While the rest of the country is celebrating declaring their independence from Great Britain, I am celebrating declaring my independence from a mediocre job.
If my life were a movie, this part would have a nice little segue, possibly with a montage. There would probably be some really awesome music. Possibly “Higher and Higher” like in Wet Hot American Summer. In which case Gene would definitely be with me the entire time.
Montage scene 1: I’m on the phone getting the job offer. This definitely includes slow-motion fist-pumping and quite possibly the hugging of a stranger (or two).
Reality scene 1: An unofficial offer hovers and finally leads to an official offer weeks later, which leads to many hoops and barriers to jump through/over to hopefully get to The Contract. Must have the precious…
Montage scene 2: High-fiving friends/coworkers. Again, slow-motion, jumping and hugging and possibly a continuation of the fist-pumping.
Reality scene 2: I tell a few coworkers who are also job hunting when I have a secret moment. I text/call my mom and boyfriend in secret from the street corner outside. I feel a lot of anxious energy.
Montage scene 3: Dramatic scene where I quit my job. I throw papers, clear my desk with a single sweep of the arm. The music might even lower for a moment so I can say something disappointingly unoriginal like “That’s right! I’m leaving… like a Boss!”
Reality scene 3: I avoid eye contact with my supervisor for weeks, try to gauge if people think I’m acting weird, wait “patiently” for the day when I can give notice. I give notice weeks later and physically shake during the meeting, though it is sort of nice when my supervisor is cool about it.
Montage scene 4: Dancing and celebrating with more friends. We are out. It’s nighttime. I have never looked happier. We are making silly faces and partying the night away.
Reality scene 4: By the time I actually give notice, my friends are more like “Oh nice, I’m glad it worked out” because I’ve been talking about nothing else for the last few weeks and they figured I’d already given notice and just wasn’t making a big deal about it. Also, I don’t do much dancing the night away. Not in public at least.
Montage ends. Suddenly I am at my new job… possibly now high-fiving the new coworkers. I’m doing “work-y” things at my new job and obviously kicking serious butt. How did I get here? Only the montage knows for certain.
Reality ending: I have no idea.
No matter how great this next job is or how much I love it, it will never be as perfect as it is right now. I can idealize my future supervisor, my coworkers, my responsibilities, even the paperwork. There is nothing to complain about; there is only excitement and anticipation.
But as anticipation grows, in creeps its evil twin: fear of disappointment. Thoughts come in to my head like: I’ve been here before and it didn’t turn out well. And questions like What if I can’t do it? What if I forget everything I know and completely screw up? And it just gets more nonsensical from there.
In a conversation with SocialWrkGirl we compared this part of my new job timeline to the early stages of dating someone new. After a good first date or two comes the eager anticipation of more dates, but also fear and hesitation around how much to text, whether the other person is feeling the same excitement and attraction, etc. And in both situations there is a lot that is unknown.
Whether it’s dating or a new job, things unknown can cause a lot of stress. How people predict what comes next can depend on a lot of factors, but one of the major factors is past experience. Both in jobs and in relationships, previous negative experiences inform what we expect future experiences to hold. And the more the negative experiences pile up, the less hope we have that we can find something better.
Clients I have worked with in the past and present have experienced the extremes of being let down by people who were supposed to be looking out for them. I have had multiple clients whose mothers have told them that they “wish they’d had an abortion.” When I met them, these clients expected that people would let them down, tell them they’re not good enough, have low expectations of them and be inconsistent in their lives.
So while I apparently cope with the unknown by pretending my life is a movie and creating an imaginary montage, someone else might cope with the unknown by avoiding it or writing it off before it has a chance to let them down. (That is not to say I haven’t had clients who might cope by creating a montage or something similar. But I guess I’m trying to show a range here.)
I try to remember how I feel in times of transition, upheaval or at the start of something new before I meet with a new client. Sure, I hope for my clients to feel comfortable with me quickly, but that is not often realistic. For all the complaining we social workers do, would we really want it to be easy? Would it feel as rewarding to see our clients succeed if things always went well right away?
I am not suggesting that social workers are all just masochistic people who want to watch people suffer and cause themselves suffering. But I am saying, how many people don’t get stressed out during major life transitions? And what direct-service social worker (who isn’t going to leave the field after a couple of years) got in this to help people deal with only their simple problems? Maybe someone, but not me.
I’m having trouble concluding things lately (I bet you can’t guess why), so I’ll leave you with this quote from Steve Jobs: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards.”