I started a new job recently. It was supposed to be perfect; I had envisaged a radical transformation of my working week in which I leapt bright-eyed and enthusiastic into each day. The new gig eliminated all of the things I had hated about my last job – the slow pace, the rigid hierarchy, the frustrating lack of progression – and I felt primed to allow the waves of relief crash over me as I finally 9-5’ed my way to contentment.
Not so fast, sweetie.
The reality was waking up in a cold sweat in the early hours of Tuesday morning, just one day in, with my heart located firmly in my mouth the way it does when you realise you’ve fucked up spectacularly and can’t take it back. We all know it well: the ‘misjudged the audience for a smutty joke’ feeling, or the ‘backed my car into a wall/pillar/Mercedes feeling, where your stomach threatens to drop through your feet. I shook my boyfriend awake and began blathering in a wholly unconsidered, half-asleep way about what a stupid decision I had made, sensing the weight of my irredeemably poor choices close in around me. I repeated the words “what have I done?” about half a dozen times. I cried. I lay awake until the sun began to rise, begging my brain to sleep and allow me a few hours’ respite from the oppressive dread that had taken hold (I’m very dramatic when I’m tired).
I think it’s safe to say that I’m not good with change. My anxiety response to change is like an entire fire brigade rallying to extinguish a blaze, only to knock down the door and find that the fire is just someone trying to light a cigarette and looking mildly pissed off at the intrusion. That is to say, it’s rarely a proportionate response and sometimes is actually a bit detrimental.
Think of a time you’ve over-reacted to something. Maybe you yelled at someone because seriously, just how hard is it to do the SODDING dishes once in a while, you lazy oaf, or maybe the mother-in-law has threatened a visit without giving a socially acceptable 24 hours notice and your stress levels reached skyscraper heights because I don’t have the time to clean and now she’s going to see me for the slovenly, undeserving wastrel that I am. Now, move forward a little in time and think of the almost inevitable backtracking; the uncomfortable apology or the careful reassessment of a situation now fully illuminated and only half as scary.
There certainly wasn’t (or, indeed, isn’t) anything glaringly wrong with my new job, despite my 2am protestations. Sure, I could pick out things that concern me, but if you go looking for something hard enough eventually it’ll jump out and bite you on the arse. My problem was that it was so different. It wasn’t the 2.0 of my previous role, with even more perks and none of the pitfalls. Neither was it a job I could do with my eyes closed, slightly tedious yet wholly predictable. It was something brand new and, by definition, terrifying. I had already mentally crafted an email to my old supervisor requesting (with some desperation) to return to my previous role; the digital equivalent to kneeling at someone’s feet and exclaiming, “I’ll do anything!” with hands clasped and a crazed look in my eye. My knee-jerk reaction wouldn’t have been the right choice, but it would have been the safe choice, and goddamn isn’t safety just the most comforting thing?
More than my aversion to change, I had tripped up by viewing everything in black and white: old job bad, new job good. A side effect of disillusionment is that you become blinkered to any aspect that might not be totally terrible (a.k.a. actually quite nice), so I had neglected to consider that there might exist some realistic middle ground where the grass in some patches was greener on the side I had left behind. In reality, most of our jobs sit somewhere on the spectrum between “I am so lucky and everything is sunshine and rainbows” and “everything is a steaming pile of poo.” We might be earning a pittance but perhaps we’re gaining experience, or exposure, or our colleagues are absolute babes. Conversely, we might be living like a low-key royal but have frequent and visceral daydreams about ripping the eyes from our awful boss’ skull and shoving them down his throat.
More often than not there are good days and there are bad days, and in my haze of blind optimism I had neglected to consider that my new job might offer me anything other than the former. I felt, quite frankly, cheated by the fact that I didn’t leave my office after the first day with beams of sunshine streaming out of my ears, waxing lyrical about how effing wonderful my life could become in just eight short hours. Where was my rainbow carpet and chipper music montage, I asked myself before promptly bursting into tears. I was scared and that feeling was so real, particularly in the middle of the night when you feel like the world might hold you there forever. But it was real and now… it isn’t. Shall I let you into a bit of a secret? After three short weeks, I’m actually starting to really enjoy what I do. Perhaps I’ve found my place, at least for now.
Sometimes, scary choices are terrible but sometimes, good choices are scary: we just have to give ourselves time to figure out which we’ve made.