update: I’m afraid I’m terrible at my new job

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who was afraid they were terrible at their new job? Here’s the update.

I want to thank ALL of the commenters on my first post – I cannot tell you how much it means to me that so many of your readers took time out of their day to share similar experiences and offer words of encouragement. I really appreciate it and it helped me pick myself up and figure out what to do next.

A lot has happened since I wrote in, but I will try to keep it short and sweet for the update!

First, I got myself some therapy, and learned I have been dealing with some undiagnosed and untreated OCD – getting medicated and seeing a therapist helped me see through my cloud of anxiety, allowing me to see the situation for what it was. If anyone out there feels like they are struggling, I hope you’ll try to get some help as well, it is life changing!

Second, I accepted how set up for failure I really was – I did not meet my manager prior to accepting the job, as a company re-org was happening while I was interviewing. My manager was promoted from his prior role to the one he has now a week before I started. He is still responsible for his prior role’s results until it is backfilled. Basically, he has been in two full-time, intensive roles since January 2021. Many readers told me I should be proactive and ask for help. I assure you, I practically begged for months for any and all kind of feedback I could get. My manager left the country for several months over the summer, so I only heard from him for 30 minutes a week/max. Basically, I was on my own at a new role in a new company with no real point of contact for feedback and training.

Third, the company has been quite chaotic – I know, startup world! To be honest, I get so energized when there’s some opportunity to create order in a startup environment. But, there was literally no alignment between departments like I saw at my previous company (which had just successfully IPO’d a few months ago!) For example, at a recent all-hands meeting, someone asked if leadership would lay out our top three priorities for Q4. Four of our leaders responded by talking around the question and could not answer. The kicker – they had just returned from a four-day offsite specifically to identify the company’s Q4 and 2022 top priorities. Not a great sign, and there is MUCH more.

Fourth, I did some soul searching and realized that this job, and the startup tech world, really didn’t fulfill me. I felt bad about myself every day, and I don’t think I’d like the work even if I was amazing at the job. I’m very aware of how lucky I was to come into this role at the exact time I did, allowing me to figure this out. Truth be told, had the company not been re-structuring, suffering from lack of staffing in key roles, I would have been fired months ago. It was a really bad fit, in a company full of great people.

So the latest news! I literally resigned a couple hours ago and have never felt more excited for the future. I know it’s usually advised not to quit before you have a job lined up, but this belief has only pigeonholed me into an industry and lifestyle that I’m not excited to be in. My manager was grateful for the feedback and that I was honest, and he is a truly wonderful and brilliant person who also happened to be set up for failure by the company.

I want to acknowledge that my privilege is what allows me to take time to figure out “life” – I have a strong support system and that includes having family and friends who have the ability to help me if I get into any type of trouble, finances included. I will never have to worry about housing or food. Yes, I worked hard and made good decisions, though that is also the result of having the privilege of a wonderful and supportive family who made it possible to become as educated as I want to be. gotta throw that in there as a PSA! I think the world would be better if we all acknowledged how our communities support us.

That’s my update! I guess the biggest thing is that if it doesn’t feel right, it ain’t right.

{ 26 comments… read them below }

  1. quill*


    Always remember: Startups are rickety things. Sometimes you just gotta move on to something with an actual framework.

  2. Alex the Alchemist*

    Congrats on doing what’s best for you! My life this year was similar-ish, in that I was working in the startup tech world and it was making me depressed and self-conscious, so I also quit without a job lined up (my boss was much less chill though). I’m happy to say that two months later I found a job that I absolutely love and pays much better than the startup ever would’ve. I wish the same for you, and I’m so glad you have a supportive community to help you get through this!

      1. Your local password resetter*

        Hmmm, did we ever see you two in the same chatroom together?
        *Plays spooky violin*

  3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    Hi, OP. I’m glad you came out of this on an up note. I want to add, that maybe not now, but sometime in the future, you can let more if this go:
    “I felt bad about myself every day, and I don’t think I’d like the work even if I was amazing at the job. …Truth be told, had the company not been re-structuring, suffering from lack of staffing in key roles, I would have been fired months ago…”
    You were doing lousy work in a lousy situation. If the situation had been different, you may have been different, too.
    (Or you may have been able to limp along, not realizing you had a problem, and avoid getting help that may change your entire life for the better, so, yeah, silver lining. But again. Nobody was going to flourish in that situation. It was not all you!)

