It sounded so familiar.
“I am overwhelmed by everything, there is so much to do and I am so exhausted.”
” I feel like I am not good at anything anymore. Teaching is really hard and I am not sure I can do it.”
” Is it ever going to get better?”
Honest words from friends who just started teaching. They are full of exhaustion, questions, despair.
They could’ve easily been a replay of my own mind and heart just a few short months ago when I felt the exact same.
I was lost in the sea of new experiences and tasks.
I was overwhelmed by the challenges a new job brings.
I was exhausted by the new schedules that were so far from my own rhythms.
I was anxious that this would never end and I wouldn’t ever feel okay again until I retired.
Most of us have been in the situation of starting a new job. No matter if you’re a teacher or a doctor or an accountant – it’s a major step in your life and doesn’t go by without any side effects.
We struggle with new schedules and tasks. We get to know a lot of new things and people. We worry how our future will look like.
A year later I have to say that it does in fact get better.
It’s different now.
The journey from there to here wasn’t easy and took a lot of growing up.
Often, growth just takes a bit of time. But as I look back I sometimes wish that someone had come alongside me and told me a few things. Not to make everything easy, but to help me understand what was happening.
Starting a Job Is a Big Deal
When you get engaged, people congratulate you. But they also give you advice: “This is a big deal, you should take a preparation course. There’s books and premarital counseling.”
When you announce you’re pregnant, people congratulate you. But they also dish out well-meant advice and tips: “A kid will change your life forever, you should take a course. There’s books and classes.”
Life is marked by changes and transitions. Marriage or children remind us that we cannot just be the same, that we actually need to evolve and grow. That we sometimes need to lose ourselves when we’re pulled up and replanted into a completely new environment. That we need to rediscover ourselves once in a while and add new features to the old self.
Changes in life mold and strengthen us.
And it’s good to know about it and prepare for it because these changes certainly don’t come without a good deal of pain and questions and hardships.
Well, what about when you start your first job ever? When you leave behind the flexible schedule of university and submit to a routine you can’t alter? When you become independent from your parents’ or state support and need to take care of bills, insurance etc.? When you’re under pressure to do a job well because your next paycheck depends on it?
Starting a job is a big change as well. No, you don’t have a new partner. No, there’s no child waiting for your attention. But you still cannot remain the same. So yes, it’s a big deal and you should expect challenges during the transition.
Get to Know the New ‘Culture’
I have lived in several countries and interacted with different cultures. What actually happens during such a transition?
Moving to a different country is definitely exciting as you get to experience different climate, food, languages and people. This is the ‘honeymoon phase’ when everything’s new and exciting. Take it all in and enjoy.
There’s no fixed time, but after a while the novelty wears off and you get a peek into real life in a new culture. Things begin to annoy you, people are suddenly unnerving, and you start to miss things from home. This is the ‘depression phase’ when you feel like you don’t know who you are anymore. You’ve been pulled up from your familiar place and replanted into completely new soil. Instead of excitement there’s anger and doubt and fear. All you want to do is leave.
But as you fight and struggle through the strangeness of this new life you begin to realize that you are still the same. That you can actually survive in this new environment. That people are okay and can teach you something. That it’s worthwhile to incorporate new elements into your culture. This is the ‘resettlement phase’ when all the hardships have paid off and actually led to growth in a new place.
Entering the working world is like entering a new culture. You’re still in the same country, you still speak the same language. Yet, you’re completely lost in this new environment. You have no idea how to be and behave in this new culture, the work culture. So don’t underestimate this process and rather treat it as a cultural transition. This discovery alone moved worlds for me last year because it made the following process much easier.
Take Your Time
When you move into a different culture you wouldn’t expect to be all settled in within a few weeks. Why would you expect that you could adjust to a completely new lifestyle that fast?
Take your time to get to know the new culture and how you’re supposed to act in it. Observe how people interact and deal with things. Pay attention to the little tricks here and there that might make a big difference. Don’t judge but be willing to learn something new. Open yourself up to new people and experiences.
Allow your emotions to run high and admit that things just suck sometimes.
Permit yourself to feel lost and to make mistakes at first. No one is perfect from the start.
Take things step by step. Celebrate the little victories and move on to bigger things.
Focus on tomorrow, not next week.
Thousands of people have made the transition into work before, they just sometimes forget to tell us about it. Things have become so natural for them that they don’t remember how hard it was at first.
Asking for help is no sign of weakness. Often it takes just one brave person who’s willing to share how things really look like that helps others to share as well. We’re stronger together, so don’t try to keep up a straight face when all you feel is lost.
Seek the company of people who are in similar situations because they’re the only ones who know how you truly feel. Friends where you don’t have to explain or justify a whole lot.
But don’t stop there. Spend time with people outside your ‘job bubble’ to get your mind off things. Don’t allow your mind to be stuck in the ever-running/condemning spiral of ‘I still have so much work to do.’
Fight for Rest
Settling into a new culture is exhausting in every aspect. I never imagined that I would be physically tired from meeting so many new people. Similarly to babies who are worn out by getting to know the world, it takes a lot of mental and physical energy to learn new names and strategies. Our body has to adjust to new sleeping/working/eating patterns and this takes its toll.
So don’t expect that you can just continue like before. Allow your body time to adjust and give it the rest it needs.
Sleep well and enough.
Plan your time well, so that you actually have time to rest after all the work.
Schedule in time slots when it’s all about rest. This can be very active. Find an activity that takes your mind off work and refocuses you on the really important things in life.
This really is a fight, but if you lose it or put it off (‘I can rest later’) you’ll eventually be too burned out to do anything at all.
Focus on the Truth
There will always be people who are better at their job. There will always be colleagues who are ahead of you. There will always be others who seem to have the right to look down on you and judge you.
Yes, being a newbie does mean baby steps again.
Yes, you do make mistakes at the beginning.
Yes, there is a lot to learn.
Yes, you’ll fall down and fail.
But you are not a failure. Not.a.failure.
There are things about you that no job you do or don’t do could ever change. Don’t allow anyone to take that away from you. Don’t compare yourself to others, this won’t get you anywhere but despair.
Starting a new job is part of life and eventually we all have to take that step. There’s no recipe to make it all easier, but knowing about the transition might make it a little smoother.
What were your first steps in the working world like? How did you cope with the transition? What would you add to help newbies with the transition?