Many of you know: today was my first day at a new part-time job. Most of you can’t know how absolutely ready I was, how absolutely terrified.
Almost two years ago, I moved from my college town to a new city, hoping to connect with what many of my peers seemed to have experienced after graduation. Career opportunities, friendships, relationships, success, and pride: that’s what I hoped to find. Whether I was chasing a pipe dream or not, I don’t think it would surprise you to hear that moving to a new city was not an insta-cure for the quarter-centenarian malaise. Some 80 weeks later, I was still feeling isolated, discouraged, stuck, and hopeless. The feelings of shame and worthlessness persisted, but my network of support and mentors had drastically shrunk. I was (as Lord Elrond once described the race of men) “scattered, divided, leaderless.” I was (as John Adams once described James Otis Jr.) “a ship without a helm.”
In college, I took a bowling class. The coach had a policy against negative thought patterns. If we weren’t mastering a skill quickly enough or if our scores were disappointing, he wanted us to hit the brain breaks and reorganize the route. If we were particularly bad at optimism, he suggested we actually say “STOP” out loud, followed by a sentence that could turn our thoughts around. For example, if you miss a spare and you feel like you’ll never get it right: “STOP. You’ve done such great work, I bet you’ll get the next one.”
You can probably guess who took this skill out of the lanes and to the next level. (Spoiler alert: it was me.) I was having a particularly difficult year writing my thesis, and I ended up walking around campus, muttering “stop” every fifteen minutes or so. It was one of the few things keeping me from crumpling under anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. I sounded insane, but it worked. I finished my thesis. Even now, after a few hundred tries, I can usually spin straw situations into gold if I just remember to STOP.
I think this past February was the hardest month in my life so far. To kick it all off, I caught a knife with the palm of my hand, which resulted in a trip to urgent care and my first stitches. For a week, I couldn’t braid my hair, tie my shoes, scrape snow off my car, or even fasten my own belt. I was impotent and useless in ways I’d never experienced, and all my dissatisfaction with life came rushing forward. I could no longer temper the ennui with hours of Netflix and cups of tea. I felt overworked, undervalued, bored, and stagnant…
…And then I remembered to STOP.
I made it my mission to shake up my life. As soon as my stitches were removed, I took a long shower, brushed my hair, and cleaned my apartment.”New or challenging” became the mandate for all after-work activities. I went to concerts instead of binge-watching shows I’d already seen. I journaled in coffee shops instead of scrolling through Facebook. I went on runs through the woods; I practiced viola; I started and finished books. For the first time in over a year, I updated my resume and started scouring the Internet for jobs. Even the smallest breaks in routine boosted my energy and joie de vivre, and the tangible results came quickly.
Less than a month after my injury healed, I scheduled my first job interview. Interview followed interview. I had made a change and now the ball was rolling, rolling. It was almost frightening how quickly my own agency was confirmed. All this time I felt blown around by the winds of chance, and suddenly I was in charge. Positive action had reaped positive consequence, and the only thing to do was keep driving…
“Starting a new job is always emotional,” said my training manager today in the biggest understatement of the year.
As I sat through the endless hours of training to prepare me for success in my new job, I oscillated between homesickness for my museum and overwhelming excitement for my future, both of which nearly brought me to tears. I was dressed in a sad attempt at business casual: my pinstriped eighth-grade-orchestra pants and a white lace free box crop top hidden under a hand-me-down blazer. I felt young and inexperienced as I entered the boardroom and tried to make small talk with strangers. I thought back on my last days at the natural history museum, tried to remember what it felt like to be sure, and repeated the congratulations of my coworkers over and over in my head.
I’m glad you got a position you wanted.
You’ll do great.
We’ll miss you.
This new job was never in my plans, but something about it feels good. Years of hard work have been validated by a 100% increase in hourly wage, more creative responsibility, and entry into a workplace that (according to these training sessions) is reserved for only the best candidates. I feel nervous, excited, overwhelmed, overjoyed, and empowered. I made a choice to make a change, and now I’m here, standing on the precipice of possibility. You’ll have to stay tuned to find out what happens next.