Over the years, I’ve had many readers write in to say “I feel stupid at work.” And it breaks my heart that a lot more people are probably feeling this way. So I’m writing this to hopefully help anyone in this situation.
You don’t deserve to feel stupid at work or anywhere. Even if you occasionally find yourself doing something that seems stupid — we all do that. And it does not make us stupid. It makes us human. What’s not ok is purposefully making someone feel that way.
What really makes you feel stupid at work?
Some things people have told me over the years:
- I have a boss who yells at me all the time
- My boss actually uses the word “stupid” when he talks to me
- There are things I still don’t understand after a few months on the job
- I never get praise from my boss. I worry he thinks I’m no good at my job
- It feels like my coworkers get better assignments than I do
- My boss watches everything I do and it makes me feel stupid
You’ll notice some of those things are pretty clearly coming from the boss’s mouth — especially calling a person stupid to their face. And yelling is just not ok. Although it’s more common than we would hope.
But some of the things are about how events around you in the workplace make you feel. I put the word make in italics, because nothing really can make you feel something if at least part of you doesn’t feel it might be true. The feeling itself arises from inside of you. This is a critical point to grasp.
Who is really creating the feelings?
Imagine Albert Einstein or Thomas Edison in your office being treated the way you’re being treated. A less-than-perfect boss might call either of them stupid. And yet they would know it’s not true.
They’d know it’s probably a problem that originates with the boss’s management style. Or inadequate training. Or countless things you didn’t cause. They’d know they aren’t actually stupid inside — even if they actually did something people think are stupid.
But, you might say, I’m no Einstein or Edison. Maybe I really am stupid, and they are seeing it. And I would look you in the eyes and say I bet there are many things you know I don’t know. And many things you can do I can’t do.
A few more thoughts
Look … I’m pretty sure you’re not stupid. We all have lots of wisdom inside of us. Even if there are things you need to learn or change about the way you handle yourself in the workplace. That’s true for any of us!
Ultimately, feeling stupid comes from within. And the best defense is learning to work smarter. And knowing that words and actions reflect on the person saying them far more than the person receiving them.
So look to change what you can.
- Communicate more often with your boss and get clear goals.
- Increase work-related skills where needed.
- Look for mentors / coaches either on the job or elsewhere.
- Offer useful changes based on what you see needs improving.
- Look for office allies. Work together to help come up with new ideas.
- Take classes you care about so that you get a sense of your real value — no matter what anyone says!
And most of all … believe in yourself. You’re not stupid. In fact, you’re smart enough to be reading this and already thinking of ways you can change your job from the inside. Or, if you are really in an abusive situation, you’re smart enough to know it’s probably time to find something better!
Feel free to add this discussion if you have a story to share or advice to offer!
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