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Total confidence crisis going back to work - not sure how to handle it...

(36 Posts)
Boobz Mon 14-Feb-11 13:25:26

I have just returned to work after 2 years out having babies, and am having a complete melt down in confidence and feel ready to jack it all in after 5 weeks in the job!

Some background:

I trained as a media planner in a big media agency and stayed there for 2 years, before hopping to another comms agency, to get a hike up in salary. Stayed there for another year or so, and then moved to a creative agency but still doing comms planning (working with the creative and account planning teams). Then I got offered a marketing role at one of the clients I was working on, and jumped at it as it was a big increase in salary, working from home and in a sector I was passionate about (online poker)

I worked there for 4 years, but the latter 2 I was basically off having babies and on maternity leave, and I didn't have a mentor to learn from as I was working from home, and so although I did well at the job, I wasn't really learning proper marketing skills and it was quite limited in scope as the product I was marketing was an internet service (rather than something like cars or breakfast cereal that has a production line and Sales and Operations depts and so on - which I am having to deal with now...)

Fast forward to now, I have been off work for over a year (I went back for 6 months between each child) and I am now living in Sudan (of all places!) as my husband's job moved us here. I applied for a category manager job in the marketing dept in the only billion dollar private company in Sudan, and got it! So far so good...

However now I am here, I feel like I don't have a bloody clue about what's going on - the industry is so completely different to what I was doing before, and I have meetings where it's obvious I should know what everyone's talking about, but in reality I understand less than 10%! What's worse is that I am managing people, and I know less than them and am having to ask them for help - not the other way around, like it should be.

I keep having swings of "get on with it - you're doing fine - no one expects you to know everything" to "you don't know even half of what you should, you are a fraud, get out NOW". I don't know - I'm enjoying being out of the house and away from just being mum, and I obviously like the fact I am being paid a good salary, but the flip side of the coin is that I feel shitty a lot of the time as I don't know what I'm doing / feel stupid for not having learnt this stuff over the past 4 years in my last job.

I thought a lot about it last night, and decided that when I get back to the UK, I would like to do a post-grad in Marketing and Branding Communications, maybe even International Marketing, which you can do at LSE, UCL, Imperial College London etc,. so that I can make up for lost time. As I see it, I could go back to the UK, try and get a marketing job which pays 60k+ GBP, but I think I would fall into the same pit - not enough experience and blagging my way through, which is going to be even harder than it is here. How do I bridge the gap? I think the answer is to do some proper training / learning, and go back to school and do it properly, rather than trying to learn on the job in positions where I am supposed to be the teacher (managing people).

I suppose I could go back a few rungs on the ladder, and go in as a marketing exec to get this training, but this would mean I was being paid peanuts, and I would be the oldest exec there, which would be hard. So I thought maybe the best thing to do is some proper learning, invest in myself, and get the knowledge that can be properly used and paid for (60k+ paid for type thing) by having a Masters in the subject I am supposed to be knowledgeable in. What do you think? I know it would be hard to begin with, as I would have to find the cash to pay for it (15 - 20k for 1 year, or 2 years part time), and it would have to be done around another job I suppose, to make sure we could afford the mortgage.... but then how do I afford to pay for child care as well?

Oh god I don't know. I WANT to do this properly, I want to know what I am talking about, and to have a proper career for the next 20+ years. I kind of see having the kids relatively young as a good thing, as by the time the last one has popped out, I will be 34ish, with my family complete so no more time off etc,. with a degree and maybe a masters in marketing under my belt, so I would be a good person to employ... right now I feel like I have missed out a big step and I need to go back and do the work to actually be worth the 60k+ they are paying me..

I think the main problem is that I went straight from media planning to marketing (although it wasn't really proper marketing at this poker site) without any formal training to link the 2 and to fill my gaps on what real marketing involves, and I didn't have anyone to learn from. And now I've done the same again, I've moved into a marketing job (completely different type of marketing again, with factories, operations, demand planning etc) where I have no one to learn from as I am the boss!

Ugh. Am having another bad day, hence off-loading it all on here in the vain hope somebody can tell me this happened to them too and it all turned out ok! I don't know how much longer I can do this without exploding.

