Please visit Youtube for a video summary of this post! Part 1 and Part 2
I have always felt that I was pretty good at my job anywhere I worked. In fact, I was damned proud of my skills, knowledge and expertise. Each place I have worked, I have experienced other staff members coming to me for help – resolve work-related or data problems; seeking my expertise on quality, publications, presenting and information related to the scope of my work; asking for advice on how to proceed with their own work; and, can you believe it, seeking personal advice!
Always, I have felt confident. I felt strong, sure and positive I knew what I was doing. I had a reputation for learning things inside and out, so that I actually did have the correct answers. I knew what I was doing. Even when I didn’t know what I was doing, I knew that I could figure it out. When I encountered a new situation, I had the skills to evaluate it and make appropriate decisions on how to proceed. My colleagues treated me with respect and value.
Leading up to me finally leaving my last job, my self esteem took a hammering. There were big projects and lots of work. Over the course of two years I had four different leaders; new procedures, new work, and five new computer systems were implemented; everyone was required to attend training at each step. The organizational chart changed so many times that I lost count. As these changes came in, I was quite accommodating and accepting, but something was lost in the midst of it all – treating people with value and dignity.
Details are not required. Everyone does what they believe is the absolute best they can do in any situation, and sometimes they cannot see what will turn out in the end. Damaging souls is often not considered when changes are required, or perhaps it is, but sometimes casualties are acceptable. It doesn’t really matter anyhow.
During the initial change, leadership provided positive motivation; however, we staff and middle management endured excruciating amounts of work with unrealistic deadlines, overwhelming overtime and travel and cancellation of vacation time. Everyone was stressed, tired, and miserable. Then, the big changes to the human resources pay level scheme was rolled out. All of the people on my team essentially were demoted. At the same time, there was a hiring freeze and a freeze on wage increases, which to my knowledge is still ongoing three years later! A change management program was introduced to help staff navigate through all the changes. Special training was provided to all leadership so they understood how to help staff and to ensure they were not just telling them to ‘Get On the Bus!’ Unfortunately, it appeared that my leadership was the ‘Get On the Bus’ types.
I was struggling with getting my head around what my new job even was. One day it was one thing, then next it did a 360. I felt confident in my direction with all the projects I was assigned to, but then was reprimanded, but not provided any new direction. Apparently, I just should have known. My self esteem was getting shot to Hell! My leader and I got along very well; however, she seemed frustrated with me and would argue facts that I knew. She would never allow me to explain my point. There were a couple of occasions when I went behind her back to resolve a problem. I was getting frustrated, and I could tell she was too, but there was no information coming to me. Although I was NEVER told what to do, I was often told what NOT to do. Believe me, I asked. And asked and asked. I got reprimanded for that as well.
Soon, I just stopped trying to guess what I was supposed to do. I had no idea. All at once, no, not gradually, I was being told that the work I was doing was not what I was supposed to do, but the changes were not clearly (actually not at all) relayed to me, and I struggled explaining them to my team. People would come to my team with work that we had done in the past, and I was being told this was not my job! But, I was never told this until I was given the work. Some days were great and my team was celebrated for doing fantastic work; the next day everything would change and we were given different direction and reprimanded. I was put on projects which I believed I knew how to proceed, but then
By the time I decided to leave my job, my self esteem was crushed. I had no idea what
was expected of me, felt that I did not know what I was doing, and frankly, I did not care. Yes, I could have held on; just go through the motions and hope that I could pass through to the other side relatively unscathed. The problem was that in my whole life, I had never not given my all; doing my very best to put out exceptional work. I was struggling with not caring and it was making me feel like a failure. Feeling like I was letting others down kept me at a job I hated longer than I should have stayed, but eventually, I realized that maintaining what little self esteem, dignity and mental health I had left was my prime directive. For once in my life, I had to do what was right for Evelyn.
My feelings of inadequacy and failure went on after I quit. I spent many nights tossing and turning having dreams about my former job. A recurring dream (nightmare?) that I had was being called at home many times to answer questions about my work. I told them I didn’t work there any more. Somehow, they convinced me to come back part-time and temporarily to help them through the transition. Why I agreed was never explained in the dream, but I know that I continuously said to them ‘I don’t work here anymore!’ In the dream, I was ‘demoted’ to working as the admin or receptionist, but I had to run around the office and train the staff who were taking over my old job. I was not allowed to ‘do’ the work; I had to train people how to do it. No one could figure it out, even those who had worked with me before. At the end of the dream, I would always go into my old boss’ office and tell her, ‘I don’t work here anymore; I’m not coming back’. The dream would end with her saying ‘Ok, we’ll see you tomorrow.’ The next night, I’d be back!
Dreams were not my only torment. I felt that I had left my team and my coworkers to perish in the fires of hell. Hoping they did not hate me too much, I still was nervous to contact anyone. Then right after I left, I found out that several more people were fired. This just sealed it for me. If those wonderful, valuable, capable people were let go, then surely if I had stayed my number would have soon been up! I catastrophized everything I thought about!
Each day I would go for a long, long walk on Nose Hill, listening to music and thinking of what my next steps would be. I felt so useless. I felt powerless. I felt paralyzed. I did have plans, but I had no idea how to execute those plans.
