(broad)ject self #18: Self-Care When...You Feel Dumb

I’ve recently started working on a project at work that is one of my department’s main priorities for the year and thus, as the lead on the project, one of my main priorities for the year. We’ve been talking through the project for several months and had our first major planning meeting last week to move the project forward. A takeaway from that meeting involved pitching the project to another department and possibly getting some help from one of their team members. We presented the project to said team a few days later and the team lead flipped out. He didn’t understand why we want to do such a thing. Did we understand the magnitude of what we were attempting? How much unnecessary attention we were drawing to ourselves? We were free to do whatever we wanted, of course, but he just wanted us to appreciate the position we were putting ourselves in.

To say I was taken aback would be putting it mildly. For one, I’d never seen this person react so vehemently to something before. More importantly, I never in a million years expected that this was something worth reacting vehemently to in the first place. It was a well-considered project that met a real need in both my department and the company as a whole. I had spent a not inconsiderable amount of time over the last 8 weeks working on it. But suddenly, I felt stupid and a little bit small. Who was I to suggest such a project, I thought, as it had been my idea in the first place.  

I steamed and fretted for a bit and then later went to talk to my boss, who had also been in the meeting. The team lead’s comments had certainly altered her thinking in the way we were trying to do this thing, as it seemed fairly clear we weren’t going to get any help from other teams. But she was committed to doubling down on the project itself, his over-reaction only further convincing her of the need for such an endeavor. I left her office feeling recharged and confident again, resolved to do an even better job to prove this guy wrong.

If required, I could list off just about everything dumb, stupid, embarrassing, badly timed thing I’ve ever said or done in my 11.5 years of working. I have a unique memory for the humiliating moments. When I think about them, I feel exactly the way they did when they happened (or when I realized that they were not well received). It’s a double-edged sword being a big personality who’s unafraid to speak up. People really like it, until they don’t because you’ve gone too far. My MBA was a great opportunity for me to really figure out who I was and what impression I wanted to project. In the end, I have to be myself, but I work really hard to make sure that my comments are thoughtful and not just for the sake of it.

Now, the incident I described above wasn’t actually me doing or saying something stupid, but I felt plenty dumb in the moment. Still, I think the process of handling those feelings are much the same. I thought about what had happened and what I had said. Then I went to a witness (in this case, my boss) to corroborate my impressions, who ended up assuring me that I hadn’t done anything wrong. I’ve been called out before though, and if you really did do/say something inappropriate all you can do is apologize and assure your boss it won’t happen again.

With the outward niceties handled, you can start dealing with your feelings. All I can say here is: be kind to yourself, forgive yourself, and then let it go. Do you upmost not to obsess. For me, telling a friend is helpful, because it gets it out of my head and into the world. You may consider who you tell, depending on the level of stupidity/embarrassment, but I don’t think it’s worth keeping it inside. If it’s too horrible to contemplate repeating (I’ve got those incidents too, believe me), then write it up journal-style. Don’t be a drama queen and don’t rend your garments. Finally, follow the inscription on my MBA grad ring (and the sage advice of Taylor Swift) and shake it off.

Everybody feels dumb once in a while (and if they don’t, they may well have some perception problems). I think the trick is knowing if those feelings are truly deserved (as in, you said something inappropriate in a meeting) or all in your head (in the story above). But those feelings deserve to be taken seriously either way because both are opportunities to learn and grow. If I consider all those humiliating moments I’ve had in my life, I can also tell you the direct action I took to counter them. All that adds up to the smart, strong, opinionated woman I am today.

Your homework this week is to get into the way way back machine and think about the last time you felt dumb at work. Was it deserved? Or was it all in your head? How could you have handled it differently? And most importantly, what are you taking away from it that is making you better today?

You know I want to hear your stories, so if you want to share you know where tofind me.

Self-caringly yours,

Sian