7 Signs You're in Over Your Head

Last Updated Feb 15, 2011 7:42 PM EST

7 Signs You Are in Over Your HeadNobody wants to believe they're the problem. Why that is, I don't know. But it's far and away the stickiest issue that plagues organizations big and small. That's why it keeps coming up again and again here.

In last year's most clicked post - 7 Signs You May Be a Bad Manager - we talked about how most bad managers aren't consciously aware that they are bad managers. That was news to a lot of people.

It seems that, while we talk about denial all the time, we don't really understand what it means: that, on some level, we are aware of our behavior and our issues; we're just not consciously aware. That requires a measure of self-awareness few of us possess.

As I alluded to at the time, this phenomenon isn't at all limited to bosses, but applies to executives, managers, employees too. What that means is that, no matter who you are or what you do, you can be in over your head and not realize it.

As we all know, realizing a problem is the first step to resolving it. But, for those of you who still aren't convinced that knowing the truth about your level of competency is a good thing, here's a different way to say it: If you bury your head in the sand, you'll likely suffocate. How's that for motivation?

So pay attention to these 7 Signs You're in Over Your Head
  1. You're more anxious and stressed-out than usual. Why is that a sign? Because, on some level, you're aware that you're in over your head and the disconnect between that awareness and the lie you keep consciously telling yourself - and others, in all likelihood - is causing you great anxiety and stress.
  2. Goals you thought were reasonable now seem insurmountable. Congratulations, you've fallen victim to one of the most common pitfalls in the working world: pedestal thinking. Don't feel too bad, it's just god's sick little gift to overachievers. Just remember that the next time your ego wants to write a check that your capability can't cash.
  3. You're feeling depressed when you should be feeling fine. You've been given a chance, an opportunity to prove yourself, maybe even a promotion. You should be on top of the world ... but you're not. Again, that's the disconnect talking. And maybe, just maybe, you can't help but wonder if you haven't been given just enough rope to hang yourself with.
  4. Your schedule is constantly slipping. Maybe your budget, headcount, and capital requirements, too. If it's not one thing, it's another. And management's starting to get really tired of it. Every time they ask, "Is that going to do it," you say "Absolutely." But you have no idea if that's true or not. Dangerous game to play.
  5. I can do this has turned into I'm going to do this if it kills me. Well, it probably won't kill you, but it might set your career back a bit or even get you fired. The point is that there are diminishing returns when it comes to being so driven that you push yourself to do things you're either not ready for or are not capable of doing. And frankly, nobody wins when you do that. Nobody.
  6. You find yourself working even when you're not ... and shouldn't be. You find yourself thinking about work at all times of the day and night? While you're eating, sleeping, on weekends, even during sex? Working longer and longer hours but coming home with less and less accomplished? Yup, that's a sign alright. Been there many times.
  7. You're screwing up ... and you're not a screw up. I know it sounds sort of obvious, but I can remember times when I made excuses for errors in judgment that I probably wouldn't have made if I wasn't stretched so thin or pushing the envelope. Why did I do that? I guess I'm not the sort of guy who gives up easily. But again, there comes a point when that can actually work against you.
Once you've recognized that you're in over your head, what do you do about it? In a nutshell, it's always a good idea to be honest with yourself and face the fact that maybe you need to get some help, i.e. fess up to your boss, ask for more time and resources, that sort of thing.

If you're a young up-and-comer who's just pushing the envelope, i.e. no pain no gain, I'd give you a pass for sticking your neck out and taking risks, as long as you learn from the experience and don't make it a regular thing.

If this is chronic with you, then there's a distinct possibility that you've risen to your level of incompetence, i.e. the Peter Principle. In that case, you might want to read What's the One Thing Limiting Your Success? and deal with it.

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Image courtesy of Flickr user Matt From London

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