give yourself a huge break. Job changes are one of life’s biggest stressors, and six months really isn’t a very long time to get accustomed to the all the new things you’re learning and doing. Reassess at your nine-month mark, and see how you feel. Best of luck to you!

    1. New Job Worrier*

      Thanks so much. I know I need to give myself a break…luckily (despite the letter I wrote in), the company is awesome – they’re so supportive and building out a culture I’m really loving. The job is interesting and I do feel very fortunate to be in the role. So hopefully as we hire, my manager will have more time for me :) I really appreciate your comment and feedback/advice, I will be taking that to heart!

  22. LisTF*

    There’s an argument that part of the reason why women’s careers don’t progress the same as men is because of precisely this type of conscientious ‘am i going a good job’ unwillingness to fake it til you make it. The LW notes that everyone else is in a similar situation of not meeting metrics and not getting feedback on performance, but she’s the only one that she observes to be experiencing this level of anxiety and questioning her ability to remain in the job. If it takes 4 years to know enough about a field of study to get a bachelor’s (and many more years for advanced knowledge or expertise), why would 6 months be sufficient to be proficient at a new job in a different role from your experience? Even if you ARE bad at it right now. So? If you leave you won’t ever get better. I’ve been at my job 3 years. It’s the same job that I did before but in a new industry that I’d never worked in. I still learn new things about the ins and out of this industry all the time. I get good performance reviews and raises even though I would rate myself about a 7 on a 1 to 10 scale of how good of a job I’m doing.
    I’ll end with this quote – “God, give me the confidence of a mediocre white dude” -Sarah Hagi

    1. SnappinTerrapin*

      Several years ago, I heard something that struck me wrong at first, but I see the wisdom with a little more experience.

      “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly until you learn to do it well.”

      Of course, it does help to get some feedback, so we can know what progress we are making along the path between doing it badly and doing it well, but we would never do it well if we waited until we were able to do it perfectly before making our first attempt.

      I’ve also seen mediocre people whose confidence greatly exceeded their abilities. I often wonder whether they are “faking til they make it” or if they really have the skewed perception that they have more talent than they actually have.

  23. Krabby*

    I can’t tell if this is tech sales or not (you mentioned it was a startup) but that can be really tough to ramp up into. And it can be very different company to company. For instance, my last tech company was very niche and difficult to explain (I struggled to tell job candidates what our products did even after working there 3 years). Our sales newbies took anywhere from 9 to 18 months to truly do well in the job because it simply took a long time to understand what we were doing and what our clients looked for. My new company, it’s very easy to explain, our value proposition is incredibly obvious. Our sales guys are usually ramped up in 6 months, max.

    All that said, I think you get to decide if you want to continue to stick the role out. Even if you’re on your way to success, you get to decide that you don’t want to wade through the uncertainty to get there. I just wouldn’t necessarily conclude that the speed of your ramp up is your fault and not the product/company itself.

  24. Aron*

    Very early in my professional career, I was in a role where it really did take a full year to year and a half for it to “click” and to feel decent in the role. It was also in a toxic environment, and I wish I’d left immediately…but I did become really good at my job, without any formal training and minimal positive feedback. So, yes, that can absolutely happen, and, at the end of the day, I am probably glad I stuck it out and learned everything I did. Would I do it again? Depends on what day you ask me. ;)

    I’ve also been in a role where I was good at it from the start but never felt “real” or qualified, and, no matter what my work performance indicated, it was never a good fit for me as a professional with my need for integrity and genuineness. I was not qualified for the position and it was a big deal to change policies to promote me into the job. I never felt comfortable talking about my degrees or professional experience (i.e., qualifications), as it became obviously apparent that, although my performance was stellar, I was in no way professionally qualified. No laws were broken, I should add. Overall, it affected how I viewed my work without affecting my work performance, if that makes any sense, and I spent a good number of years struggling with a level of procrastination I had never and have never experienced outside of that role. A lot of anxiety lifted when I gave notice and then when I left, even though my colleagues and my supervisor were stunned, confused, and, in one instance, pretty miffed.

    Those are my two perspectives. Good luck and be kind to yourself.

  25. TWB*

    Before I read this post, I was literally on a training call where my trained ended it (not even knowing that the struggle with imposter syndrome is HUGE for me) by saying “You’re much farther along than you probably think you are!”

    And while I truly appreciated that feedback/reassurance, there’s still that tiny voice in my brain going “Really? Cause I feel like I’m still stumbling around in the dark over here!”

    I’m doing the same thing I’ve been doing for 20+ years, just for different companies and I can echo everyone else that even in that scenario where you have the base skills, it still takes 6 months to a year to feel comfortable with the way “new company” does things compared to “old company”

    Heck, I’ve been at my current place for almost 5 years and there are STILL things I ask questions about, simply because I don’t do them often enough for them to become muscle memory.

    LW, I totally feel you, especially being a woman in a heavily male-dominated industry.

