Ask E. Jean - Tormented? Driven Witless? Whipsawed by confusion?

Advice Vixens

I am 28 and I just finished my masters in management. It took me a long time to find the courage to apply to the program, move out of my parents house, and move to another country to study. Now the year has finished, and my anxieties and self-doubt have all come back. I am now looking for jobs and almost immediately after reading a job description, I can hear a voice in my head saying "You'll never get it. You're not good enough" This is not an exaggeration. I have so much crippling self-doubt (when it comes to my career and when it comes to my personal/romantic life) that I cannot move forward. I feel like anyone I would even try to date would smell my lack of confidence from a mile away. How can a 28 year old be this confused and think so little of herself? Why would any man want to be with someone who thinks so little of herself? And more practically, someone who STILL hasn't got a career? I moved across the world to do my masters and I was so afraid nothing would change, and it feels like nothing has. Have you ever had this much self-doubt? How did you overcome it?

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    You tackled both getting a masters degree WHILE moving to another country? That's incredibly impressive! You have already proven that you can kick major ass. But since you still feel insecure, let's tackle each issue separately:

    Job: unless you plan on being a test pilot, I think taking on a new job is going to be less of a challenge than you've already tackled. But finding a job can be discouraging. The thing is, the unknown is pretty scary. It would be great to know that you will find such-and-such a job on a particular date and work at it for three years, then get your first promotion and so on. But life doesn't usually work that way.

    What has worked for me is concrete action. Just doing some things that will move you toward your goal will help alleviate the worst anxieties about it. Contact some employment agencies and get signed up with them. Get on every employment site you can. Do a job search every day and send your resume to each job that interests you. Do a bit of homework about each company so that when you do get that call, you'll know something about it and can ask the right questions. Asking questions is a good way to get the second interview and actually get the job - it shows the employer that you are genuinely interested in working for them.

    Romantic life: you know who has zero anxiety about their romantic life? Psychopaths and sociopaths. Everyone else has at least some concerns about it. People are only cool, calm and always saying the right things in the movies and TV. The rest of us muddle through and hope we don't sound like complete idiots when trying to impress a potential romantic partner. What I would recommend is finding the job first and getting settled into your new routine. Start building your life. Take up some hobbies; join a volunteer group; give yourself some new challenges. Do things that are going to make your life pretty great. At that point, you'll be less anxious about finding someone, because your life will already be good; this will also make you more attractive to a potential mate.

    Also, twenty-eight is still pretty young. I can tell you that my life was fairly chaotic until my early thirties and I kept comparing it to other people's and finding it lacking. I had to keep telling myself that comparing my life and circumstances with other people's made no sense because I wasn't them; and they weren't me. But now, that chaos makes for some really interesting stories. And it made me a stronger, more resilient person. You have already done what most people have never even dared think of, much less do. Keep reminding yourself that you've already gone through a lot and because of that, you can handle whatever challenge comes your way. Good luck!

    reply to Jill
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    In addition to Jill's stellar advice, I'd just like to remind you that looking for a job is the hardest job there is.

    A lot of things have to go right before you get the ideal gig. You have to have the right qualifications for the job AND it has to be available AND there can't be someone else in the company who can do it AND it can't already be promised to the CEO's niece AND so on and so forth...

    If it all sounds daunting, I understand! But you're putting yourself through this because you don't just want *any*'ve trained and worked hard to get yourself in a position to get the *right* job. (Or a job that will get you on the path to the right job.) It'll take time, because there aren't tons of "right" jobs out there.

    But they ARE out there. And once you've landed the right gig, things get easier. The work will be challenging, but it's work you want to do, and that makes a world of difference.

    Believe me, I know about self-doubt. But I found out this much -- if you take the risk and it doesn't work out? You're no worse off than you were before. So where's the harm?

    But if you take the risk and it DOES work out? Well, you've won! And that's what you've been working towards all along...

    reply to Kal
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    Thank you for the advice. I just need to find a way to deal with how fast I become overwhelmed. I am applying for consulting positions, so I do research about the career, the company, the skills I need etc. And then when I read about the skills needed (complex Excel, for example) I immediately freeze. Sure, Excel is a skill that can be learned, but my problem is that my immediate reaction is "I can't do it". I have this fear that my intelligence and therefore my ability to acquire new skills is set in stone biologically (and I wont get in detail about this), and this combined with my age puts me at a disadvantage. I already feel quite behind when I compare myself to my peers and the feeling of being left in the dust further discourages me. Any one experience this paralysis when trying to acquire valuable skills? How did you overcome it? I think I've watched hundreds and hundreds of Ted talks and though they all sound great, I cant seem to apply them to my life.

    reply to anonymous
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    The thing is, you can learn at any age. I took up the ukulele at forty and have just started teaching myself Javascript - in my mid-fifties. You will be learning for the rest of your life. When you look back on this twenty years from now, you'll be amazed at how much more you know and wonder how you could have thought your ability to learn was over.

    Also, you're actually at an excellent age for the job market right now. Not so young that your employer will think they have to be your third parent but not nearly old enough for ageism to be a factor.

    What has worked for me is epic amounts of positive self-talk. When you start doubting, keep reminding yourself that you made it through a Masters program and a move halfway around the world and can handle this. It really does work, but you have to keep doing it.

    And don't compare yourself to others - that way lies madness. There are folks who at your age who are millionaires with their own companies. And others who have done nothing with their lives and still live in their parents' garage. Any yardstick you use to measure your life with is purely imaginary and meaningless. Your life path is YOURS and no one else's.

    reply to Jill
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    And then when I read about the skills needed (complex Excel, for example) I immediately freeze....

    Was this an issue in school?

    If your fears are truly paralyzing you to a level where you can't function, AND this has been a life-long struggle, you need to seek professional help so that you can learn coping strategies.

    However, if this is a more recent development, you're perhaps becoming too intimidated by the thought of an unfamiliar workplace environment. You probably have a mental picture of an office where everyone is super-qualified, and can work an Excel Spreadsheet with one hand while single-handedly repairing a broken nuclear reactor with the other.

    It's not true. Most people are muddling through just like you are. They've developed the ability to say -- with a straight face -- "yeah, I can do that complex Excel spreadsheet". Then, in the 30% of cases where someone actually *wants* them to use Excel, they just kind of power through and figure it out so that they're at least adequate at it. Kind of like actors who put "horseback riding" or "French accent" on their resumes, and hope no one calls their bluff -- but they'll scramble and figure something out that will get the job done if it actually comes up.

    All of which is to say this: if you find yourself comparing yourself to others, at least try to compare them to who they really are, not who they pretend to be!

    reply to Kal
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    I think all of us, to some degree or another, are full of self-doubt. One of the most terrifying things is looking for a job. The only thing that ever got me through a job hunt was the desire to get a job.

    reply to Maggie
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