Saturday, November 8, 2008


This is a horrible feeling. Sitting at my desk at work, experiencing a feeling of utter dread. It’s not a rational fear. Not at all. It’s a feeling I have created myself, and I hate myself for it. I’m afraid of being in work. I’m afraid of making myself look incompetent. I’m afraid of making myself look more incompetent than I already have. I’m afraid of being asked to do something that I can’t. I’m afraid of pissing someone senior off. I’m afraid of my phone ringing. I’m afraid of a question I don’t have the answer for. I’m afraid of answering the wrong thing, again. I’m afraid of leaving my desk incase the phone rings and they think I’m slacking because I’m not there. I’m afraid of taking my full lunch hour. I’m afraid of what they think of me. I’m afraid of being me.

Now at 23 years old, and having already spent a year in a multinational corporation when I was 19, along with 3 years in a customer facing role, dealing with all sorts of abuse, I shouldn’t be afraid. And yet here I am. Why is this, you ask? Intimidation. But not intentionally. I am not the most confident person in the world. I rarely exhibit my true self unless I am familiar with someone and I sense that they are not going to run away screaming. This happens rarely, as they tend to do it frequently. If I feel comfortable around people then I can let some of my personality out, and I become more confident in my duties, my thinking and myself. However, if I don’t feel confident, then it’s game over. I can’t regain it.

This is the situation here. Through a cultural difference I am struggling to display the skills and abilities that got me this job in the first place. I am competent, I am capable, and yet I have still to prove this to anyone in the office. Joining a new place of work is never easy, learning all the ropes is never easy, replacing a well loved employee is never easy and integrating yourself into a well established team dynamic is never easy. Joining a new place of work within 2 weeks notice is not easy, learning the ropes within 2 days handover is extremely difficult, replacing a fantastic, dedicated and loved employee is damn near impossible and integrating into the team is still a work in progress. This is not to say that there has not been an attempt on either side. I was welcomed to the team and allowances were made for me in the first few months. Working alongside another established team member was difficult as I tried to learn my duties without full instructions, and without encroaching on his standing in the team. I was the newbie, understood, but I wanted to be able to take over some of the tasks earlier on to get an understanding of them. This never really worked out.

Attempting to read people’s personalities and judge their moods is a bad habit of mine. I overreact and read into things too much. I will adjust my own attitude to match those of others if I think the situation calls for it. I spend my time trying to work out if the task I just carried out was actually acceptable or whether the person is just busy and doesn’t have time to react to me. I scurry up to desks and timidly ask if there is anything else I can do, so desperate to impress and show off what they haven’t seen yet. It’s not working. I screw up. Mistake after mistake after mistake. Lightning never strikes twice right? Wrong. I’m clearly wearing an electricity conductor, and am too slow to realize it. This just angers them. And quite rightly so. It should do. Hiring a candidate, turning down other possibly fantastic people in favor of me should pay off for them. I thought it would. I hung up the phone after my interview and felt confident. I went straight back to work, instructing my team on what needed done that day with regards to the window display. I reeled off to my manager all the tasks I had completed already that morning, and I took the Area manager on a tour through my customer service plan, which incidentally was the clincher for my acquiring this new role. So the question I put to you is as follows; why aren’t I performing to the same standard in this role?

Again. Intimidation. The cultural difference between the UK and the US in a corporate role is startling. Or maybe it is just my interpretation of it. Regardless. Personality is reined in here and a very reserved approach is adopted, masking people’s true personas. It is understandable to a certain degree. There is a time and place for professionalism, and the office is certainly one of them, but the degree to which this is maintained feels uncomfortably strict. Sitting in my cubicle, the occasional muted sounds of muffled conversations punctuate the silence that permeates the floor. Cloistered away in this cube, I am hidden from view, just as others are hidden from me. It is easy to forget that someone is even in the office when you can’t see him or her. Emails are the common use of communication, even when the person sits only feet away from you, making conversation even more limited and the silence even more profound. I don’t like it. Coming from an environment of open plan offices and latterly a face-to-face customer role, being hidden away doesn’t suit my personality. I may be a shy person to start with, but I think I thrive on interaction and communication. My original ideal of an office based managerial role is starting to lose its rose-tinted appeal. I have now begun to consider the opposite extreme. Something I hadn’t planned or studied for, and is likely to disappoint my parents.