    Alison has given you some great advice. If you’re not actively being told that you’re doing things wrong, you’re probably doing things right! Or at least “right enough” for where your boss expects you to be at this point. Talk to them. One small conversation could be all it takes to help calm the anxiety :)

  26. Spearmint*

    Hey LW, I can relate to this a lot. I am prone to feeling insecure about my work if I’m not receiving a lot of positive feedback.

    What I’ve tried to internalize is that if I’m having performance problems, my boss will tell me. So if I don’t hear from her, that means I’m meeting her expectations. It’s her job to tell me if she has concerns, and if she has them but doesn’t express them to me, then that’s a failure on my boss’ part, not mine.

    I’m also in a job where I was told it would take a year to get the hang of it, and yeah, they were right. It was about a year in before I felt mostly comfortable in my role. It often get better if you stick it out!

  27. Panny Fack*

    It’s not Imposter Syndrome unless everyone around you is convinced that your skills are far beyond what they really on, which it doesn’t sound like is happening. The term has been so misused in recent years that people often understand the true meaning, which is damaging. Check out Alicia Liu’s article below:

    “My concern with this misrepresentation of Impostor Syndrome is that it pathologizes the very process of learning itself. When you’re learning, you’re supposed to feel like you’re in the deep end and over your head, otherwise, you’re probably not learning very much. Use that feeling to push yourself to learn more and get better.”


    1. New Job Worrier*

      Part of what I am experiencing is absolutely imposter syndrome. It’s because I am feeling less competent than I know others feel that I am. I, and most others starting new jobs, are fully aware they will feel in over their heads. But that’s not the issue I was discussing here.

  28. LQ*

    I’m just over a year and a half or one pandemic into a new job. This last month I’ve had 2 moments of I can do my damn job stop it! These are notable as they are the first 2 moments of feeling like I can do my job I’ve had in 18 months. But what I have been able to feel ok at is “that decision was the right one” or “that process works better” “that person got what they needed”. Essentially taking myself and my feelings about me out of it made me occasionally feel not as if I was good at the work, but as if the work that was being completed was good enough. I think if you can manage to look at that at all that’s helpful to examine the work and not you. Was the outcome of the thing that was done? Was that good? Passive voice sometimes really helped reframe things for me.

    I also wonder if part of this is the “dream job” part of it. Dream jobs are full of downsides and bad parts and maybe some of the shine is wearing off and you’re struggling and feeling like you aren’t living up to the dream job instead of the other way around. And that’s not to say it’s a bad job, it can just be that it’s not a dream.

  29. Also New Job Worrier*

    Oh boy, other than being in sales, I feel like I could have written this letter. I moved into a role with the same title as my previous one 6 months ago, but the day-to-day work and the environment are totally different. It also came with a big pay increase which, while welcome, has definitely contributed to my sense that I’m not earning my keep. Rationally, I know that I have a really communicative manager who is pretty transparent with me and seems to have no concerns, but the lack of clear milestones/deliverables in my role makes it really hard for me to feel like I’m making progress.

    Something I’ve tried and found helpful in the past couple of weeks is keeping a running list of what I accomplished. Whether that’s “led a successful meeting” or “spoke up with an idea about the teapot redesign” or anything else small, having the list helps me feel like I’m contributing in measureable ways. The other thing that’s been helping me is defining each day what productivity looks like. Since I don’t have a clear deliverable I’m working on most of the time, I’m starting my day by asking myself, “what task(s) can I do today that, if I accomplish nothing else, I’ll still walk away feeling like I was productive?” and that becomes my priority to do list.

    It’s not a perfect system, but it’s helping!

    1. Nicotene*

      I think it’s hard for us to recognize that things like salary, which are sooo important to us in our daily lives, can be basically arbitrary. I’ve had terribly difficult, demanding jobs for which the pay was crap; I’ve gotten a 50% raise and found myself in a cushy role where expectations seemed low. It was for a stupid, meaningless reason (the source of funding). That makes us feel like we must be missing something and should be adding a lot more value for all this money!

    2. SnappinTerrapin*

      Over the years, I’ve gone through several spells where the “Got it done” list was more useful than the “To do” list.

      Most of the jobs I’ve had depended very heavily on the randomness of other people’s decisions and behavior. A well-planned “To do” list could leave me feeling like a failure. It helped to see what I actually accomplished, often with fact situations diametrically opposed to the assumptions underlying my “To do” list.

  30. Tracy*

    This is a relatable issue for me. I still have the same job that I’ve had for the past 15 years, but my very, very demanding boss retired about six months ago. My job feels completely different, I have much more “down” time and I have time to put two thoughts together and maybe even network a bit with my coworkers. I do worry that management and/or HR will view me as being grossly overpaid for doing front desk work and that I will be let go! I think we all have these insecurities, especially if you live in an area with a hot employee market! Just take it day by day for now and ask for feedback.

