Why we stay in jobs we hate - Part Three: Self Doubt

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This blog posting is the third in a 3-part series on why we stay in jobs we hate. Links to the first 2 articles are at the bottom of this page.

How we land in our jobs has a lot to do with circumstance, happenstance and being in a certain place at a certain time. Then it is easy to see how we stay; it’s the path of least resistance. Have you seen the opportunity to do something different but don’t act on it? Do you want to make a change but don’t know how? Deep inside of us is a belief, a belief that holds us back. How it shows up is self doubt.

Here’s the story of my crossroad and how I wrestled with trying to find my way.


I was paying for groceries with my credit card the day I was invited to a party, my bank account with only enough funds for the next month’s rent.

A plan needed to be made. Soon.

A single parent of 2, out of a long-time invigorating gig which sopped up a good deal of my energy and focus, I had no idea of where to turn. After several months of EI, I hadn’t figured out my next step. My claim had ended. I felt like I had squandered my time.

Up to this point, everything was about something or someone else. Parenting. Changing the world.

What do you want to do with your life? I kept asking myself.  I had no idea how to answer that question.

My parents had a totally different life. When my dad was only able to make a piecemeal living in southern Manitoba, my parents decided to go up north where there was the promise of many jobs and lots of opportunities.

My father never had a career plan. With a Grade 8 education and a strong body, his opening appeared in the construction field.  Which he did until he died. I didn’t ever know if he liked his job. Since he was an unhappy man, I am leaning towards no.

My mother worked in the family business, kept a busy family clothed, organized and fed; she went into the workforce when we were teenagers, having found the opportunity through a friend in the community.  

What I had learned from their role modeling was that you keep your eyes and ears open and grab those opportunities where you could.  

I wasn’t seeing any.

I had been doing financial management, having learnt the field from on-the-job training. Was that enough to land me a job? Before that I was self-employed as a typesetter for a recipe book company. Were there any jobs like that?

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Confused and lost

I realize now that the approach I was using was taking me in circles. By focussing on what I could do or where the jobs were, I was confused and lost.

What was clear is that I needed to get a job.

Unemployed and no prospects, I was questioning my ability to find work even though my job search was meager and unfocussed.

Later I would hear that 80% of people who found jobs were already employed.

Confidence was the ticket I heard from employers when they talked about how they chose their candidate.  That wears thin the longer you are unemployed.

Self doubt and fear

Self-doubt and fear are poor companions on a job search journey. Not only did I have a lot of confusion about where to go next, I had these other two responsibilities along for the ride. They needed me to get in gear. 

All of that self doubt and fear resulted in me being paralyzed. I wanted to make decisions but I couldn’t. I wanted to leap into my brilliant future but I couldn’t even imagine it. 

Many years later, there was an incident that shone a light on what was happening for me.

As a young employment counsellor, I met a former client on the street, a fellow who I hadn’t seen for a long time, not since he dropped out of the course he was taking and then vanished. He said he had wanted to talk to me for a long time.

He said to me, “Do you know why I didn’t follow through with that program?”

“No,” I said.

“Because you believed in me more than I believed in myself.” 

I realized that this is what happened to me long ago when I was scrambling to find work. I didn’t believe in myself.

What we hope for when we are struggling is there is someone who believes in us enough to get us going. What we need is to understand what is holding us back.

At the party, I saw people I hadn’t seen in a long time. Inevitably the question of what I was doing came up.

“Nothing.” I wanted to crawl out of the room.

One of my former teachers in a women’s studies program asked if I would consider working for the magazine where she was on the editorial board. “Yes!” I said. We set up a time for the interview.

Start where you are

Here’s what I learned from that situation (and others). Parties, as a job search tool, work.

And even amidst self-doubt, I had a lot to offer. I couldn’t see it. But my former teacher could. She believed in me. 

I ended up staying in finance, not an ideal match for me but it allowed me the flexibility to be with my homeschooled children, pay the rent and I gained some pretty useful skills.  The pressure was off.

This allowed me to have space to really think about what was a good fit for me. And to address the real elephant in the room. There was a core belief that was tripping me up.

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What holds us back

What I had brought along from my childhood was a belief that I didn’t matter. This threaded its way throughout my life but those threads formed a massive screen when it came to thinking about what it was that I wanted in the work scene. 

I didn’t know. Because it didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter that I find work that was a good fit for me. It didn’t matter that I enjoy myself at work. It didn’t matter when I dragged myself to work and felt like there was no hope for anything different.

That translated into not going to school to get the skills I needed.

Like my client, I did not believe in myself.

Someone to believe in me would have been helpful. But now I understand that you can have a lot of people rooting for you and that is not enough to dint the wall of not believing in yourself.

Believing in yourself is not something you can just decide to do. It means looking closely at that screen to see what is behind there.

Self doubt is the screen. What is holding that up is a belief, a core limiting belief that has been playing in the background for a long time. Once I saw how it operated, everything changed. 

If you enjoyed this article, you may also like the other 2 in the series:

Why we stay in jobs we hate: Part 2 - The Comfort Trap

Why we stay in jobs we hate: Part 1 - Unhappy is the Norm

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