Why am I so scared of being fired?

New here but wanted to post a question. About a year and a half ago, I had a panic attack after work because I was so worried of being fired. I sought out therapy and the CBT skills I’m learning have indeed been helpful but I can’t drown out the nagging fear that if I got fired I would have ruined my career and would end up working at McDonald’s. In fact I have delayed buying a house until our down payment is such that I would be able to provide for my family on minimum wage.

Some context of why I feel uneasy: I was hired on as a business intelligence architect (creating data marts and using bi tools like cognos, business objects, QlikView, and Tableau). But we’re switching our stack to use traditional web technology. So I find myself trying to learn a brand new skill set and feel like the biggest impostor despite success in web development with Angular2. I just feel like one day they’all figure it out and I’ll be canned. It doesn’t help that I just made it to the final round of interviews at Google and was rejected at the end after 8 interviews. I just feel worthless and am constantly oscillating between extreme anxiety over small tasks (what if I don’t get this done by Friday) and depression that says my life doesn’t matter anyway and I should just give up.

First of all, good job adapting to a new stack. (And bonus points for figuring out Angular2!)

Have you been fired before? Have you fired anyone? (Wondering if this is catastrophic thinking or reliving trauma.)

I was rejected after Google on-sites twice before getting an offer on my third try. It happens.

The “impostor syndrome” argument that I use on myself is: “I work with smart people and they think I should work here so I should probably work here.”

Thanks for responding. No I have never been fired or fired anyone. I grew up in a household where money was very tight. My mom didn’t work and my dad worked 2-3 jobs. We used to help him with odd jobs like mowing lawns or cleaning local business parks to help make ends meet. Money was always at the fore of our minds.

I think you’re right about the catastrophic thinking: Just today I was feeling really anxious about a machine learning algorithm that I’ve been helping to develop for a while. On test data it does well but on real data the results are lackluster. It feels like a personal failing and I immediately go to this project will fail, then I’ll get fired, then I’ll be poor, then my wife will leave me, then I’ll be homeless, then all my friends and family will finally see me as a failure. It’s hard for me to delineate that the failure of one project or endeavor doesn’t mean that I’m a failure.

I like your impostor syndrome argument. I found a lot of success initially by reasoning with myself logically about how I felt. But now, when I use those CBT techniques I find myself thinking, “you’re just tricking yourself to see things in a better light” and the techniques are not as effective as they once were.

Any tips about how to snap yourself out of believing that your feelings are reality?

I’m curious how old you are and if this is your first job. (I’m 36 and I’ve worked at two large cap technology companies.)

Do you have a mentor at work?

FWIW, the only people I’ve fired or moved on are the ones who don’t “get” that their performance is an issue. (See Dunning-Kruger effect.) The fact that you worry about it AND that you have shown flexibility in adapting to a new stack AND that you are probably receptive to feedback means that you will be okay in the long-run.

Money: for emotions around money, I’d look at Suze Orman books. If you don’t have an emergency fund with N months of rent/food, then build it up. (My N is 24 months but everyone is different.) There’s nothing wrong with a “security blanket”.

ML: the machine learning workflow is something everyone is still getting used to and it’s difficult to define “success” here. I would suggest re-framing your goal to something like “run 10 experiments and see which approach has the best results”. It’s easier to succeed that way.

Feelings: for me, “mindfulness” stuff like https://www.headspace.com/ is very helpful for breaking out of patterns and separating emotions from reality. Takes a lot of practice though. And even here, they re-define success: it’s not “staying focused on your breath for 30 minutes” - it’s “noticing when your mind is wandering and bringing it back to your breath”.

We’re getting into new-age-y territory (see: A Course in Miracles, Wayne Dyer, etc.) but my take is that tangible things are real, and thoughts and feelings (and time) aren’t tangible things. Only real things can hurt me. What someone thinks of me or what I think of me, isn’t real: it’s just a thought/idea and I can choose to accept it or reject it.

I’m 27. This is my second career job out of college. I was at a non-profit for 3 years and have been where I’m at now for about 18 months. I don’t have a mentor. There are senior developers who will help me with reviewing my code but on the web app I’m currently building, I’m the sole developer.

I’ve asked my boss point blank in 1:1 meetings if I’m meeting expectations and he always says yes and even gave me a 12% raise recently. I always worry that he’s not aware of what’s going on. I’m kind of like the junk drawer on my team. I still work on our legacy applications when asked, help set data architecture standards, do web development, and help with the machine learning algorithm on another project(which I mentioned yesterday). It’s overwhelming but I like the opportunity to learn new things. And I worry that if I say I’m overwhelmed I’ll get taken off of my favorite project (which is the one where I do web development).

Have you ever hired someone who had previously been fired? For some reason in my mind, it’s impossible to recover from being fired.

I’ll check out Suze Orman’s books. We do have an emergency fund. The account designated as our emergency fund has ~18 months of expenses but if you count the money we have saved for a house we have around 9 years of expenses saved up. I have this idea that if I can have my house paid off (probably two years away from a house we want) then it doesn’t matter if I can’t get a job in my field anymore because we could live on very little.

I like your thought about machine learning and reframing success. I’m still caught up in the school mentality of “success is an A.” I wish life were broken up into semesters. I kicked school’s ass.

I actually did headspace yesterday and have been meditating off and on for two years. I like what you said about reframing success here too because I always finish a meditation and think, “I can’t do this stuff. It doesn’t work for me.”

I need to give more new age-y stuff a chance. I’d like to pretend that those things are irrational and that I’m so logical, but if I were truly rooted in logic and reason, the pending success of a project would not lead to feelings of terror the same as though a bear were about to eat me. This morning I woke up and the sheets were soaked with sweat from anxiety; this reaction is not commensurate with my current situation.

Yep, I have hired someone who was fired from a tech company.

I’m running out of things to say but wanted to mention two more ideas:

For “feeling like the junk drawer” - I find it helpful to make a table with Activity, Current Hours, Ideal Hours and then discuss the table with my manager: it makes things concrete (# of hours vs “too much”, “not enough”), actionable (take this off my plate), and de-personalized (we’re talking about the table/tasks and not you/me).

Legacy Code, 4 hours, 0 hours
Machine Learning, 2 hours, 2 hours
Something I’m not yet doing, 0 hours, 10 hours

Usually the manager will be like “I didn’t even know you were doing X / want to do Y” and that’s why it’s been useful for me. Also, if your hours are adding up to 60, then that’s useful data to have.

Second point is about night sweats. I would encourage you to get a physical and have lots of blood work done, especially around vitamins, iron, and endocrine (thyroid/testosterone/adrenal). I had night sweats for a long time and they went away once I started treating my sleep apnea (very subtle, I wasn’t even snoring), low vitamin D, and low ferritin levels (caused by low-level gastritis). I thought I had depression but it turns out my extreme fatigue was rooted in physical causes. The other reason for all the blood work is that if something medically happens in the future, you’ll have a good baseline of measurements.

Good luck and congrats on the 12% raise!

Thank you so much. You’ve been incredibly helpful. You are a remarkable person.

this just happened to me a couple months ago. It’s still itching in the back of my head in a way it wasn’t before. I think a couple unexpected/sudden job losses gave us job abandonment issues. in our current economic structures, literally everything else depends on your job-having/doing, and at least in white-collar industries it’s assumed you have only one. One person somewhere has the power to send your life into a spiral into poverty even if it be on a whim or a technicality of some corporate policy/procedure. The psychological toll of capitalism particularly in a “right to work” state.