Performance Anxiety

I had a bad experience with a performance review once and have been scarred ever since.

The year was 2006. My passion may have been writing, but as far as making a career of it went, that was still a distant pipe dream. I had the chops but lacked experience. Instead, I languished in a customer service position for a company that manufactured pressure washers.

When a position for team lead opened up within the company and my coworkers urged me to apply, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to throw my hat in the ring. So I did, and after the longest, most drawn-out internal hiring process ever, got the job.

Yay? Not quite…

My boss and I clashed from the start. He was a taskmaster so obsessed with micro management, at one point he insisted he review all my emails before I hit send, as if I were a third-grader. (No offense to any third-graders reading this. By the way, go clean your room—it looks like a tornado touched down in there!) You can just imagine how offended the guy who aspired to be a writer was over such a petty request.

It didn’t help that I had big shoes to fill. Like, size 24. Eric, my predecessor, had gotten an internal promotion of his own, much to the chagrin of pretty much everybody he ever crossed paths with. The guy was well-respected, nay, beloved by his customers and coworkers and my asshole boss. He was also very knowledgeable about an extremely technical product line I knew little beyond the basics about.

In retrospect, the odds were stacked impossibly high against me. I never should have accepted the job in the first place, but I was stuck in a rut and desperate to do something—anything—that wasn’t customer service. And I’ll admit, I struggled in the new role. Still, I tried. And I thought I was doing an adequate job…until review time rolled around.

I entered my boss’s office, oblivious to the fact that I was a man condemned. I took a seat, and the first thing out of his mouth was, “I think we can both agree that you aren’t doing a very good job.”


Despite the sharp learning curve, I felt I was making good progress. But my boss did not see it that way, which was par for the course as we had butted heads since day one. A few months later, I suffered the humiliation of a demotion back to customer service in another department, while Golden Child Eric was lured back and reclaimed his throne.

Few things in my life have stung more than that.

(Spoiler alert: I scratched and clawed my way into doing what I have always been most passionate about. Sometimes, I feel I became a writer through sheer force of will. If you’re interested in reading about how that came to fruition, lemme know.)

Naturally, ever since, whenever annual review time rolls around—regardless of the company I’m working for or how well I think I’m doing—there is always a nagging fear that I might again be blindsided.

So, when I walked into the conference room at CenturyCo earlier this week for my first performance review, I was understandably nervous.

I told myself that this company is nothing like that company. That I’m in my element now, a bona fide writer churning out quality work that has been met with only praise by my superiors. That I’m a team player, always punctual, have never missed a deadline or called in sick or rear-ended the boss’s car. OK, fine, I once brewed an industrial-sized pot of hot water instead of coffee, but…ahem… I never did ‘fess up, so they can’t even pin that on me! Still, my heart was beating a little more quickly than normal as I took my place across from my supervisor.

And, thank goodness, my fears were unfounded. This is a boss who likes me and a company that respects me. I got a great review. I can breathe a lot easier now!

Until next August, when the dreaded cycle will repeat itself all over again…

22 thoughts on “Performance Anxiety

  1. Performance anxiety is a real thing, as you know well, Mark. Oh, my gosh on the emails. Everything is a lesson. Especially the challenging people and situations. I switched careers and went back to school because I learned what I did not want to ‘put up with’ for the rest of my life. Thank you for reminder. Btw, Mark, you are where you are supposed to be and excel at it!😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And I’ll bet micromanaging boss never once bothered to ask why everybody was suddenly leaving, and was probably oblivious to the fact that he might have something to do with that. Those types never seem to get it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ugh! I remember those days. I’m a person who always gives 100% so let’s just say I never took criticism well. I’m glad this new place has been such a good fit for you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My effort was 100% and I still believe, to this day, I was making great progress. But once your boss says “You haven’t lived up to expectations,” the writing is on the wall.


  3. I’m glad your performance review [a term I despise btw] went well. You’ve found your place in this company and they respect you, which is vital. As for Eric, we’ve all had one in our careers. With any luck Eric is still stuck in the same old job, hating it, while you’ve moved on to a better one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Eric moved to Eugene, Oregon, and switched companies many years ago. As far as I know, he’s still there. I don’t have anything against him…but man, he was a tough act to follow. It’d be like Justin Bieber taking the stage after Bruce Springsteen.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Mark, I just left Ye Olde Pressure Washer Co 2 months ago after 15 years there. I’m curious to know who the Horrible Boss was…(text me)360-773-6622. When I last saw you there, you were in Marketing. Remember you did a “story” on me for the monthly newsletter, when I moved into Specials. I’m glad you’re at a great company that appreciates you. In the end…Ye Olde Pressure Washer Company “demoted” everyone. It’s a very sad ending and those who still cling to the life raft here in WA are not very happy. I’ve moved on to Ye Olde PaperBag Co and they’re treating me great. – Becky Such

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes…that was one of the rare times I was actually able to do any writing while working there. It’s tough to see a once-great company implode, but after the Denver office opened, the writing was on the wall. What’s Charlie up to these days?

      Anyway, I’m texting you!


  5. Review all of your emails before you send them? WTH?
    You know that old phrase: Everything happens for a reason?
    Well, I don’t know if that holds true with that other position, but look where you are now? In your element with people who respect your craft.
    I think you can breath easier come next August.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Everything happens for a reason” has long been my mantra. You’re absolutely right, of course. You have to think there’s a purpose to it all, no matter how unpleasant the situation!


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