Dear Therapist:

I had a terrible experience with my first job. I had been looking forward to this career and had high expectations but things really did not work out well. I had a very hard time with my boss who had a strong personality and we clashed. I only lasted 3 months before we realized it was time to move on. I had wanted to leave sooner but he actually convinced me to stay. I think he felt he could get me to buy into his way of thinking and things would work out. The whole experience was a bit traumatic for me and I find myself doubting my decisions and I am having trouble committing to another job. I feel confused about what I want, what I am capable of, and thrown off from the track I always thought I would take. I was hoping you could give me some encouragement and advice for moving forward. 



I think that many of us can relate to feelings of disenfranchisement with regard to a job or career. More broadly speaking, we have all likely had experiences in which our expectations were not met. Clearly, when this happens in an important area of our lives it can be very disappointing. It sounds like you really had high hopes for this particular career. You had a negative experience working within this career, and you find yourself wondering if your hopes were unjustifiably high.

I wonder at the reason that this experience was traumatic for you. The precipitating event (a negative relationship with your boss) may not appear to be objectively odious. However, it is the emotional response, rather than the event itself, that makes for a trauma. It seems that your emotional response to the situation may have snowballed into something related less to the specific experience than to your feelings toward yourself.

Perhaps your emotional response began by questioning your specific decision to work for this person. It appears, however, to then have turned into questioning other job decisions, then questioning your decisions in general. At this point, you seem to be questioning yourself.

I wonder what your initial reasons were for choosing the career track that you did, and what that decision made you feel toward yourself. If this came from and/or became a large part of your sense of self, losing confidence in this particular decision could easily lead to negative feelings toward yourself.

Additionally, simply the sense that you may have made the wrong decision may be traumatic for you…if your positive sense of self is partly based on being right. Once you made the choice to follow this particular career, you may have held on to this track simply because it’s what you had initially decided. Were your high hopes for this specific career, for this specific decision (taking this job), or for your general decision-making ability?

Hopefully, you can separate the various feelings from one another, and separate your logistical concerns from one another. This can help you to identify what it is that you truly want without allowing your choices and mistakes (you will make mistakes) to negatively impact on your sense of self.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

  Woodmere, NY

  adjunct professor at Touro College

  Graduate School of Social Work

  author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 516-218-4200