In the span of two weeks, I went from a financially-challenged academic researcher living solo to a professional landlord living with her partner. I gained a tenant, a commute, a fancy job title (with perks like the company card), and a permanent bedfellow. While I’ve enjoyed flying up the professional totem pole, I have certainly endured cringe-worthy moments during this fast transition.
The first meeting in which I wore my Engineering Director title contained seasoned professionals from the largest medical supply company in the world as well as intimidating Yale doctors, and I’m fairly certain that the first thing everyone noticed when we convened was my pink polka-dotted backpack. Yes, I brought a backpack that I inherited after my 13-year-old sister deemed it “too childish for her,” and I instantly knew that the self-deprecating charm this backpack conveyed in academia was not working in the business world. I tried my best to foot-nudge my backpack out of sight throughout the meeting, doing no favors for my focus. When I was asked to introduce myself and say a few words about my background and vision for this partnership, I totally blanked. I stammered something about my schooling and a random research project before offering vague buzzwords, and as my face heated up, I resolved to be prepared for future meetings.
I proudly arrived prepared for the next lunch meeting, armed with my new professional backpack (I assert that professional backpacks exist!) and knowledge of the companies and participants in the room (thanks LinkedIn!). I felt surprisingly confident as I chatted with industry partners while filling my plate with grilled chicken and veggies (and, let’s be honest – a cookie or two). When a useful connection was made (yay!), I set my plate down to procure a business card, and when I turned back around, my plate was gone. Gone?! It had been out of my sight for less than a second – where could it have gone? Turns out the chair I had selected as a table had a slight angle that enabled my plate to slide right off, gain a remarkable amount of speed, and plop audibly on the floor (overturned, of course). Mortified, I tried to casually gather the splattered chicken and veggies, a task that’s even more challenging while wearing a skirt. Next resolution: if I’m going to eat in meetings, I must be careful!
While I recognize the value and tremendous growth potential of being a beginner among very accomplished people, it has also been uncomfortable. I’ve remained quiet in my first few meetings, scribbling down people’s names and various acronyms to Google later. Fortunately, I’ve jumped in over my head more times than I can count, and I’m proud of the things I’ve done right to make this transition as smooth as possible:
1. Stayed active without being dogmatic. As exercise is a foundational habit for me (ie when I’m consistently moving, so many things in my life are better), I made it a priority to find a gym that’s convenient along my commute (make it easy!) and signed a contract with a phenomenal, super-intense personal trainer to ensure that I’ll be there at least twice a week (accountability!). But I’ve also been gentle and not forced myself to ‘work out at all costs;’ instead, I am remaining flexible in order to enjoy the ups and downs of my life transitions. As any engineer will tell you, flexibility is stronger than rigidity.
2. Let people help me. Instead of my oft-dispatched “no, I got this” soliloquy, I’ve opted for a much more concise and helpful answer to people’s kind offers to help: “thank you.”
3. Continually acknowledged that I’m a Work in Progress. When I’m misstepping, I remind myself that even the most intimidating people were once cute little babies, beginners at being human.
4. Scheduled ‘we need to catch up!’ meetups on the spot. How many times have you run into someone, gushed for a few minutes about needing to catch up, had the best intentions to text or email them, and then totally blanked and felt random pangs of guilt/anxiety when you realized that months (or years…) have gone by?! I resolved to take immediate action on following up with friends/colleagues, creating Google calendar meeting invites for meals/drinks/bike rides on my phone as I’m speaking with them. Consider yourself warned: if I cross paths with you, I’ll likely rope you into hanging out with me soon!
5. Reaffirmed my need for routines. Moving in with Donald, one of the best things I’ve ever done, has thrown a wrench in the routines I lovingly developed in my old residence/career, and noticing how ‘off’ I feel without routines has confirmed that I operate best when I have systems in place.
6. Laughed at myself. Perhaps my most important strategy for navigating this step change is remaining amused instead of ashamed of my inevitable mistakes and sharing them with others. Even this morning, my third week on the job, I realized (while leading visitors to an Operating Room) that I had bike chain grease on my calf, and instead of trying to hide these grease stains (an exercise in futility as I’m wearing a skirt!), I shared my foibles with my intimidating peers. And guess what? They smiled and launched into similar stories, creating genuine human connection among us; isn’t that what it’s all about?