What would you do? Fess up to the boss that he hired someone without the right experience and ask for training (but will probably get asked to leave as they need someone operational now?) Or just accept the fact that this is a post-baby-going-back-to-work wobble and that it will be ok in the end, and that I just have to accept I will feel stupid a lot of the time?


Boobz Mon 14-Feb-11 13:25:57

God that was long - sorry.

realrabbit Mon 14-Feb-11 14:19:46

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

Boobz Mon 14-Feb-11 17:02:01

Thanks Realrabbit - I need to take more deep breaths. There isn't really anyone more senior - there are 2 other at the same level as me, and then the MD! He's involved in very high level stuff - not the kind of person who would sit down and explain Sales and Operation demand planning, or whatever it is.

Had a blub on DH's shoulder. He's told me to man up. And that I'm selling myself short.

But he's not the one who feels helpless and stoooopid.

Ack. Thanks for the response - I think I just needed to get it all out before it made me combust!

tattycoram Mon 14-Feb-11 17:10:19

Don't panic yet, it really hasn't been very long that you've been there. You can't be expected to know the industry within five weeks. What was your induction process like? Could you fill in some gaps under the cover of further induction - perhaps meet formally with dept heads or whoever to get a low down of how their section works? And is there any distance learning you could do to get your confidence up?

It sounds as if you have been very successful so far and I would be surprised if you couldn't make it work.

LadyLapsang Tue 15-Feb-11 20:44:52

Well, if nothing else you must be quite good at blagging your way in. Having been on the receiving end of having someone (try to) manage me that knew less than me it was v v frustrating. Seems like money is your main motivator, so doesn't sound like you've got much option but to carry on blagging / man up and try to get some training when you can.

gingerwench Tue 15-Feb-11 21:00:29

You could see what on-line courses/distance learning you could do without giving up the job you've got. What industry magazines/journals do you read? Are you a member of the Chartered Inst of Marketing or similar and if so what resources do they have online that could help you? My professional body magazines often include recommendations of good books which can be a quick way to upskill (or at least remind yourself that you know more than you think!)

Perhaps see your role as managing specialists rather than being a specialsit yourself, think lots of coaching type questions, empowering your people not doing their thinking for them. Concentrate on where you can add value with your transferable skills and general mgmt ability/common sense/commercial awareness etc.

Boobz Wed 16-Feb-11 05:33:23

LadyLapsang - at the moment (for the next 18 months whilst we remain in Sudan) monday is NOT important to me - getting out of the house and doing a useful job, keeping my CV up and learning skills which will be useful upon my return to the UK is much more important. When I return to the UK however, DH's salary drops substantially, and we will need to trade up to a bigger house (due to expanding family) and thus a bigger mortgage so money WILL be important then. That's why I'm desperate to do a proper job whilst we're away, so I am employable when I get back, and at a salary rate that can support the mortgage I need to help pay.

As for the managing someone who knows more than me - you are quite right - it's frustrating for both of us! I feel like a fraud, the people below me know I am not as strong as I should be, and I want to tell my boss to promote her to my job and I'll work under her! DH does not think this is a good idea however (but I am on the verge of speaking to my boss and saying it anyway - the knot in my stomach is killing me).

Am a member of the CIM gingerwench and have been trying to catch up on my gaps in knowledge, but it's been difficult as when I get in from work it's 2 kids dinner, bath and bed, dog walk and the collapse onto sofa at 9. Trying to do more in the evenings, but it's hard to find the time. Will try and do more over the weekend. Your advice about managing specialists was also what DH said I should do, but there are defintely areas where I should know more, and that's where I'm struggling.

Think I'm going to talk to my boss today. I don't really see any other option.

Thanks for advice though - it's good just to talk it through with someone who's not judging me!

Boobz Wed 16-Feb-11 07:36:28

Have just spoken to another one of the category managers (there are 3 of us) and told him I am Not Coping. He was brilliant. He has faith in me. I just about held back tears (god, why do women cry so easily over stress? (I know I'm hugely generalising and most other women are much tougher and Don't Cry)... I don't think it's helped that I got my first period today since May 2008... gah)

He is going to come and speak to The Boss with me, to at least start a process to get me some help - or move me down the management I suppose, that could happen.

