Depressed About Work

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about new job and feeling dumb and lonely:

I am a good worker and I did very well in school at my major, which was graphic design and such, with some computer science as well. I had a friend in my class at college get a nice job as a designer for a company. She graduated before me of course. After I had graduated and was looking for a job, there was an opening at her place and I applied and was basically a shoo-in thanks to her.

I like the job. I came in with strong confidence that I could learn it and do it just fine. I was told it would take at least 6 months to a year at the longest to get the hang of it since the job has a high learning curve. It is a very detail oriented job. It seemed I made mistake after mistake, and yes I noticed I have improved a lot since the beginning, but I basically lost my confidence.

Every day I work I feel like I’m not “good enough”, especially compared to my peers. I make silly mistakes, usually from overlooking something, & one big one this past couple months that they said wasn’t a big deal, yet it was brought up at my review.

On top of that I am a more quiet person, but not intentionally. I hate it. I haven’t made any friends since I started there over a year ago and I feel looked down upon and very lonely. Some days it feels almost excruciating to go into work, feeling incompetent & that people are always looking down on me. I really do like the job, sure it has its down moments like every job, but there are those days I feel like maybe I should look for something more fitting for me. I am not sure what I should do anymore. I hate feeling this way anymore, I’m always depressed and basically feel dumb.

Signed, Wanting To Feel Better

Dear Wanting To Feel Better:

It’s understandable that you feel frustrated and unhappy if you haven’t been as successful in your new job as quickly or as spectacularly as you had hoped. However, it seems that your frustration and unhappiness has settled in and become more than mild, occasional depression. I have some thoughts to share that might be useful to you, but I also wish you would find a counselor or adviser close to you who you could meet and talk with about the entire situation.

You would find it very helpful to spend some regular time considering where you want to be with your life and work and where you’re going with it right now. Talking about it in a guided way could be very beneficial and even enjoyable. Consider local professional resources, a trusted career-seasoned friend or family member, a resource at a place of worship or others you might be able to identify. The advantage is that you would have the time, over time, to discuss specifics and to track improvements.That’s not meant to imply that you have a severe issue for which we have no advice.

However, in addition to the suggestions we offer you may wish to spend more in-depth time working on solutions. Now for some more immediate ideas!

1. You don’t mention how you feel about your life away from work. We provide workplace advice on this site but we also know that life is more than work and we encourage people to find the deepest happiness away from the workplace. Work gets over at some point every day and in every life. There had better be something substantial to fill the space. When that happens, work is much easier to deal with. Here’s a good test that can help you decide about the source of your overall feelings: If life away from work is generally good and makes you smile–healthy relationships, good health, a pleasant home, a feeling of mental, spiritual and physical well-being–then you can pinpoint that it is indeed the work environment that is creating most of your negative feelings. If life away from work was shaky anyway and continues to be frustrating and unfulfilling, then that might mean that even though work isn’t going as well as possible, it’s getting the blame for something else that is a problem. So, while you’re putting some effort into a changed work situation also consider doing some things about a changed personal life. For most people the place to start is with their wellness and fitness.

My experience has been that an hour of walking, exercise or other focused activity can erase the negative feelings of at least eight hours of work problems. You may be doing that already. If so, maybe you can find something new to require a bit more effort or a bit more skill. Sometimes a good sweat takes exercise from a boring task to an exhilarating activity.The next place to consider away from work is your home. Getting it clean and organized and keeping it that way can be satisfying as well as providing a good foundation for everything else. You don’t mention if you have a spouse or children, but most families–especially those with children–would be better off with a tidier home.The third area that seems to be helpful for balancing work and the rest of life is in our food choices and learning to really cook instead of reheating, zapping or being limited to a few quick items. That might not be something you’re interested in, but has been a very fulfilling activity for many others, both men and women. Healthy food prepared in a healthy way, mixed with a few items that are just tasty and good, adds pleasure to life, especially if you invite someone to share it now and then (or if you are cooking for a family who can benefit from learning good eating habits.)If you have parents, siblings or other relatives in your area, do more to show family love and caring, if your relationships are good enough for that. Send a greeting card to a parent, get some small gifts for children in the family. Take several relatives out for pizza or have them to your home. Strengthen any family links you have.You may also find it helpful to be more involved in other activities away from work that can give you a feeling of fun and enjoyment.

