I recently got a new job, and it (still) scares me every day. I’m not frightened in the horror-film, Freddy vs. Jason type of way. However, I am scared because I don’t know the answer to these two questions: How in the world did I end up here, and what’s going to happen next?
It’s frightening, exciting, and palm-sweat inducing—all at the same time. For me, it unfolded in five distinct stages. Since I’m guessing I’m not the only person who rides this emotional roller coaster, I thought I’d share them with you. Bonus: I’ve also included how to survive each one.
Stage 1: Wait…I Got the Job?
I spent approximately two weeks in shock when I landed my new job. I was wrapping up my current position, but my mind was spending all its time trying to catch up and process how I got the offer and what it meant.
I wasted loads of valuable time sitting at my desk, wondering, “Wait—me?” That’s time I could’ve spent asking myself a much better question: “How can I be successful starting on day one?”
The key lesson in this stage is that it’s OK to take time to celebrate (and process your shock), but you also need to be ready to hit the ground running. Make sure you understand the basics of your new job, and what you need to do now (take a refresher course, read a management book, buy a new office-appropriate wardrobe) to be ready on your first day.
Stage 2: Can I Actually Do This?
As soon as I finished questioning why I got hired, I started the job and immediately began to question whether or not I could do it.
However, the time you spend wondering if you’re up to the task takes time away from what really matters—getting better at your new job. Everyone has doubts, but entertaining them steals focus. How do I get over my fears? By reminding myself of this secret I’m learning: If they didn’t think you were able to do the job, they wouldn’t have hired you.
Confidence is a muscle, and it needs to be stretched and flexed accordingly. My best days so far have been the ones when I embraced my fear, reassured myself, and sprinted forward into the abyss. (I’m still alive and kicking, so it can’t be that bad.)
Stage 3: Are They Going to Fire Me?
Early into my new position, I sent an email that I thought could get me fired. It had no expletives, and it was well-worded and error-free. But I didn’t know the person who would be receiving it and felt super nervous to reach out for the first time. (Spoiler alert: I’m still employed.)
Being in new places and doing new things comes with a fair share of confusion and stress. I used to think that the more senior you get, the more structured your role becomes. That is absolutely false. In my experience, the higher you move in your career, the less formal structure you end up having, so you are tasked with creating it, empowering yourself, and setting your priorities.
Fear sucks. But inaction because of fear sucks even more. More autonomy means more responsibility, so it’s up to you to set your own boundaries and find out the activities that are going to drive real value. Don’t fear the failure. Fear inaction.
Remember, no one knows everything about what they’re doing—and no one expects you to know what you’re doing in the beginning. Having questions, getting confused, and making mistakes doesn’t mean you’re going to get called to the principal’s office.
Stage 4: Wow. I Need Help.
Finding friendly co-workers who will show you where the copy machine is located is just the beginning. In this new environment, you’re going to need mentors and sponsors. Meaning, people around you who care enough to give you feedback about where you can improve; who are transparent enough to share their mistakes; and who are caring enough to remind you of who you can be, especially when you can’t see it.
These sponsors and mentors comprise a larger idea in our collective careers—they sit on your Personal Board of Directors. This group will morph and change, but their objective is simple: to provide you with the greatest insight to keep growing your career.
Seek out these people, and start building relationships with them. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask the questions you aren’t sure about. Those are the ones that matter.
Stage 5: What’s Next?
My new job was less about updating my LinkedIn profile and more about updating my dreams. New positions come with a caveat: You’re there to change something for the better. You will be pushed, stretched, prodded, and pushed again. The other side of that is I’m in a different space—personally and professionally—than I was two months ago, because I took a risk.
In his New York Times bestseller Mastery, Robert Greene describes the successes of the world’s greatest thinkers and innovators as misconstrued as linear. The reality is more nuanced. He writes, “Your whole life is a kind of apprenticeship to which you apply your learning skills. Everything that happens to you is a form of instruction if you pay attention.”
That apprenticeship is exactly where I find myself right now. Growing, questioning, and exploring what I want to do, and how I can get there. That’s what a new job really is—exposure to an entirely new arena that is unfamiliar, but full of opportunity.
Whatever you’re dreaming about professionally is definitely possible, but you have to commit to a process of growth. But, believe me: The risk of trying something completely out of your comfort zone is worth it, every single time.