A Toast to Change

Change is inevitable, swift and unending.

It’s hard and unforgiving. You asked for it—or didn’t—but its bite can be intense all the same. There have been times I’ve yearned and grappled for change yet not recognized it, and other times it’s knocked my legs out from under me and snickered away as I’ve fought to regain my footing. Professionally, when it’s been lurking awhile it can seem at some moments alluring, others daunting, until it’s upon you.

Eat lunch with me in the atrium.
Eat lunch with me in the atrium.

Then you’re in it. You’ve started a new position in a new company and if you’re anything like me you think to yourself, “This is one of those things I wish I’d done more in my twenties,”  but you’re actually better prepared to weather it than you might think. Change is full of possibilities, and managing it well is an art and a battle. Here are my tried recommendations for making it yours.

Don’t weather it alone.

Some advice out there tells us to be cautious of making alliances in a new job. The trouble with following that guidance is that you risk becoming an island of one in the midst of an existing network of colleagues and friends. Much like any ecosystem, a workplace has its own means of disseminating information—yes those very nuggets that could make the difference between you hitting the ground running and hitting a brick wall.

Be conversational.

It can feel like leaving Cheers for that swanky new martini bar (or smoky nightclub) where, that’s right, no one knows your name. Some of your new coworkers know a lot about you on the surface, because they have just interviewed you and maybe turned every aspect of your public life upside down considering your hire. But you will know few of them, and putting names with faces and roles takes time and diligence. Learning something beyond the job description of at least a few individuals begins to crack that wall. Don’t wait, initiate this process.

Make opportunities to connect.

It was quite some time ago that I decided I was finished being the one who always organized social occasions, releasing reins on friends that just didn’t put in the effort. I always come back to this though, and I urge you to extend a hand in an environment that you’re new to. Chances are you’re not the only one, and connecting with other colleagues in their first year can provide multitudes of benefit to you both. Also, get to know individuals with tenure and those you might not otherwise spend time with through the course of normal work. Shake up your lunch schedule, but cut yourself some slack if you still pay your bills at your desk during lunch now and again, because someone has to.

Record and repeat.

I’m a notetaker and learn through that action. You’ll need to become conversant in volumes of institutional references and knowledge. It’s up to you to clarify everything from expectations to timelines to priorities, and it’s even harder in a new place or role. Even if you’re fortunate to be welcomed with a formal onboarding or to inherit documentation of procedures, you are in a unique and fleeting position to both test and question means and ends. Affirm your understanding of business goals and methods, repeat back what may not be crystal clear initially, and even what seems to be. If you’re respectful and aim to learn, asking for background or reasoning adds value even to reinforce the understanding of existing staff. Your honeymoon will end quickly, so prepare yourself.

Change can be hard and gritty like racing cyclocross.
Here I am leading my first training at a new job. Or, this is how that feels.  Image: Michael Drelling

 

Ask how you can help.

Show that you wish to learn, but to also add value. As someone responsible for training others, being in a new role recently has reminded me that every learning interaction is reciprocal. There’s no better natural opportunity to reset your ways than with new colleagues. You will rely heavily on others to show you the ropes, so remember that you have knowledge that would benefit them too. EVERYONE does. Offer it, ask, and be prepared to teach. I’m not talking about creating more work for yourself. Simply challenge yourself to contribute. You’ll gain respect for sharing what you know, and you may even find what seems mundane a bit more adventurous with this approach. A little goes far.

Cut yourself some slack.

This is an easy one, so don’t over think it. Committing to this is a daily act of self preservation. Don’t expect the stars to align overnight, but keep them in your sights. If in the course of work in a new job something doesn’t work, try something else. When you speak and are received with dead stares, don’t take it personally. Instead, remember you’re as foreign to your new audience as they are to you. Smile, and keep trying. If you’re overwhelmed, you’re probably not alone. Surprisingly, letting down your guard (or having it slip) on occasion can create opportunities for what may become your strongest bonds and your greatest strides. You’ll find your flow soon enough if you move with the change, and it might be better than ever.

Change can be messy like painting a cardboard box.
Sometimes you need to turn the box over and paint it to see its color.  Image: Melissa Page

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