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed OP – that place was a bit “house of bees” and not setting anybody up to be successful. Don’t feel bad that you couldn’t make things work. There’s a reason why we hear tales of bad fits. That’s all this was – a bad job fit.

    2. El l*

      Agree. Let it go. Who knows if you would’ve been fired or not.

      Bottom line: You were in a situation where the highest success possible was to stay in a job with no support. Can’t blame you for wanting a different life than that.

    3. JSPA*

      If OP must to pay “what if,” OP must equally include, “what if the partners had any idea what they wanted, and communicated that” and, “what if someone bothered to train me or set any sort of useful goal or metric.”

      OP, there is no realistic version of this job where the company is functional enough to lower the boom, but still too dysfunctional to bother to put you to any use.

      They wasted, in the words of the song, your precious time. Your manager was likely happy because he could use you as a fall guy for his own complete inability to do the bare minimum of his job, which included managing you. That’s actually crappy, not kind, even if it came as a relief, at the time.

      You’d have as much reason to be apoplectic as apologetic (but really, neither; they paid you to waste time, you noticed that this was ridiculous, and left; no harm / no foul on either side, except for the venture capitalists bankrolling this–presumed–tech-bro ego exercise).

  4. Trawna*

    “For example, at a recent all-hands meeting, someone asked if leadership would lay out our top three priorities for Q4. Four of our leaders responded by talking around the question and could not answer. The kicker – they had just returned from a four-day offsite specifically to identify the company’s Q4 and 2022 top priorities.”

    LOL — oh, my — I didn’t realize this was Comedy Central.

      1. JSPA*

        Golden parachute planning, I presume? Or indictment avoidance, even. Exactly how vapor can your ware be, before you’re Theranos II?

      2. ferrina*

        Or they could be legit so disorganized that they may have come away with no plan. OldJob was like this- Exec Leadership would find a cool idea, speculate about all the cool capabilities a non-existent dream product could do and how they would become a Disrupter with non-existent dream capabilities, and walk away without any actual plan, objectives, or anything.

  5. ducki3x*

    Congrats on your diagnosis, OP! I also was diagnosed with OCD this year after 20 years of feeling like an eternal failure in the workplace (regardless of how much evidence there was to the contrary), and although I’m still struggling to effectively manage it, just having an external party give the problem a name was a huge step forward. I definitely second your suggestion that those who feel like they’re struggling don’t just assume that the status quo is the way things need to be & reaching out for help isn’t a failing or a burden to others.

  6. MooBoo*

    Congrats OP! I hope next winter we’ll get another update and you can tell us about your killer new job!

  7. Margaret*

    There was a job I had that I knew I wasn’t very good at. The problem had been that the girl training me would bring her baby in every day and spend most of the day locked in an office. So I has nobody to ask questions or learn the job from. I think the boss was nor aware she was spending so much time shut up in an office and I felt bad saying something. I ended up getting laid off for covid after 2 years. I have a job now that I love and loved from the getgo. I used to drive home crying from my last job. Now I am so happy.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      It’s wild how we internalize these problems others create. “I must not being trying hard enough.” Or, “I must have let them think I know how to do this.”
      And the classic, “she can’t be using me. We are on the same side.” Or, “they must know she’s doing this, and I’m new so…”
      Yeah. That sucked. Sorry it happened!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        It’s also pretty wild that we protect someone at our own expense. When I stopped covering for people life got easier. “Boss, Sue seems pretty busy. Is there someone else who can train me?” Up to the boss to figure out what Sue is so. darn. busy doing.

  8. Squirrel Nutkin*

    So happy for you that you are able to step back and do what’s best for you! Wishing you much happiness finding a great fit in your next job. : )

  9. PopTop*

    Congrats OP! I had a similar experience at a startup this year, although in my case I did get fired after two months. A lack of individual KPIs or role description, non-existent structure and constantly shifting priorities are all pretty disorienting to work with. Thanks for sharing your experience, it made me feel a bit better about my own!

    1. ferrina*

      You forgot the unrealistic timelines and Manic Pixie Dream Product ™

      That’s how they Disrupt the Synergy of the Market Leverage to Maximize the Value-Based Core Capabilities.

  10. SeluciaMD*

    This is such a great update! And I applaud you for not only getting really critical help for yourself (we all deserve that!) but for seeing clearly that this place was not the right fit for you and opting out. Putting yourself first sometimes can be REALLY hard but also REALLY necessary so kudos to you for being able to get to that place. (Also, I loved your PSA about acknowledging our privilege. Spot on.)

    Hoping you find the right place for you and have an amazing 2022!

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