When the new job honeymoon is replaced by performance anxiety



I have what I know is a very first-world problem, but it really bothers me and might be hindering my career.

Over 15 years in the workforce, I’ve found that I get disillusioned and disappointed easily. I often love my new job and have been lucky to have mostly good employers, but over time I get downhearted and start to worry my work is bad and everyone can see it. I’ve been told this is “just imposter syndrome” and “everyone has it” but I don’t find this advice helpful.

I don’t think I’m an imposter. I just don’t value my own opinion of my skills. I am very reliant on what a friend once described as “external validation” and I feel that comes when I apply for jobs and in the first few months of a new job. Is there anything I can do to fix this?

Illustration: John Shakespeare

Illustration: John Shakespeare CREDIT:FAIRFAX


Over time, as the luster of newness wears off, and the excitement of “I got the role!” fades, a job can begin to feel pedestrian, even tedious. In the same way, colleagues’ and bosses’ enthusiasm about “the new person” dissipates as well. It’s not that we’re no longer liked or appreciated (we hope not, anyway); it’s just that others’ desire to keep mentioning how good we are at our job or how lucky an organization is to have us naturally declines. We all settle into routines and, often, consistent encouragement or reassurance isn’t part of those post-‘honeymoon period’ work patterns.

Now, just because the waning exuberance is usual and to be expected doesn’t make your situation any easier. What may alleviate some of your worry, though, is the fact that you’re not on your own in feeling this angst. In fact, a reader sent a question a couple of years ago, describing a similar love of applying for, and being offered, jobs. This brings me to your friend’s suggestion that you’re reliant on “external validation”.

That may describe you in a very broad sense, but it does sound a little bit accusatory (or dismissive) and I don’t think you should worry that this is some kind of failing. In fact, I think it’s entirely normal to want to know what others, particularly trusted colleagues, bosses, and clients, think of your work.

You worry that you don’t value your own opinion, but I read that and think “That sounds sensible.” Unless you work in a field where there are definite, fixed answers to every problem or challenge, it’s difficult judging yourself. Better, I think, to under-emphasize your own self-assessment than to over-emphasize it and become one of those colleagues we’ve all sadly encountered that assume their work is unfailingly brilliant. Or, worse, someone so self-certain they come to believe any mistake must be someone else’s fault, and anyone else’s ideas or opinions are necessarily incorrect.

Rather than see this as a kind of dysfunction that you need to (as you put it) “fix”, perhaps try to accept that, yes, you happen to need a touch more “external validation” than others, but that there’s nothing wrong with that. The reason I don’t love that term, by the way, is that it connotes neediness. It’s true that people who continuously fish for praise and seek attention can be annoying. But there’s a big difference between that and a desire to be occasionally reminded that what you do in your work life is worthy and valued.

At the risk of sounding as glib as the person who told you you just have imposter syndrome, it takes all types. And not everyone is satisfied in a job with no assessment or endorsement (outside almost universally tepid, often cringeworthy and sometimes blatantly unfair “rewards and recognition” programs).

So one option could be to try embracing your need for more communication, to unapologetically seek others’ observations and views on your own work, but concentrate as much as you can on people you trust and whose views you do value.

I think there’s a good chance you’ll find that their belief in your skills and appreciation of your work hasn’t fallen away, even if their expression of it has.

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