  31. I Love Llamas*

    I was in sales for a long, long time. It can be really tough. Please be kinder to yourself. I just transitioned to a new career and even though I knew the mechanics of the job, it took me a year to feel comfortable. I just passed the two-year mark and feel like I FINALLY know what the heck I am doing. If you are struggling with the strategic part, I would suggest you might be over-thinking it because you may be looking for a really big idea. Try listening to some podcasts (Jeb Blount is a good start) to get you in the right mindset for sales, listen/read stuff for the industries you are selling to so you understand more about their world. Once you understand them better, perhaps ideas will begin surfacing. Good luck — you are probably doing far better than you think :-)

  32. Katie D*

    I’d like to offer my own experience with a brand new career a few years back. My mentor, my supervisor, and the other investigators I met during training all told me that they didn’t feel comfortable and confident in the role until they got to one year in the field. And sure enough, when I hit 12 months, my anxiety decreased significantly and I felt that I could handle most anything work threw at me. I say that just to say that if your boss is telling you it took him a year, I think you can trust a similar timeline for yourself, and even though you’re feeling super anxious right now, I think you owe it to yourself to give it a year just so you’re not plagued by “what if” thinking later. Definitely move forward with requesting that three month review and getting regular feedback from your boss because I think that would go a long way toward quieting your anxiety. But who knows, maybe you get to the year mark and love the job immensely. Good luck! Whatever you decide to do, I hope you find peace with your decision.

    1. Katie D*

      Oh, I should’ve also said: My supervisor told me during the interview process that in his experience the people who found that position the hardest were type A people who are used to picking things up relatively quickly because the job just had too much nuance for ANYONE to pick it up quickly. I found that true in my case, so that’s something else to consider. There are just some jobs that you’re not going to pick up easily and that make you feel like you’ll never get it down, but you just have to do your best and see where that takes you. In my experience, it has taken me further than I thought possible.

  33. Rich*

    Sales is a hard job. Startup sales is a _really_ hard job because, as you’ve seen, the quality of the data available to set expectations and guide your activity is really low.

    The way to get through that is to focus on the things you can control and can measure: How many leads can you qualify in a week? How many qualified leads can you meet? How many of those can you get to demo the product? Those are your success metrics (It probably differs a little based on what you’re selling, but it may not differ much). Work those metrics. Beat those metrics, and see which ones make deals pay. That _creates_ the data you need to set expectations.

    It’s not easy, but it’s not “fake it ’til you make it”, either. Work your sales activity. Results flow from activity.

    Measuring your activity will also show your management that you’re doing the right things. Good sales managers want to see you doing the right things, knowing results (sales) are always a lagging indictor.

  34. Bob Loblaw*

    This could be me. I have a lot of imposter syndrome issues, which may not be obvious by my general level of career success. In a fairly recent job, which was in the same field/employer I’d already been in for years, I felt so totally at sea that I vividly recall thinking that it would take two full years before I could meaningfully contribute. This estimate felt very rational. My prior job had more structure (though still very independent), and I just couldn’t picture how I would learn this new environment. I was constantly questioning myself and feeling unsure and at sea.

    At the same time, I decided to jump right in and not worry about failing– something perhaps made easier by my firm conviction that I would fail in the end anyway. So I did the whole, ask for forgiveness, not permission, thing. It felt terrifying but exhilarating. If you’re already looking for a new job, might as well try radical failure.

    I ended up doing better and more significant work in my first 6 months in that job than I had ever done before. Like, work that will be noted in my obituary.

    If you can, just decide to fail, but fail actively and aggressively, by not holding back. It might give you the permission you need to succeed.

  35. Bookworm*

    Not in your field but I can absolutely relate to how you feel. I would also agree: give it a little more time and try to ask your manager some of the harder questions. It may be that you just need more time to adjust.

    Good luck!!

  36. The Wandering Scout*

    Oh OP this is a really hard feeling to have! Alison is absolutely correct (was there ever any doubt?) – talk to your manager. You can point it out as a change from your sales role with obvious metrics to something less concrete when it comes to visual ‘doing well’.
    I’m in a different field, but I went from working as a transcriptionist in a public hospital to a private one. The public one we had an email every month that tracked our typing speed, how many letters we typed, how long each letter took, how many urgent vs non-urgent letters we did, and our boss could also look at internal metrics of how many bookings we made and similar things. My current job in the private setting doesn’t have this and even a year in I still wonder if I am doing alright – when I’d been here about three months I asked for a meeting with my manager and the script I used was essentially “I’m having trouble gauging my effectiveness and success in this role. I am used to having a lot of data on my work and my output, which I don’t have working at private. Am I meeting the expectations of the role and if not what would you suggest I work on?” My manager was great and said both that I was extremely efficient and accurate in my work and also that the clinicians had been commenting to her that they were impressed with my work. It set me at ease a lot.

    Also, the ‘fake it til you make it’ mindset is useless IMO.
    Ymmv but I am a personal fan of ‘I am an imposter, I have convinced them I am supposed to be here, I am a trickster God/Goddess/Goddex of deception, fear me and my power.’
    Or, also a fave, ‘I am an imposter. Everyone else is an imposter. No one is supposed to be here. We are all making it up as we go along.’

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