I want to be successful. I look at immediate colleagues of the same age and background at myself and marvel at their ability to move up the ladder while I am still stewing at intern level. When I make mistakes, I remember that the telling off is coming from someone who is my own age and has accomplished so much more in the same time, and it smarts. This is my own doing, and I accept that. The plan was to complete this year and in the process rack up the experience, the skills and the capabilities, leading me to be in the same position as my colleague upon my return home. It is now six months in and my performance evaluation is saying otherwise. It felt like a kick to the gut when I received it, and yet I wasn’t expecting any different. This was a new experience for me as I have never had a negative review at work. True my first management level review at my last job was less impressive than the one 6 months before, but I was moving into a more senior position and I was grappling with the management issues. This soon improved and I became comfortable, gaining praise from the same people who offered me the constructive criticism earlier on. I got better. Something I seem to be incapable of doing here.

Reading back over this, it appears that I am on a blaming my colleagues for my poor performance and that I hold them accountable. Not so. They have been nothing but welcoming and accommodating to me as well as being supportive in recognition that I am living miles away from home and family as well as trying to fit into a new job. I am aware that I have a far less pressurized job than many interns have, in fact far less pressurized than I have already dealt with in the past, and yet I appear to be unable to cope. My attention to detail wavers and then dies miserably, my usual foresight eludes me and I wander straight into disaster, my quick thinking never quite revs out of neutral. The blame is purely on me, and I can’t quite figure out why. My only idea is that this environment is just not conducive for me. For all my ramblings about wanting to be a qualified professional and running a company, maybe the corporate world is just not for me. Maybe all the power suits and classy heels are just window dressing. Or perhaps I just don’t suit this particular department in this particular company at this particular time. Which is disappointing for me, and sure as hell is disappointing for the people who hired me. I don’t want to let them down; in fact, there is another thing I am afraid of. Letting them down and making them feel that they wasted their time with me. I can’t quite judge their perceptions, but my overriding feeling tells me that they are already at that point.

I received an impromptu, unofficial performance review from a fellow intern before their leave-taking that really shook me to my core. Identifying points in time where I thought I was starting to excel but in reality I was beginning to dig a hole for myself, letting me know passing comments about my performance that were less than favorable and warning me that to carry on down this path would ultimately lead to failure or in worst case, removal from my position. Having been relatively blind to all this before, the overwhelming urge to both break down into tears and also argue all the points he made, were first and foremost in my mind. Sensing that, he let me know that he was only doing this as a benefit to myself and that by becoming self-defensive I was only making things worse. I was appreciative of the insights, and even though I was devastated by his portrayal of me, as seen through my seniors’ eyes, I understood that it was for my own good. Naturally being unable to quickly complete a simple task given to me that afternoon by my supervisor sent me into tearful meltdown and caused her to question what on earth was wrong with me. I declined to explain, as I just wanted to forget the incident. Calling home that night made me feel like I had fallen short again of the targets I had set myself. Having to call my parents three thousand miles away to sniffle out my story made me want to scream. I thought I was past this; I should be past this. For a while things recovered my confidence resumed, but I feel like I am back to square one again. Especially after receiving my review.

I have come to the conclusion that maybe all my grand plans about moving to America to work may not come to fruition after all. I may just be more suited to the British work atmosphere. I recently attended an interview for a position upon returning home, and immediately clicked with my interviewer. The relief I felt at being able to discuss issues on a professional level, and yet still have a certain je ne sais qoi about it that made it entirely comfortable, was immense. I don't know if I am just the type of person that doesn’t conform easily, perhaps that is something that I will need to work on. Either that or have a big bowl of confidence flakes before I come to work in the morning.

This may seem to be my usual pessimism coming through again, especially after such a promising start, but I honestly don’t know how to shake it this time. Funny how writing everything down always makes me feel better, and yet I can say all the things that I am otherwise too afraid to say out loud to people. I have the opportunity of a lifetime here, and I had intended to make the most of it. Outside of work I love it, I love everything about New York, but on Friday’s I run screaming from the office. I want it to change, and I know that the only person who is capable of making that happen is me, so I guess I had better get a start on it. I guess I need a swift kick up the butt before this whole thing comes back to bite me on it!