Feeling stupid at work

This post is inspired in large part by my friend Ed Finkler’s Open Sourcing Mental Illness campaign.

In my new job, I’m faced with a lot of deep, technical challenges. Sometimes they’re of a nature I haven’t seen before. When they come quickly, it gets pretty easy to feel down. When I’m physically sick, it gets even worse. And it compounds. There are days that I feel downright stupid and completely unqualified for my job.

Then there are days when I solve a problem well, master a new skill, or otherwise validate my professional existence. Those days feel pretty awesome. I like having those days.

In the past few months I’ve had many of both of those days. Lately, they’ve trended toward the good instead of the bad, but I don’t take that to be a sign of a permanent state. I’ve said before — and I honestly mean — that if you never feel stupid in your job then you’re not in the right job. The important thing is to try to minimize and recover quickly from the stupid days.

It helps to know that it’s okay to feel stupid. That’s part of the reason why I’m writing this. I’ve found that sharing my frustration with a trusted coworker who can provide meaningful encouragement helps the recovery process. It also helps to remind yourself of why you’re awesome. Reading Chris Hadfield’s book helped me a lot, too. Sure, I’ll never be an astronaut, but I still know how to work through a problem. I can solve smaller pieces until the larger problem is fixed, and I can bring myself to ask for help when needed. That’s enough to make me as successful as I need to be.