Oh for the love of Christ, STOP BEING SO RUBBISH.

I feel like the woman in the film Airplane that can't stop screaming through terror and a whole queue forms to slap her to her senses...

And breathe.

swallowedAfly Wed 16-Feb-11 07:46:32

Message withdrawn

Boobz Wed 16-Feb-11 07:53:24

I think some of the gaps are so cavernous SAF that I will need to take a 6 month sabbatical! I only just started! That's why I was talking about doing a post-grad in marketing in my original post, as I think that's the kind of thing that will help me. I have already ordered a couple of books from the web, and have the CIM resources, so that's a start I guess.

But the targets for this year are monstrous, we're behind already and my boss is looming saying "you have to launch x now! You need to do a consumer promotion for x tomorrow! You've got to find a whole new category that there is a market for here now, write a feasability study and business proposal for it, source the machinery to make it, and launch it before the end of the year - GO!"

The plus side is that if I do get on top of all this and actually start to perform and have an impact on the business, I will be a much better employee when I get home!

Boobz Wed 16-Feb-11 07:56:08

LadyLapsang - out of interest, what happened in the situation where you knew more than your boss? Did he/she get there in the end or were they "found out" and made to move down the company or out of it altogether? Did you harbour resentment or did you try and help them?

swallowedAfly Wed 16-Feb-11 08:01:54

Message withdrawn

claig Wed 16-Feb-11 08:13:31

I don't know anything about marketing. But it is very common for managers to know less than their staff, managers are not the most technical and become generalists rather than specialists. They are able to see the big picture and have people management skills and they delegate to the more knowledgeable specialists.

I think you have been out for a long time and so now it is a bit of a shock, and you are trying to do too much, as if all of teh responsibility is on your shoulders. You are seeing yourself in competition with the knowledge of your staff. But you have different skills, you are more generalist than specialist. I think you should try to delegate more to them.

Personally, I am not convinced about academic courses at this level. They are useful and give you greater perspective, but I doubt they will get you out of your current predicament. I think there is nothing as good as real on the job experience.

Stick with it, I think it will take you time to adjust after being out for so long. I think you are seeing the glass as half empty, and it may not be as bad as you perceive it.

swallowedAfly Wed 16-Feb-11 09:02:22

Message withdrawn

GetOrfMoiLand Wed 16-Feb-11 19:12:37

Oh Boobz ypou are just having an understandable crisis of confidence.

I do understand how you feel - I have for my past 2 jobs jumped into a role and/or industry I know bugger all about. For one - I moved from engineering design to procurement. I didn't have any expertise in procurement and had to learn quick and fast, often from people junior to me. My latest job was moving from aerospace (an industry I had worked in for years and knew well) to automotive fastener manufacture. I knew naff all about the automotive industry and naff all about how fasteners are made - and I have 4 people working for me who have a total of 24 years fasteners experience between them.

I have had moments of 'fuck - what have I done' but HONESTLY you cannot expect to know a new industry in 5 weeks. It took me a good 4 months to get in control of my current job. You need to confide in your staff and learn from them, and if possible find someone you can really get on with at work, and learn learn learn from them, ususally by offering to do some donkey work which they need done and don't have time to do. You will learn so much if you actually do something, rather than just manage what other people are doing.

Your employers are not mad - they have seen something in you which they value. Don't throw in the towel - every day you will get better and more confident in what you are doing.

I agree that training is key - when I moved into procurement from engineering I was utterly clueless about tendering processes, contract and all that stuff. I immediately took a CIPS course (profession procurement accreditation) which was invaluable. Approacj your emplpoyers about any training you need - they will probably fund it (I have had £££ of employer fiunded training).

I think although you DH may sound harsh in saying 'man up' - but he is probably trying to say what I am and let's be honest he knows you very well - don't fall into the trap of feeling an imposter (mind you I think every professional woman feels that sometimes), you ARE able to do it, just don't be scared of it and go for it.

Good luck - take each day as it comes. You WILL get through it.

Boobz Thu 17-Feb-11 08:01:48

Thanks Getorf - it's nice to know others have been there and come out the other side!

