I was much more comfortable in my old job and now feel like the dumbest person in the room. What can I do?
Q: I recently started a new job and I feel very overwhelmed. I was much more comfortable in my old job and now feel like the dumbest person in the room. What can I do?
A: Give yourself a break and take time to learn so that these feelings don’t interfere with your success.
Reality check: In a new job you are going to feel uncomfortable, and there will be many, many things you don’t know. So what? It’s part of the benefit you bring to your new company. In order to realize these benefits, start by taking time to get calm.
Take some deep breaths and get centered so that you can gain a deeper understanding of your feelings.
What’s going on at the first level of knowing what you’re doing? It’s the superficial things — learning where the restrooms are, knowing who does what, and even the best back roads to get to work in a traffic jam. These can cause transitory anxiety, but are quickly mastered.
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Take a step deeper into the “head” area — the things you need to know to effectively do your job. How much is this area distressing you? Remember, there are two aspects of this: the knowledge you bring, which was part of the reason you were hired, and the specific content that you can’t possibly know before you get there.
Deeper still is the “heart” area. Being overwhelmed is linked to fear; in this situation, what are you afraid of? Looking stupid? Failing? Having made a mistake by changing jobs?
Then to the fundamental level — the “being” stage. Self-worth, your sense of purpose and value, and your acceptance of yourself at the deepest level are often tied in to what we do and our feeling of competence.
As you reflect on each of these, focus on trusting yourself and on anchoring your knowledge that your value comes from deep within, even as you’re learning a new environment.
Day to day, though, you need to deal with these feelings and keep them from derailing you. Your best first step is to take time at the beginning of each day to get grounded using whatever approach works for you (a short walk, some conscious breathing, etc.)
Maintain your external confidence, be willing to share ideas, and actively participate. Remember, too, how you may have reacted in the past to the new person “know-it-all,” so that you don’t become that person. But one of the great assets you bring is the beginner’s mind ability to ask “why” and challenge the conventional wisdom.
Use your past experience to help you through. This isn’t the first time you’ve started a new job; tap into insights from past adjustments to get you through.
If you have access to a leadership coach or mentor, they could help you navigate this situation. If not, be sure to catch yourself when you’re pulling yourself down. You could derail yourself by turning negative, and then others will, in fact, see you that way.
Trust yourself, let yourself grow into your new role, and let your contributions emerge as you move forward.
Submit questions to Liz Reyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.