The truth is that for many people work is hard work not fun–and we all do better when there are some fun, happy and smile-filled times in our lives. Most important is to do something that fills the inner void that is inevitably present when we have no times for depth of thought and no spiritual or intellectual immersion. We need to spend time inside ourselves and we need to get outside ourselves!You may be doing all of that already, but perhaps these thoughts will give you new ideas. The next thoughts are about the work.

2. If you can, get a copy of a blank performance evaluation form if there is one; HR would have it. Make that your daily and weekly checklist. I often mention the acronym, PAVE in conjunction with paving the way to successful work. It refers to being Purposeful, Active, Versatile, Effective, Efficient and Ethical about everything we do. That just means that your work efforts should be focused every hour and every day, not just working to get a project done. It’s working as if this one project was the deciding one for whether or not we get hired or stay hired or get a million dollars or whatever best inspires you for that day or time. One of the best ways to focus in your specific career field is to keep your business’s internal customers in mind. Your work is service-oriented work, even though it is technical. Timelines, project requests and requirements, product specifications and market needs are sources of great anxiety for the internal customers of most graphic designers in business. As you know, it’s often one crisis after another; then move on to the next one. But, dependability is valued and appreciated.

Being Active may mean going down the list of traits, knowledge areas and skills on the Performance Evaluation form or some other document that was used to structure your review and do some self-evaluation as well as planning for how you can do even better than you are now. You don’t imply that you are on the verge of being fired, so you aren’t in a crisis time. You have the time to carefully analyze your strengths at work as well as the areas that are causing you the most worry.Versatility can mean many things, but you likely know what it would be for your work. Some employees are one-tune fiddlers; they are only good at this or that but nothing else. Some employees are good at their technical work but they cannot relax and have a pleasant conversation. Others are great with people but they aren’t organized about their work. Some people in your field are only comfortable producing a specific type of material and can’t be depended upon for anything else. You want to be the one who is learning and growing in every area all the time.Being Effective, Efficient and Ethical is what wraps up the package. The way to know you are effective is to see if you are getting positive results more often than not. You say you feel that you are making many mistakes and that you are dumb about your work. On a daily, weekly or monthly basis, do you do as many or more positive things than the things with a flaw? You want to work toward flawless, of course. You know what that would take in your work, but it is the only realistic goal to have for a work product. Efficient involves the best use of time and resources; especially getting work done on time for the internal customer or according to management direction.

Ethics, in many workplaces involves the simple things: Being an organizational citizen who respects others, not gossiping, not lying about work, and similar everyday ethical situations. You probably know some people who make excuses, lie to cover problems, often make mean-spirited remarks about others or call in sick to avoid work. They don’t think of themselves as unethical, because they’ve never considered what ethics is when applied to their lives. You sound to me as though you have integrity, so that is probably not an issue with you. But, it’s always something to emphasize in conversations and to make a noticeable part of your character.

3. The next component of improving work is to develop a very effective relationship with your manager or supervisor and consider his priorities as yours. (I’ll refer to that person as “he” for ease of writing.) Find a way to communicate about work as though you’re refocusing and want his input. Maybe you’ve finished one project and starting another, or it’s after the first of the year; or maybe you just want to say that you are refocusing.One way to approach such a conversation is to plan on keeping it very brief and stick to two elements, Tell and Ask. First you tell: “I love this job and want to do well, so I’m looking for ways to improve and be more effective.” Then you ask, “What would you say are the main things I should work on?” Or, “What would you suggest I put my efforts into?”If you think you know what your manager will say, based on recent comments, use those. “The other day you said I needed to take the time to make sure I included every detail that was requested. Would you say self-review of my work is the biggest need right now or just one of the needs?”From a manager’s perspective, it’s wonderful to hear an employee say he or she loves work, wants to do well and is working toward improving in every area. Even if a manager has been a bit frustrated over performance, that kind of sincere enthusiasm and effort is very compelling; when it’s linked to improved work.You will know best what your work culture is and how you can communicate with your manager, but keep this in mind:

Your manager’s success is tied to yours and he will want you to be doing well. So, talking about how to improve work is almost never considered a waste of time for a manager.You may find that you are doing better work than you think; or not. But, if you’re wondering about changing work you owe it to yourself to find out for sure where you stand right now and to at least not leave under a cloud. Being obvious in your efforts to improve will gain you much more than excuse-making or avoidance. I predict your manager will have some critique but will also offer encouragement and support. Show that you are Purposeful, Active, Versatile and Effective, Efficient and Ethical and you will find yourself the recipient of many positive feelings and positive assistance.

4. The other thing you mentioned about work involved having no friends there. I find that happening more and more, especially in your field. People come to work, they work and they go home. If they make friends their friends quickly become a clique in which they feel comfortable and that they don’t open to others. They don’t intend to be mean about it, they just like it the way it is and don’t want to risk disruption. One thing is for sure: Most people react with wariness and rejection when someone tries to push friendship on them. That means all you really can do is to show yourself as a friendly and open person and reach out to others in appropriate ways, then keep working while you wait for a response. While you’re smiling, moving through the workplace, fixing coffee, saying hello, working and staying busy, people will respond to one degree or another. You may never have a very close friend there, but you may gain casual but smiling work-relationships.One of the things that technical people have to watch is that they stare at their computers, talk on the phone, sound stressed, look stressed and appear to not want to be disturbed….then wonder why they get isolated.

You may be viewed as acting nervous and worried or as though you’re having problems with work. That’s not likely to encourage conversation or friendliness. Don’t worry that coworkers know you’ve had a few problems, if they do know that. They are most worried about their own problems and wondering how others see them.Consider using your coworkers as a work-improvement resource. As you see someone in the break room or wrap up work in the evening, smile and make the usual small talk, then say something about work. Do the Tell and Ask with them as well. “I’m slowly digging my way through the projects I’ve got. How do you manage to do such a good job and still stay on time?” Or, “How long did it take you to feel you finally caught on to all the details of the work?” Or, “How long did it take you to get good enough that you didn’t mess things up every time you turned around?”Those kind of questions let the listener know you have concerns but also are phrased in a way that doesn’t sound like you want them to train you, you just want to chat about it.

5. Here is a final thought: You say you dread coming to work because of the way you feel and the way you think others feel about you. You may be surrounded by people who feel the same way. I recently worked with an office of seven people, each who almost cried when they talked to me, expressing fear of failure and feelings that coworkers either pitied them or hated them. It was sad! Five of them were able to come to a realization that they needed to improve their work but that they weren’t on the verge of dismissal and that the others weren’t really thinking about them all that much. Two could never accept that reality and they probably will be dismissed if their negative behavior doesn’t improve. They certainly aren’t ever going to feel any better.

You couldn’t have achieved what you’ve already achieved in your life and work if you didn’t have that capability.You graduated with a degree in a complex field of study, so you know you can do the work. It’s just not as easy to do it in your current business with its requirements, as it might be in some other one. Maybe you can keep your eyes open for another company with which to work, while gaining more skills and experiences where you are. Or, maybe you can keep learning here and make it your goal to overcome the habits, traits or skill gaps that are getting in your way. You also need spend at least a few minutes or hours every day looking at what you’ve accomplished and the gaps you’ve closed.

This has been a long response to your question! However, your question is one that reflects the concerns of many people. So, perhaps those who look at our archives will gain from reading about your feelings and our thoughts. I hope you can find a way to apply some of the ideas because I think you would find them to help you make a difference.Best wishes to you in all you do. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how things develop over time.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.