I am putting together a list of areas I need support in and will take these to my boss and put a plan together of how I will get up to speed. I just hope he doesn't think there are too many areas and that I'm not the right person for the job!

I'm also working on something at the moment which I DO know how to do, and well, and hopefully if I get this done and present it to my peers and then to my team, and it is accepted as a good piece of work, I can start to build my confidence that I do know SOME stuff.

Right, better crack on. Thanks for everyone's support. I shall let you know if I am still here at the end of my 3 month probation!

Boobz Mon 14-Mar-11 12:13:52

It hasn't got any better, 2 months in. Am sinking. 1 more month until the end of my probation but don't think I will make it... (am making myself ill with the stress).

TallulahBelly14 Tue 22-Mar-11 18:48:34

boobz, I'm interested to know because I work in a similar field and am thinking of going back to work very soon - did you broach the subject of changing positions with your boss? And how did your plans for training / progressions go down?

Boobz Mon 04-Apr-11 12:59:18

Hey Tallulah - sorry I didn't spot your post until now. I did speak to the boss about training / progression, but he just said "don't get bogged down in the technical stuff, just manage the bigger picture". Which I didn't find particularly helped me, as I am still struggling on many parts of the business and am getting progressively more un-confident as time goes on.

Probation on Sunday. I don't think I will pass. I almost hope I don't pass, so I can then say I tried my best but it was not to be and go back to looking after the nippers. Will update on Sunday. Gulp.

Safariboots Mon 04-Apr-11 16:11:33

Best wishes, Boobz. You sound lovely by the way. Hope you manage to hold it together and remember that with every day, you will get more confident. Women do tend to undersell themselves and focus on their weaknesses. Chin up and work on the selfconfidence. Fake the confidence if necessary

Boobz Tue 05-Apr-11 17:39:33

Hello. So I had a little chat with the girl who is the other category manager, as a kind of pep talk prior to the appraisal on Sunday, and I really am struggling to see what the hell is going on here. She said that it had been noted that I don't have enough confidence (not surprising, and I'm trying to work on it) but then at the same time, people (she said men, specifically) in an Operations meeting had thought me "forceful" and "rude". I'm really not sure how that was possible - the meeting in question involved me saying very little indeed, as I wasn't sure what I was supposed to be doing (plus ca change) and I don't remember saying anything that could be construed as rude.. how can one be lacking in confidence and forceful at the same time?

I have, on more than one occasion, sounded off (in a jokey way) that people are always late and it's getting ridiculous. Every meeting starts at least 20 mins late, sometimes 45 mins. Every single one. Even if all the people who are meant to be in the meeting are just sitting and idly chatting. It drives me mad - I am overly punctual, if that's possible, and I hate time wasting. I did say at one point - "is this a company thing or an Sudanese thing?" genuinely wondering if it was cultural, like the Spanish are always late (generalisation) and now I have been told that because of this they (the brand team) think I am racist.

Christ, it's not going well, is it?

Boobz Tue 05-Apr-11 17:41:09

Thanks safari - but actually with every day, I just feel more like a fraud. I really don't think there is any other option than to let me go, but we'll see how it goes. As long as I have tried my best, that's all I can do I suppose.

But I will start being more confident (it's hard without the knowledge to back it up though).

Safariboots Wed 06-Apr-11 02:37:40

Boobz, it does sound to me a combination of differences in management and communication styles, alongside the personal crisis of confidence. You are the newcomer and learning the ropes while the team has been there before you and have established local practices they don't view as strange. Are they all Sudanese? Managing teams of different cultures may sometimes calls for more delegation and maybe new ways of communicating. The 'racist' angle is rather problematic but may just be expressing the team's perception of cultural difference. Punctuality may be very important to you but is it viewed in the same way locally? can you perhaps let this go? The being 'rude' and 'forceful' sounds to me like men adjusting (not too well) to taking orders or being managed by a female manager. Of course, I may be wrong. have a read online on crosscultural management and try to adjust your style, if necessary. Don't sweat the small stuff.

