We often go into a new job hopeful and excited. We look forward to new challenges, new coworkers, and even the new boss.
But it may not turn out to be as great as we hoped. Whether it’s after the first day, the first week or a few months; the rose-colored glasses come off and disappointment sets in.
Now, you don’t like your new job and your new boss is disappointing. Maybe you’re not learning as fast as you had hoped, or the new job’s way of work is counter-intuitive to your past.
You might question if you are the right fit and may even start to dread the work or the thought of being there much longer. Maybe you’ve already started looking at other postings or daydreaming about abandoning your career entirely and thinking “What if I were to retire now?” or “Maybe I should become a hermit in the country.”
Neither of those are practical. So, what do you do?
Making a commitment, understanding what stage of learning you are in, and employing some strategies will help you not just get through your first year or two, but maximize it so that you grow, even flourish.
Commit to one year
As a former corporate HR professional and recruiter, I advise anyone who asks to commit to any job for at least one year. If you are mid-career (over 35-ish), consider committing to two. Much learning and growth happens while transitioning to a new job and often the initial years are the hardest, especially as we increase our expertise and scope of responsibility. Getting a full picture of the job won’t happen until you’ve experienced 12 months. Then, it’s ideal to apply what you learned in the first year to the second. There are plenty of strategies to put in place to help navigate the challenges and reap the benefits. We’ll get to those in a bit.
That said, if your new job crosses legal or ethical lines or your health (mental or physical) is at risk, devise an exit strategy now.
But if not, make the commitment. Then, you’ll stop spinning wheels asking, “Should I stay, or should I go?” Stay and now focus on how to make the most of it.
Consider Your Stage of Learning
New employment is filled with learning. It is not just about learning how to perform the new job, but it includes learning how to work with a new supervisor, co-workers, and understanding office politics; those unwritten rules that determine who gets what, when, and how.
Then, there is an element of loss when starting a new job. In your past role, you had a level of expertise and knowledge that gave you confidence. You didn’t have to think about who to talk to or how to do something, you just knew. Even if there was dysfunction in your past job, it was familiar dysfunction. This created unnoticed comfort and ease. In the new job, that comfort and ease is gone.
These emotions are explained by understanding the Conscious Competence Model. This is a framework that describes the stages of learning and the emotions experienced along the way.
Unconscious Incompetence – We are unaware of how much we don’t know. The emotions felt here are positive, even joyful. We are excited about the new work, inspired by the people, and hopeful for the future. “Ignorance is bliss” is representative of this stage. We appear naïve to those more experienced.
Conscious Incompetence – It becomes clear how much we don’t know. The new information and requirements of the job keep piling on and often without any training, explanation, or guidance. We may have made a mistake or two. Uncertainty is a primary emotion felt at this stage along with self-doubt. This is the most difficult stage of learning, but it is also expected. Everyone goes through this stage.
Conscious Competence – Stability begins to emerge. We have experienced success and progress and with that comes certainty and confidence. While we still don’t have all the answers (and likely never will), we know where to get the information we need.
Unconscious Competence – This is unknowingly performing, or sometimes called “second nature.” Many who drive cars are unconsciously competent. It is exemplified by the times when we arrive at our destination but have no memory of the drive there.
The purpose of understanding this model is to clarify, even justify the way you may be feeling during a new job. Often, the negative emotions we have are rooted in the need to learn and develop new skills or behaviors. If this is the case, then you are merely in the stage of Conscious Incompetence.
Here’s the good news, it’s temporary! Everyone passes through it. Time is on your side. As familiarity and knowledge increase, so will your comfort.
Tips to Advance through Conscious Incompetence
No one wants to spend any more time than they have to in Conscious Incompetence. Here are five tips to advance your way through this stage:
Give yourself some grace. Not knowing is ok and so is being frustrated by it. Remind yourself of the temporary nature of this phase. It will pass and so will the negative emotions.
Focus on learning and progress. Debrief your day or week by recapping your successes, nothing is too small. Write it down. Each week, as you debrief, review the previous week. You will see your progress over time.
Find a buddy or a mentor. This is someone you can ask questions and confirm (or negate) the conclusions you draw about the work. This person should be more experienced than you and respected. Ask your boss or colleagues for suggestions.
Take breaks, rest, and take care of yourself. Walk outside, eat healthy food, exercise, laugh, and spend time with people you enjoy and trust. Be away from work. Learning on the job depletes your energy. These activities recharge it so that you can start another workday or week ready for more.
These tips will help take the sting out of the Conscious Incompetence phase while also advancing you through it.
Understanding how we learn and become successful at something is not only important to our job performance but also to our well-being. Getting stuck in the negative emotions stalls us out and worse, makes us feel pretty crappy.
Most new jobs aren’t exactly what we expect but with some knowledge about learning and some strategies, we are positioned to not only perform better but feel better too.
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Until next time!
Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training, coaching, and professional development resources.