I quit my job in April, by the end of November I was looking for another job. As
I mentioned in week 1 & 2, my pursuit of purchasing a Subway franchise had not gone as planned. This continues to be my quest, but in the meantime, I am going to have to get an income.
Fitness classes were not as profitable as I had expected. Yes, I had been a fitness instructor for 23 years. In 2010, I left my certification lapse and stopped teaching. Now that I was back at it, I felt inept. For my recertification, I had to perform a class for a practical assessment. I planned and practiced and made a wonderful little mini routine to perform for my assessor. Come that evening where I had to perform, I am not sure what happened, but I completely flubbed it. It was like I forgot how to talk, I forgot how to move my feet, and I totally forgot how to keep on the phrase of the music. What the Hell? I had been doing only dance for the last 6 years; I was pretty sure I know how to hear music phrasing. Thank goodness the assessor was very understanding and she gave me a pass with wonderful comments.
Next, I had to tag-teach with the fitness leader at my gym. I was nervous and hot; sweating profusely and a tacky, dry mouth! I knew a lot of the participants from my previous years teaching there, but again, I totally flubbed it up! The next week, I taught again, and my personal assessment was – awful! I was feeling so useless I just did not know how to teach any more.
Getting back to the job search. Obviously, Calgary is in a down turn right now; oil and gas industry has laid off thousands of people, and this has a ripple effect on all the other industries. I do not have a University degree, but I do have several diplomas and certificates in a variety of skills that I felt would make me desirable in a variety of industries. Boy was I wrong.
Every job I looked at not only wanted a University degree, but a Masters was preferable or ‘an asset’! Even all the fitness jobs wanted a Kinesiology degree to make $13-17/hour! Really? My self esteem again began to wane. Each day I perused the postings and got more and more deflated. If there was a job I thought I could apply for, the notification identified that over a hundred people had already applied, or it paid minimum wage. Because of the goals that I have set for myself, and the overwhelming fear I have of being overwhelmed again, I was looking for part-time or at least temporary work, but I needed to make about $2,000 per month.
After six weeks of sending out resumes every single day, I only received one interview request. This was for a school bus driver position. What? So many conflicting thoughts went through my head. Did I really want to do this – drive a bus? Well, at least I would have a skill I could use in case of a zombie apocalypse. At the same time, I was not sure that I had the ability to drive a bus. I went to the interview and they were happy to hire me. I am starting my training January 3rd (unless of course, something comes up before then).
In so many ways, I feel like a big loser. My skills are obviously not as valuable as I thought they were. My self esteem needed a real boost.
The mind is a marvelous thing and we can convince ourselves of almost anything. I heard a story of a man who had been in a coma after a terrible accident and suffered amnesia. Before his accident that had put him in this state, he had just been a regular guy, with a regular job, no exceptional acts of heroism in his past. He had been shy and reserved and unassuming. Awakening from his coma, the doctors told those loved ones gathered around him that if they wanted him to be motivated to get better, they would need to convince him he was valued and loved. They realized that he was a clean slate. Over the next weeks, family and friends told this man that he had been an inspiration to them. He was told he had been a military hero and performed amazing deeds, missions, and rescues. Nothing could stop him. The man believed whatever his loved ones told him and began acting in the manner you would expect with a man of his (made up) past. He was confident, funny, engaging and loving. He truly believed that he was the person they told him he was.
Now, I do not know if this story is true, but what if? I decided that I could give myself a little positive boost by using the old trick of starting my sentences with ‘I am’ and giving myself incredible tasks to do. I like to write lists about what I have to do during the week. I decided instead of writing: Groceries; Teach Fitness; Clean Kitchen; etc., I would provide myself positive direction. I wrote: Buy nutritious groceries for the family I love; Teach a spectacular fitness class; Make my kitchen sparkle. Immediately, I started performing the tasks the way I had written about them. I really paid attention to the groceries as I picked them up and on purchased what we needed. My very next fitness class was amazing – I was joking and having fun and did not miss the beat of the music once! Perhaps this could work!
To combat my feelings of inadequacy, I started doing things that I knew I was good at and would do an exceptional job of. I needed to feel like a winner. I needed to feel successful. After a while, I made myself do things I considered hard and I would use this little technique. Telling myself to prepare a marvelous talk, go to a fabulous interview, enjoy a smooth fitness class, prepare a delicious meal, really made a huge difference.
People telling us that we are good enough, or have skills, or need to feel confident often does not have any affect on boosting our self esteem. We need to believe it ourselves.
I tell myself ‘I AM’ a creative writer; my stories are interesting and inspiring. ‘I AM’ buying a franchise business. ‘I AM’ a great friend, lover, mother, woman…etc.
Things are picking up. I still have feelings of inadequacy. I still feel low self esteem on occasion. I still am going to be a bus driver (for a while). But I have methods to combat these feelings and keep going.
Questions and Exercises:
- Write down a list of items that you need to do in the next week and use positive adjectives to motivate yourself to excel at them.
- What are some things you can do to boost your confidence right now? Some examples might be: Play a game you know you will win (crossword, Suduko, word find); clean a room or a closet and make it sparkling and organized; learn something new or do something you have never done before; go for a long walk (by yourself or with a friend).