When feeling stupid is your job

Welcome to the new semi-secret Parenthetical Me wherein I admit all the awesome and ugly of working as a middle-manager in a big corporation. I’m really looking forward to being able to admit to all sorts of things heretofore kept secret because despite my bitching, I like my job and want to keep it.

So, this morning’s awesome: I hate Excel. Nothing can make me feel more stupid than dealing with effing Excel, and nothing puts me in a bad mood more quickly than feeling stupid.

I spent the bulk of my early career as a report writer, in fact, decided to move to IT from Chemical Engineering because of a report-writing project at my part-time job in college. Though I’m very, very rusty, I still think like a report writer… so I hate Excel. But like many other really big companies, mine does a lot of stuff in Excel that really should be managed other ways.

After a week of trying to find the time and patience to figure out the stupidly simple thing I wanted to do, I cried uncle and asked a new friend for help… and now I’m feeling incredibly stupid.

Here’s the thing: the higher I move in management, the more time I spend reminding myself that it’s okay to feel stupid. Really. There are few things I hate more than not knowing, but the only way to get to knowing is to ask. Asking is so uncomfortable when I become someone’s manager because I really, really don’t want them to think I’m an idiot.

But I’ve been through this a whole lot in my career, so I have a coping strategy: I tell myself that ignorance is okay for a specific period of time. Everyone has to learn, even super fantastic CEO’s at the top of their game who change businesses, and you can only learn by asking. I have a new team working for me which means for at least 30 days, I have to make myself ask the dumb questions or else I’ll be worse than an ignorant boss, I’ll be a stupid one.

I’m still really embarrassed about asking my new friend for Excel guidance. I remind myself that it feels good to be on the other end of the ask, nice to be able to offer someone a little bit of my expertise, but still… not my favorite feeling.

Oh, well. How do you handle not knowing?


7 thoughts on “When feeling stupid is your job

  1. Note on the new format: I still haven’t worked out the kinks so my posts will be semi-benign until I’m comfy that all the configuration settings are working.

    To be figured out:
    How to get my old comments settings back
    Can I still have the intros included in feeds so you even know there’s a new post?

  2. So – i’m intrigued and I hope it will work because I like to read what you have to say. But I have no idea where to go to change my 50-gazillion letters long password and I know I won’t remember it so now I don’t know WHAT to do. The “you’ve been approved” email said this:

    Your registration for Parenthetical (Me) has been approved.

    Your registration information is below.
    You may wish to retain a copy for your records.

    username: coastinganon
    password: ——————–

    You may login and change your password here:

    You originally registered at:

    But since there is no link for the login in and change your password I figured I would find it on your site…but I didn’t. Any advice?

  3. Ditto on the password.

    As for feeling stupid, it happens all the time for me. A great majority of my job is passed down word of mouth like Native American folklore and legends. The company started as a mom and pop that grew too large and now has over 900 employees. We are like a real life “The Office”. No one has ever really taken the time to write anything down and what has been written is NEVER followed. There is always an exception for every rule. Policies and Procedures be damned. Accountability… NEVER!

    It was almost comical when during my yearly review I was told I had to be more authoritative and make more executive decisions because I am an Assistant Director. In the same breath they also told me I needed to dumb myself down and ask for approval when I encounter decisions…..So which is it? I just go with the approach of openly speaking in my department about my upcoming decision and my director usually tells me what to do before I get to MY decision. At least it displaces my responsibility but it’s a messed up corporate world in which I live.

  4. I have a decent sized team too (8 people), but I honestly just ask if I don’t know for the most part. It may be the culture of the company though since we’re in the digital space and things change ALL.THE.TIME. so no one can possibly have all the answers at any moment in time. That said, I am definitely careful about what I ask in large meetings!

  5. Really looking forward to more of these posts! I love reading about your work challenges and how you approach them.

    I’m definitely in the boat of sometimes being afraid to ask questions because it makes me look more inexperienced than I am. I do need to get over it though. I also hate making decisions because I know that others will have a different opinion and that even though mine is valid, someone else’s always gets chosen. I’ve become somewhat complacent about it which I know isn’t necessarily good!

  6. I’m having the same crazy password problem as well.

    Anyway, ummm, I hate Excel. I think I’m just not business-y enough for it, but I think it has a crazy learning curve and I hate it. Hehehe, but I guess you have to learn it sometime, right?

  7. I’m hoping this comment will work because I don’t have an account yet…

    As someone with a boss who never wants to show her ignorance (and thusly ends up showing it in very public ways for which I need to cover, which is awful), let me tell you – ASK. It is almost always better to show that you’re aware enough of yourself that you need some guidance on something than to pretend you know what’s going on and then just wind up creating more work for someone else. I supervise new staff folks in our office, and I gauge someone’s staying power by how many questions they ask in the first few weeks they work with us. Ask a lot of questions? You’re willing to learn, you’re interested in how things work and you’re not so cocky you think you have it all figured out. Obviously you’re not some new staff hire, but still – go ahead and ask.

    And I’m interested to read what you write about work!

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