I don't really know what to suggest but it sounds like you may already be detaching from this position and preparing to give up, and this will come across to your team. Even if you intend to leave eventually, do not let on yet. Maybe hold off with the informal 'sounding off' and do not display weakness or nervousness in the workplace, (just sound off to us here on MN). Again, feeling a fraud is common and just underlines the need to act confident and you will eventually inspire confidence in your team.

As for appearing confident even when you don't feel it, maybe google a few techniques online. Men do it all the time and manage to convince yet some women worry about appearing too cocky. Give yourself a pep talk and fake the confidence even when you don't feel it inside. You are underplaying your strengths, which is why you were hired. When you don't know something, remain quiet and keep them guessing, maybe delegate here and ask for them to show what they know. I bet there will be someone keen to show how good they are. It is sometimes lonely at the top, so maybe keep your insecurities hidden as your team are not necessarily your friends. If it eventually does not work out, at least you will have had a learning experience.

Sorry it's turned into a rather long post, (apologies if teaching you how to suck eggs) but I'm hoping you manage to hang in there and surprise yourself as well as the doubters. All the best, Boobz smile.

Boobz Thu 07-Apr-11 07:53:01

Thanks Safari - allg ood advice which a lot of has been said to me by DH. Yes they're all Sudanese, apart from my peer managers (Kenyan and Egyptian, so still from this part of the world) and I have genuinely tried to adjust to their working style. It's all very friendly and you have to shake everyone's hand or give them a kiss every morning when you see them, and then again at lunch time if you have a meeting with them and you haven't seen them for all of 3 hours! I can do all that, and I enjoy it actually - it's nice to be working in an environment where everyone is friendly and genuinely cares about how you're feeling, how your family is (at least 5 mins of pleasantries: "how's your mother? How's your brother?" on the phone before you can get to the point of asking them to send you something or do something for you"... I really am fine with all of that. But the lateness thing has an impact on my being able to do my job, so that's the one thing I've struggled with. But I'm working on it and will let it go.

You're absolutely right about the detaching from the position thing - I think I'm preparing myself, and my team, for the possibility of me not passing my probation on Sunday. I would be so relieved! How mad is that, wanting to get fired?! Just to be out of the stress would be amazing.... but the money is also amazing, and the learning experience is invaluable, so I can't actually quit (and I'm not a quitter by nature - have never quit a job without another job to go to before) so it's not in me to jump ship, even though most days I think about it. I think if I don't get let go on Sunday, and they say they think there is potential and that I can add something to the team and the business, that I will change my mentality and stop the detachment. I will make more of an effort from that point, but so far, it's been hard when I'm pretty sure my time is up.

I am actually, despite what it sounds like from these posts, a naturally confident person: out-going, opinionated, take pride in my work etc. But I derive confidence from knowing my stuff, and in this case, I feel like I am so far behind that even faking the confidence is a stretch. "Just make some decisions and stand by them!" says DH - don't show weakness etc. But a lot of the time I don't know what decision is that needs to be made, let alone which the right decision is, so this is where I fall down and let my lack of confidence show. I have always been up front with my manager about my gaps, and asked for help, but none was forth-coming, so now I am wondering where I could go from here.

The possibilities for the outcome from my appraisal are as follows (as I see it) 1) Get fired, 2) Get demoted and work into a manager with a lot more experience who can guide me, 3) Carry on as I am. Obviously option 1) isn't ideal (despite the relief it would be), and option 3) would me that I continue to agonise on a daily basis and will probably get me to a point where I can stand going to work because of the stress. So option 2 looks like the best. If I was in the UK, I really don't think this would be an option, but here in Sudan and in this company and at this point in my career, I think it would be a good way of staying employed, learning more and still keeping my (somewhat decreased I imagine) salary. If I am going to lose face and be seen to be underperforming and thus moved down the pecking order, then it's better to do it here than back in the "real world" in the UK where your reputation could be affected and subsequent jobs as a result (i.e. make the mistakes here where I'm not under the spotlight).

I am learning every day, I am getting better, and once I have been here through a full marketing year, I think I will be much more able to do my job properly and do it with confidence. Right now I am doing many things for the first time, and a lot of the time, not very well (I think) so it's a painful process.



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