Six months ago, I started my new job at The Muse. After weeks of interviewing with the team, completing an edit test, and reading too much into every single email sign-off, I was pumped to finally be walking through the office door as an employee. Until it came to the day when I actually had to walk through the door. Then I wasn’t as much pumped as I was terrified.
And because the brain works in mysterious ways, the terror manifested itself into unsettling thoughts—thoughts that stuck with me throughout my first week (and maybe, if I’m being honest, a little bit longer).
The only way I survived them was to remember that everyone has the same experience. No matter how excited you are for a position, the first few days are rough.
So for anyone out there who’s starting a new job and worried about, well, everything—this peek into my brain is for you.
1. “I Hate Everything I Own”
I tried on everything that I own the morning I started. Twice. Nothing felt quite right for the look I wanted to pull off. The look, of course, being casual, but cool, and chic, and nonchalant, but trendy, but not cheap-trendy, but not trust-fund rich. I wanted to smell like success, but also mystery—someone you couldn’t help but look up on LinkedIn the second she walked in the door. “Ooh,” I wanted people to say. “Seven people have endorsed her for WordPress—I must know more.”
There’s nothing quite like the first day to make you feel like you’re back in high school—where every outfit could make or break you, where every fight with your mother ended with, “If you don’t buy me that $65 t-shirt from Abercrombie & Fitch, I will literally die.” But that’s when you have to remember that you’re not in high school—and that people are far more interested in who you are and what you can do than they are in what you’re wearing.
Sure, if you walk in on your first day dressed like you’re running late to a black-tie wedding, people will judge you. But as long as you dress normally (and don’t underestimate yourself, you know what normal means), you’ll be fine.
And if you still don’t believe me, think back to the last five people who started at your company. What did they wear on their first day? I bet you can’t remember.
(Still stressed? Check out Muse writer Aja Frost’s guide to stalking a company’s social media in order to plan the perfect outfit.)
2. “I Tricked Them Into Hiring Me”
I spent the entire interview process selling myself as the perfect person for this job. And it worked—insert evil cackle here—I got the job. But as soon as I started, I realized I was the wrong person. Somehow, I’d convinced them to hire me, despite being wildly unqualified. I pictured myself breaking the bad news to my manager, “Well, if I’ve learned anything this week, it’s that I’m the dumbest! So I guess I’ll leave now. But if it’s OK with you, I’ll take the free pen and notebook you gave me on Monday.”
Before you get too deep into imposter syndrome, remember this: The person who hired you thought long and hard about doing it. He or she didn’t pick your name out of a hat, or make a bet with a fellow employee that you’d make it past your first week. You’re there because someone, probably multiple someones, wanted you there. Not anyone—you. In your moments of doubt, take a few minutes to run through all the ways you sold yourself during the interview process and remember you are the best possible fit.
3. “I Miss My Old Job”
The thing about my old job is that everything made sense. I knew the ins and outs of my actual responsibilities, I knew where to put my lunch in the fridge so I could find it later, and I even knew the unspoken rules of bathroom usage. That was suddenly no longer the case. So before I could stop myself, I began missing that stupid old company I’d been so eager to move on from.
Starting a new job is like being a deer in headlights. Except, unlike the deer, you can’t just stand there hoping the car won’t run you over. Instead, you have to pretend like you understand everything that’s going on.
Truth talk: You’re going to feel like this for a while, and for a fair amount of time, you’ll be nostalgic for your old company, your old co-workers, and even that guy in accounting who picked his nose in every meeting.
But here’s the thing: You don’t actually miss your old job. (OK, fine, you might miss parts of it.) You miss feeling like you belong. And before long, you will feel that way at your new company. While you can’t fast-forward until you get to that part where you’re friends with everyone, you can go out of your way to make this place feel like home. Decorate your desk with familiar items, invite your co-workers to grab coffee and tell you more about their positions, and feel free to ask about anything that you’re unsure about. Because during your first week, there really are no stupid questions.
4. “I’ve Ruined Everything”
I made a bad editorial call my first week. The site didn’t crash, and the company didn’t come crumbling down, but it wasn’t my finest move. And for a little while there, I thought I had ruined everything and I would be fired. Which would really suck because I had just updated my LinkedIn and started collecting my “congrats” comments.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t get fired. It was my first week, and I made a mistake. You’re going to make one your first week, too. Probably more than one. The mistake might have to do with your new responsibilities, but it might also have to do with office politics that you have no way of knowing. Weird things like, “Don’t go into the kitchen when Henry’s getting coffee.”
The good news is that it’s incredibly unlikely that your manager will entrust you with anything that could take the company down during your first week. Everyone knows you’re new to the job, and no one expects you to perform incredible feats before you finish filling out your benefits paperwork. So in moments of panic, remember that you just started and you’re allowed a few mess-ups.
I’ve had these thoughts at every single job I’ve ever started—and I can almost guarantee that almost everyone in your office has. No one talks about it because this stage—this horribly awkward stage—goes by fast, and you forget about it. So if you’re riding this roller coaster right now, relax. It’ll be over before you know it.
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