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Dear Izzy,

They say trying your best is important but trying too hard… haha, now that’s another thing right? Everybody hates trying hards. I’ve been grappling with this question ever since I got promoted at work. Where before I loved my job, now it’s like fck this shit. I feel like I’m never good enough—it seems my competence is only up to here (neck level) but what the job needs is up to there (beyond my head level) I know it might be just birthing pains, it might also just be me and the huge room for improvement that I found myself in suddenly. Maybe I’m naninibago. I’m very ambitious and I absolutely don’t mind having try and make things work. But I’m getting burned out. And I don’t know if I still like myself. When do you know when you’re no longer trying your best but trying too hard? When do you know when you’re efforts have made you no longer yourself?

Trying Hard

Dear Trying,

There’s so much stigma wrapped around the idea of trying too hard. We cringe when we see people emit desperation pheromones when they decide to pursue someone romantically. We roll our eyes whenever teacher’s pets raise their hands up to answer every question fielded.

What we don’t often realize is that a lot of our discomfort comes from the social ineptitude that comes along with trying too hard. People who are desperate to fall in love miss out on the fact that relationships are a two-way thing and that the object of your affections should also be doing their share in impressing/wooing you. People who are eager to show off in class become annoying because they ignore everyone else around them and treat their participation as a one-man show.

There’s nothing wrong with giving your best. As long as you’re mindful of the relationships and dynamics in your work place, please keep trying hard! Trying hard keeps the world alive! The alternative is being useless! Don’t be useless! Don’t coast!

It sounds though that this isn’t what’s going on. Before this newest posting, were you working at your old position for a long time?

When your former job description, it’s likely you’ve gotten into a good groove. You knew your tasks like the back of your hand and accomplishing them felt like muscle memory. In fact, I’ll wager that you were so spectacular at your job, it’s drove you into getting promoted in the first place.

With this new promotion though, you’re a fish out of water. You may still be in the same department but a new job will always be a new job. You have this awareness that there’s a learning curve with this promotion and you’re right. Learning curves involve periods of uncertainty, learning, and frustration.

It’s obvious that there’s a lot of frustration in your letter. You’re no longer used to being a beginner again. If you haven’t felt like a beginner in a long time, your attitudes towards expected outcomes will get skewed. Not being an expert right away will feel like an insult.

A part of you already knows this. Look back at your life, try to remember all those times you tried learning a new skill or picked up a new sport. Being a beginner sucks–but only if you allow it to!

I compare it to the times I begged off activities where I knew I wouldn’t be amazing. It’s an ego thing! I have issues with being the dumbest, weakest person in the room. I know this about me so every now and then I try to temper this irrational tendency by throwing myself into “low-risk” activities that won’t hurt my feelings. I mostly do it with cooking. Everyone has low expectations with my cooking skills so I’m not hard on myself when I fuck things up. Because my identity isn’t hinged on being some majestic culinary master, I’m able to study recipes with joy and I get to produce dishes I’m really proud of. Every new dish I serve reminds me of my capacity for humility and grace.

I wish I could say the same with artsy pursuits. I make my living doing creative work and it’s a huge blow to my psyche when I’m reminded of how I can’t draw (well) and how much I hate arts and crafts. My husband really wants me to try drawing again but I can’t even make a single dent on a piece of paper without hating myself.

These anecdotes about my cooking and art showcase my relationships with identity and expectations. Managing expectations is the easy part, but once it becomes a matter of questioning your core, it’s time to pause.

Trying, now’s a good time to understand that your skills don’t make you you. If you’ve spent the greater part of your life getting affirmation for the things you can do, it’s becomes to easy to tie your self-worth to your skills. It’s important, sure, but that’s not all of you.

If it’s hard for you to remember what you are without work, now’s an opportunity to do some soul-searching. As you rise up the ranks, you assume more responsibility and you have to start asking yourself how you’ll be responsible with yourself. What are you without your talents? Are you giving back something to the world? Are you a good son/daughter? Are you a good parent? What makes life worth living?

I can’t give you the answers to these things. These are ridiculous slum book questions but there’s a reason why they’re so timeless. Everyone will have to answer these questions, one way or another. And it sounds like you’re in for a reckoning.

Don’t stop giving your best, but start asking yourself why you do it. Take a breather when you do. Indulge in your own low-risk activities while you’re at it.

The days will start feeling lighter. Not right away, but it will.


Got problems? Email Izzy at


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