Q: I spent the last year envying my friends who worked in more exciting jobs and being bored out of my mind at work. I thought I’d hit the jackpot when I landed this job. The first two weeks were exciting, I was learning new things, and my new boss was giving me lots of support and praise.
Then, I seriously screwed up two projects. My boss chewed me out. Now I go home every night feeling miserable and scared. I don’t get much sleep. What if I’m not up to this job and my boss’s expectations? What if I don’t have what it takes?
I called my former supervisor, just to chat, hoping he might want to go out to lunch. He didn’t have much time for me and said he’d already hired a replacement. I keep thinking, what have I done?
What do I do now?
A: You move forward and stop looking in the rearview mirror. Do you seriously want to return to boredom?
You’re scared. So are many people who take on a new level of responsibility, from new parents who worry they won’t know what to do when their baby cries to individuals who move from worker to supervisor status.
Job change, particularly for those who leap to a higher level of responsibility and authority, ends the employee’s sense of knowing who’s who and what’s what before he or she has time to do things well in the new position. It’s like a circus performer who lets go of one trapeze before catching the second. No matter how confident, most job changers wonder at least briefly, “Will I be the 1 out of 100 who doesn’t catch the second trapeze and crashes below?”
When things don’t work out easily, some employees let self-doubt take over. They tell themselves “I’ll never be able to figure this out” and “The person who hired me is probably, right now, cursing the moment they picked me.” If you let self-criticism flood your brain, you dilute your ability to tackle your new challenge.
Instead, commit yourself to working hard and learning from your mistakes. Learning takes time. Winners in any game practice. Losers expect easy success to be handed to them. Will you make mistakes? Of course. Learn from them and get better.
Next, keep your eye on the new ballgame. A surprising number of job changers, particularly those who step from technical or employee into supervisory roles, seek out the comfort of their former job duties when the going gets rough in their new positions. Those who slide backward into former duties steal the hours they need to succeed in their new job.
When I coach those tempted to backslide, I suggest they fast-forward in their mind to a time six months in the future and think: “what will help me more – spending hours performing duties easy for me or devoting extra time to learning challenging new duties?” Unless you want him to be your mentor, you don’t need lunch with your former supervisor as much as you need to have coffee or lunch with your new supervisor. Also, avoid comparing your present job to your old one. When you compare, you divide your focus between the old and new during a time when you need a concentrated focus on the new to accelerate your learning.
Focus as well on learning the rules of the organization or work team you’ve joined. Most of us bring our old methods with us into our new positions. Thus those of us who like to talk things through may find it irritating that our new bosses and co-workers prefer to email instructions. By expecting our new supervisor and co-workers to conform to our former ways of doing things, we make ourselves into a square object hoping to find happiness in a round location. We need to realize we can be the very best player in a game no longer played or we can learn the rules of the new game.