It’s a new year (I can say that – we’re still in January). The gyms are full; carbohydrate consumption is down; I see a lot of runners on the roads. More irritatingly, I see a lot of cyclists. In particular, the one that went through a red light and cut across me in traffic yesterday, waving a hand as though somehow that made it all better.
But this is not a forum for me to air my deep dislike of obnoxious road cyclists, with their latex and cleats and convenient disregard for inconvenient traffic signals. Mainly because I have no doubt that sort of behaviour will come with its own comeuppance – cyclists irritate real drivers at their own peril.
No – this post is about new jobs, which so many of us will be beginning in the next few months… Now that you’ve been paid your bonus and had some holiday time to reflect on where your life is going.
New jobs, for all their excitement, promise and pay rise, are extremely stressful things. I usually cope with wine. My articles at Ernst & Young began with two months of Springfield’s Wild Yeast Chardonnay. My first few weeks as a UCT lecturer relied upon a 2007 Neetlingshof Gewürztraminer vintage; and their Maria dessert wine, which tastes like apricots and honeyed sunlight.
But it always seems like a cop-out when I tell people “Yes, you should really just prepare yourself to be a bit hungover”. So I have a little speech that I usually give, which I’m going to summarise here.
And it starts with:
Why New Jobs Are Difficult
1. Your Brain Can No Longer Be Lazy
The brain likes to be efficient, and it does this by engaging in the smallest amount of thinking possible. In order to do this, it establishes routines that allow for simple responses to given stimuli. For example, when I drive to work in the mornings, it almost happens by reflex. I see a red traffic light, I brake. I see an exit sign, I take the offramp. There is no focused concentration involved – I just listen to podcasts and call cyclists the “c” word.
But if I’m taking a new route to work, I turn off the podcast, and pay attention to road names. I slow down. I overshoot and backtrack. I look for landmarks. The brain is no longer being efficient – it is paying a lot of attention.
A new job is no different, except your concentration now needs to span between 8 and 11 hours each day. In that time, you’ll feel slow, because you’re no longer reacting by reflex. You can’t “do this in your sleep” – each task requires thought and focus. More than this, your brain is in overdrive trying to identify the stimuli and required responses that will form the basis of your reflex reactions in the future.
So it’s no surprise that it’s so tiring. You’re not just learning new things, you’re also forming new work habits.
The good news: you’ll be done with this stage in ± 6 weeks time. At which point, you’ll be telling your parents: I’m not sure when it happened, but it was like I woke up one day, and it just, like, clicked, you know?
2. Relationships Are A Function Of Time
New jobs are also especially lonely. You don’t really know anyone, and you’re going to be attempting to break into already established social dynamics. Even if your work colleagues are friendly and welcoming, their conversations between themselves are going to involve frames of reference that will exclude you. And no one likes to feel excluded.
Fortunately, “frames of reference” are just a time issue. We spend most of our time talking about things that happened last weekend, and the week before last, and recently. Once you cross those time barriers, you’re in the zone.
At the same time, relationships are about shared experiences. So you just need to accumulate a few of those. It might involve some awkward work drinks and the occasional uncomfortable silence when you’re getting coffee – but it too will become part of the tapestry. And then, right about that 6 week mark, you’ll suddenly just be part of the group.
You’ve got something to prove, and you’re worried about expectations and judgement. But then, you realise that your boss actually has body issues and halitosis. And your fellow teammates stop being ominous critics once you’ve seen them lose a day to playing level 42 of candy crush in the disabled bathroom while claiming to have highly liquid food poisoning.
It too will pass.
My point is this: new jobs are only new for a little while. And then it passes. So if you’re looking for a coping strategy, the best one is patience. Oh – and wine.
Meanwhile, here is a youtube clip to keep you entertained.