Tell Me About It: I’m turning 30 and I feel like a failure

I have a family wedding coming up, and I am nervous that I might be found out

Illustration: Thinkstock

Illustration: Thinkstock


Q I have lost two jobs this year. They both have something in common in that I got two days’ notice to start work and I was employed in a very challenging, intense environment where there was a lot at stake. By nature I am very hard-working.

After graduating from college I really struggled to find employment. I have felt desperate and things have not gone my way. On top of it, I am an emotional person and I can become very affected by things. I am keeping my chin up, even though it’s very hard.

I have a family wedding coming up in a few weeks. I feel I ought to go. My family are not very well off and it’s a bit embarrassing that all of us are not doing very well, but we are surviving.

I am embarrassed that my employment is sporadic. I feel nervous that I might be found out. I live in a large city a good distance from where I grew up. I have very few friends and I have never had a boyfriend.

I am trying to improve my confidence, but I am nervous about my future. Next year I will turn 30, and I really want to put things right. I am a good person and I need to value myself more. I have tried so many counsellors, life coaches and doctors, and I don’t feel I am talking to the right people. I feel that I have wasted my 20s because I have been focused on the wrong things.

At the same time, I think I am right to keep certain things from my immediate and extended family as it could cause a lot of hurt and embarrassment. I wish I could care less what people think of me. How do I do this?

A There’s only so much that counselling, coaching, medicine and positive self-talk can do. At least 25 per cent of confidence, probably more, comes from doing rather than ruminating.

“Building confidence involves trusting oneself, which in turn builds more confidence,” says Peter Ledden, managing director of Abate, a private counselling and employee assistance organisation.

Unemployment can grind you down. You have too much time to think about the negatives. You also haven’t had enough opportunity to build confidence as an independent adult due to unemployment, which isn’t your fault. Your last two jobs involved intense work and were lost just as quickly as they were gained. Sadly, this is a common problem, as employers take advantage – draining people in the short term, then dumping them.

Separate your integrity, your sense of self and your soul from an economic situation you didn’t create. Find social outlets, such as voluntary work and fresh-air activities that boost confidence and get you out of your rut.

“Confidence is a fluid state that comes and goes dependent on how life is around us, how we view ourselves, how we compare ourselves to others and how we think,” says Ledden.

Weddings are dreaded by many because they can raise family secrets and competitiveness. In your case, you feel so belittled by being unemployed, single and nearly 30 that you are writing a negative script for the wedding in anticipation. But you can choose whether to feel embarrassed. There won’t be a sign around your neck that says “unemployed, single, nearly 30” unless you put it there.

What is the deeper source of your embarrassment? It could be part of the story your family tells about itself. As James Bradshaw explains in his book Healing the Shame that Binds You, shame can be inherited through negative family behaviours. Whatever the source of your shame, hanging on to it can do you no good. Don’t carry it into your present as a young woman with her life ahead of her.

While counselling hasn’t worked for you, it is possible you haven’t found the right method. Have you tried cognitive behavioural therapy to help you learn to turn negative thoughts into positive ones? Ledden says that a combined counsellor/life coach could help you plan and move forward. The Irish Association for Counselling and Therapy or the Life and Business Coaching Association of Ireland could be a good starting point.

Tell Me About It Christmas Special: On Christmas Eve, Kate will be answering questions relating to the holiday period. Email questions to or contact Kate on Twitter, @kateholmquist. We regret that personal correspondence cannot be entered into

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