Surviving the First Two Weeks of A New Job
Is there anything worse than interviewing, job hunting, and job rejection? Yes, yes, there is. It is the first few weeks at the new job. An interview lasts an hour or two. The new job anxiety lasts weeks, sometimes months. The hard part was supposed to be over. But the first two weeks at my new job were filled with nothing but anxiety, self-doubt, and fear.
I thought I was doing everything right to advance my career. The new gig was in a field I had yearned to be in for years now. It offered a pay raise and allowed me to make more money than I ever have. Even better, this job was still in the public sector! On paper, this career pivot was exactly what I had been working towards, dreaming of, and needed.
Then why did I feel so lost and overwhelmed? Why did I feel like I made the biggest mistake of my life leaving my easy, low-paying job? And why the heck was this job so hard to learn?!
I was so over my old job: it was boring, the pay was insulting, and it was essentially a social work career (which suits some people, but not me). Suddenly, after starting this scary new job, I started to view my old position through rose-colored glasses.
Even the worst of it didn't look so bad from my new office. Sure, the job was boring, but boring isn't so bad, right? Yeah, sure, it was not paying me well, but money isn't everything, right? And it absolutely would not help advance my career, but why do I even want to grow and advance my career anyway?! Why leave your comfort zone?! What is so great about advancement!?!!?
Ever seen the movie Dinner for Shmucks? I thought that plot was playing out at this new position in the first two weeks. I got this job because of a cruel joke. The only reason they hired me is that they thought it'd be funny to hire the worst candidate and watch them fail. My first two weeks felt like some sort of sick joke from the universe.
I was interviewed by the assistant director, the director, and vice president for this new position. I really liked this group, and the director was around my age, had worked with this program for almost five years, and was a lot of fun. But my first day rolling up into the office, the assistant director pulled me aside and said the director had accepted a new job. This would be her last week.
I felt sucker-punched. I wasn't even 30 minutes into this new job, and I felt like a bait and switch had taken place. This was clearly a bad omen, I needed to pack up my things and return to my old job like nothing had happened. Why didn’t they tell me this before I started?! The assistant director could tell I was upset, and said, "I didn't tell you before you started because we really wanted you, and we were worried you'd be put off by a change in leadership." Okay, well, at least they really wanted me, but I still felt uneasy.
I spoke with the director about her move, just to make sure she wasn't leaving because the job sucked, management sucked, or whatever. Turns out, she didn't even apply for a new job. An old boss asked her to become VP of Finance for a major hospital corporation. Since that's a very valid reason to leave, my anxiety subsided a bit.
Work-wise, that first week, I was given what I was told were "simple" and "basic" meetings to attend and assignments. I had no idea what was going on, how to pull these reports, or even what the heck my boss was saying half the time. I'd sit in meetings and feel like a child at the adult table during Thanksgiving.
"Steph, can you pull XYZ report, then run it against the last three years, right?" sounded like Greek to me. All my new co-workers nodded along, were able to contribute thoughtfully-constructed advice, and all I did was stared out the window, lost, confused, and wanting to cry. These were supposed to be the most basic of tasks at my new job, why were they so hard?
Every afternoon, I'd have an hour of training with the assistant director. She'd go over the terminology, the job duties, and the reports, and it would go in one ear and out the other. I'd excuse myself to the bathroom a handful times to cry. What had I gotten myself into? I'm not capable of learning this job, it was way out of my comfort zone, and this training proved it.
Somehow, I survived the first week in a daze of fear and self-doubt. That Friday, I had plans to grab dinner with a friend, but instead, I went home and went to bed at 7 p.m. My body, mind, and spirit felt drained, exhausted, and my whole body tingled with longing for my old job.
Showing up for my second Monday at the new gig took a feat of strength I didn’t think I had. Multiple times that weekend, I had crafted texts and e-mails to my old crew and bosses begging for my new job back. I never hit send, but I saved them in a draft, just in case.
Wednesday night I received texts from my old co-workers saying how much they missed me, how I was so good at the job, and how much they wanted me back. This confirmed it: I had made a huge mistake. My old job sucked, but people liked me there. I had an incredible support system, and it was so easy, I could do it with my eyes closed. What had I done?! Wednesday I cried myself to sleep and vowed to quit this challenging, impossible job on Thursday.
Thursday rolled around, and my old boss asked me to meet up for lunch. It was like he could read my mind! This was it, I was going to beg to come back, and just show up back to my old cube like nothing had happened. I broached the subject and jokingly asked if I could come back and act like I never left. Of course I could, he told me, my old cube was waiting and everyone wanted me back.
I felt so relieved to know I could go back to my safe space, to my comfort zone, and the weight from my shoulders was lifted. But knowing I could go back just made me want to stay and conquer the new, challenging career. My old life and job would always be there as a safety net, but who wants to only live in their safety net?! The lunch made me feel relieved, and that if I was so well liked and respected in my old field, surely I can be as successful and respected in this new role.
However, it felt like every time I resolved to give this new career my all, every time I felt confident and better about my decision, life decided to throw me curve balls. Friday I was let loose on some projects my co-worker needed finished. He had taken the week off, and my boss felt comfortable enough for me to do some of his work now... on my own... with minimal training.
Every single nerve ending in my body was on fire. My whole body tingled with fear, and I felt like I was going to get sick from the pressure of doing these assignments. The stress and fear of failing at this manifested into physical pain. Why had I not quit yesterday? I asked myself. Why did I decide to stick this out!?
Every single assignment I did had errors in it. Every. Single. One. I've never felt like more of a failure in my life. Defeated, I told my boss this wasn't the job for me, and clearly, they made a mistake in hiring me. She talked me off the ledge and said they usually don't let new hires loose on this work for months, and she was impressed I even knew how to start the projects.
Friday afternoon after my mini-breakdown, we had a meeting about my progress, my work, and the future expectations of my role. My boss assured me I was catching on faster than they expected, that I beat out some incredibly qualified candidates, and that I was not hired as some cruel joke. Talk about a major relief.
I did not, in any way, shape, or form knock my new job out of the park in the first two weeks. I thought I'd jump into my new team, and learn this complex job in a few days. Boy, was I wrong! I put all this unnecessary pressure on me to be the freaking best at my new job in two weeks. That just isn't possible when doing a career pivot.
Cut yourself a break in your new career. It is totally normal to not learn your new job in a week. If you're in a place with minimal training, it could even take months to feel comfortable. Make sure you're open to learning, maintain a good attitude, and ask for feedback from your boss when the time is right.
Do I know for sure if I made the correct career pivot? Of course not! But I do know this for sure: you cannot learn a new job in two weeks, and equally, you cannot tell if you're going to enjoy your new career path in such a short amount of time.
Windrose Magazine is your guide to navigating life in your twenties through a collection of essays, interviews, and advice that will inspire you to chart your own life course, free of comparison.
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