Ask MR: What If I Really Am Bad at My Job?

Hello and welcome to our advice column, “Ask MR,” where we answer your burning questions in the hopes of being the ointment to your life rash. Ask us questions by emailing with the subject line “ASK MR A QUESTION,” or leave yours in the comments.


I’ve just started my first full-time, post-grad job in my desired field. How do I not let my fear of being awful at my job consume me?

This is meant to comfort you, I swear: You will be awful at your job at first. Just at first! It won’t be because you’re stupid or inadequate or unskilled, but because of the inevitable awkward phase that comes with starting any job, let alone your first one. I guarantee the printer won’t connect to your computer. Your desk phone won’t work. You won’t know what the deal is with the bathroom (there’s always a deal), you won’t know what to do for lunch and you won’t have a buddy to ask. You’ve never done this exact job at this exact company under these exact circumstances, so the learning curve is a giant arc. Your first day — your first week, your first month! — has the potential to set you up for an internal dialogue of what the fuck on loop. Accept this now. Take a deep breath in, let it out and let it go as best you can. Okay? Okay.

Now let’s focus on what counts:

You were hired on purpose. It was not a crapshoot. It was not luck. You were not a shrug and a strike off someone’s to-do lost. At least one person — but more than likely a whole web of people — decided that out of a pool of applicants, YOU were the best fit for this job. You!

No one owes you a job. No one was being nice. A company decided that you are such a valuable asset that it’s willing to give you some of its money. So celebrate that. Roll around in it. Bring yourself back to this reminder for a jolt of confidence.

Part of having a job is getting better at it as you go along. Like working out for months in sweaty agony until one day you realize you’re doing push-ups without sobbing, you will click into this new roll well before you’re aware you’ve clicked. You will come across problems and absolute messes that will, inevitably, unlock new skills. Know that mistakes are inevitable (and some are awful, embarrassing and truly scary), but it’s how you move forward that counts. You know how everyone says, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?” It’s true in the workplace. Take responsibility, take action and learn.

In January, I read an article about how to turn your stress into excitement. The short, over-simplified version is that because our bodies process stress (or fear) and excitement in the same way, if we just tell ourselves that what we’re feeling is excitement (as opposed to stress or fear), we can channel that energy into peak performance. Apparently Tiger Woods uses this technique to win; I tried it while learning to ski and it works. On day one of your job, as you’re walking into the building, picture the day as the top of a scary-ass mountain. People will zoom by you, pros and idiots alike. You might have a moment where you consider turning around. Rather than admit that you’re nervous, though, rather than think, “What if I’m really bad at my job?,” breathe in through your nose, yoga style, so that your belly extends like a balloon. Hold it. Then press your belly in and exhale all the air out. Repeat after me: “I’m excited. I’m excited. I’m excited.”

Here’s a high five in advance. You’re going to be great.

Illustration by Maria Jia Ling Pitt. 

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