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How To Tell When You Are in Over Your Head

Chances are that at some point in your career you will be in a job or assume a responsibility in which you find yourself in over your head. I know, it happened to me in my very first job. I was barely 16, had recently gotten my driver’s license and was hired for the summer to park cars in a downtown Memphis parking lot. On my first day I was assigned a large lot to manage by myself from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM. At first the cars trickled in, and I had no problem. But, a few minutes before 8:00 AM a surge of cars arrived, and the line began to back up and my anxiety increased. I reached full blown panic when a smartly dressed man dropped off his new Chevrolet Corvette with a standard shift. I had practiced with a standard shift but never really driven one. As I struggled to get the Corvette parked the line grew down the street and was blocking traffic. Horns were blowing and people were getting angry. Fortunately, my manager dropped by to check on me and immediately sized up I was in over my head. The remainder of the summer I was assigned a lot where I only had to check cars in and out and receive payment.

In this situation it was obvious that I was in over my head. But subsequently I discovered that the signs are not always so obvious. Here are 8 signs of being in over your head that I learned to keep an eye out for.

8 Signs You’re in Over Your Head

  1. Things you used to be on top of start to slip. Maybe your calendar starts feeling packed, your budget is out of whack, or you are missing deadlines. When things you are normally on top of start to slip it usually is a sign that you are in over your head in another area of life and are having to compensate.
  2. You are pushing yourself to do things you don’t usually do.  When you are in over your head you will typically try to push yourself through the uncomfortableness. Your drive to succeed can cause you to do things that are out of character for you. If you start noticing yourself thinking and doing things that are not representative of who you are, then chances are you are in over your head.
  3. You find yourself working harder and accomplishing less. When you are in over your head your instinct is to work harder rather than smarter. If you find yourself working longer hours and seeing less and less accomplished, then most likely you are in over your head.
  4. You can’t stop your mind from racing. Do you find yourself thinking about work or an assignment at all times of day and night, on weekends and days off? That’s a sign alright. I know it well.
  5. You’re more stressed-out than usual. Typically, an increase in anxiety is a sign that on some level you are aware that you’re in over your head. You may not be consciously aware of it, or you may be saying to yourself that everything is OK, but your body and mind are telling you otherwise.
  6. Goals and expectations seem insurmountable. When you accepted the assignment the goals and expectations seemed attainable and realistic. When those start seeming unattainable and unrealistic you can bet that you are in over your head.
  7. You’re feeling depressed for no particular reason. Feeling depressed without being able to pinpoint why is often an indicator that there is a disconnect somewhere in your life. This is a sign to conduct an inventory to pinpoint exactly where you are in over your head.
  8. You’re messing up…..more than usual. When you are stretched thin and anxious because you are in over your head you will begin to make unforced errors, poor decisions, and errors in judgment that you wouldn’t have made otherwise. If you see this pattern become habitual then chances are you are in over your head in some aspect of life.

Once you’ve recognized that you’re in over your head, what do you do about it? In our next post we will explore ways to avoid this common problem.

Posted on November 22, 2022

Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

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“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5