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Recent Letter to the ElderWisdomCircle™

SELF-IMPROVEMENT: Work Anxiety and Low Self-Esteem
Letter #: 391362
Category: Career

Original Letter

Hello, I am a 21 year old law student and I am hoping I can get advice in relation to my workplace anxiety. I am a really sensitive person and anger and disappointment from others strongly affects me. In my first professional job as a paralegal this year, my boss would often yell at me for making mistakes, implied that I was stupid and had unpredictable moods. When she would yell at me, I would start shaking, felt like I would wet myself and subsequently forget her instructions she would tell me after she yelled, further infuriating her. I would experience anxiety even after work when I got home, and my school days were spent dreading when I would have to return to work. From this experience I have a lowered self-esteem and do not feel intelligent or even capable of working in a law firm (despite the fact that I get good university marks).

I no longer work at that firm as it closed down, but as part of my university course, I am currently undertaking a placement experience at a law firm. My supervisor at the firm is very calm and positive, and is truly a good person and a positive role model. The firm feels like a warm and caring family. However, I cannot seem to shake my anxiety. I have a fear of doing or saying something wrong and disappointing them. When someone gives me instructions, I feel insecure and fear that I will not understand or be able to complete even the simplest tasks. For instance, I was supposed to ask my boss whether he had sent an important letter I had written to a client, but I was too nervous to interrupt him to ask as he seemed busy, so I just assumed that he had sent it and did not confirm with him. However, I got anxiety over this and sent him an email over the weekend to ask him (but he does not check his emails on weekends). Now I am worried that he did not send it after all and this could negatively impact the client's case while also making me look irresponsible.

How do you think I should deal with my work anxiety and self-esteem? I appreciate your advice.

Elder Response

~~Lucia, the first thing you must do is, please, completely forget that first work experience.  Your boss there was a jerk and her treatment of personnel was not indicative of bosses in general. The fact that the firm had such people in management positions is probably one of many reasons it is no longer in business.  That doesn’t mean that you won’t run into other bad bosses, but as you see from your current supervisor, they are not the norm.

Carrying some anxiety and insecurity into your first few years of your career is not abnormal, but you have to make an effort in dealing with it.  Part of that effort should be to recognize that you are going to make a mistake here and there, but people are going to understand when you do, and you’re not always going to get yelled at.  After that, use those brains that are working so well in university, to help you perform in the workplace.  Have you really messed up that often or is it just the fear of doing so that is making you so insecure.  I suspect it is the latter, and the previous boss who managed by intimidation, amplified those insecurities.

Now it easy for someone to say “get over your insecurities”, and, I know from my own experience that it is much harder to do.  Being thrown into a new environment where everyone seems to know what they are doing can be very intimidating, but try to keep in mind that, you’re smart and if you just work hard and do the best that you can, most people are going to cut you all the slack that you need to succeed.   Go to work thinking the issues that made you so insecure on the previous job have gone away.  You are in a new place with new people who are not bullies, and these people want to see you succeed.  Do not let yourself be intimidated by the occasional one that doesn’t.  They unusually don’t go far in business and someday, if you build that self-esteem, they will be working for you.

I suggest also that you do a little reading on self-esteem or anxiety in the work place.  There are plenty of articles available on the internet on those subjects.  After the research,  put a plan together for dealing with these issues, because there will be other jerks out there and who thrive on people that they can push around. Overtime, your confidence will grow and you’ll have the experience behind you to make you feel confident in most situations. . I say “most,” because if you continue to challenge yourself in law, business or life in general, you will always be striving to reach the next level and opening yourself up to new insecurities that come with every new position. If you learn to cope now, it will make thing much easier in the future, and it will make you much less hesitant to take on any new challenge that gets thrown at you.  Sooner or later, the excitement of the new challenge will overshadow the insecurities of taking a new chance. 

Lucia, you are very young and what you are experiencing we all have gone through.  Face it head on and use that intelligence and law degree to do great things.

Good luck

Best Regards,



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