Metters Musings

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Starting Over

November 23, 2002

It was my fourth day on the job at The Humane Society and I was cleaning out the cat cubbies in Cat Holding Room 1.  Most of the cats were pretty agitated; many of them were loudly meowing, some of them were hissing, several were trying to swat at me through the bars, and one of them actually bit me.  I’m allergic to cats so I don’t know a whole lot about how to handle them, which I’m sure just added to their agitation.  I was feeling overwhelmed – not to mention congested and sneezy – and in a moment of panic I wondered if it was too late to go back to my old job at Microsoft.  I wanted to cry.

Starting over can be painfully difficult.  I went from a job where I had become one of the most knowledgeable and experienced Administrative Assistants in my department.  I was well liked by my co-workers.  I had a nice office, a flexible schedule, and a team full of people I really enjoyed working with.  Not to mention free sodas!  I left all of this only to become the new kid on the block, feeling clumsy and clueless most of the time.  Now I’m fighting allergies, scooping poop and getting hissed at.  What was I thinking?

Even worse was losing that sense of belonging.  For weeks I felt like I still belonged at Microsoft and was an outsider at The Humane Society.  I would constantly catch myself referring to Microsoft as “we” and The Humane Society as “they”.  I realized even though I had physically made a job change, mentally and emotionally it was going to take time.  I had known Microsoft inside and out and had built so many relationships that I really felt at home there.  But Microsoft isn’t my home anymore.  The moment I turned in my badge I became an outsider.  Unfortunately, in the same moment I didn’t instantly belong at The Humane Society.  Belonging can only come with time, and in a way, it has to be earned.  For now I wasn’t going to feel like I truly “belonged” anywhere.  Sigh

“One year”, I started telling myself, “no matter how much this sucks I’m going to stick it out for one year.”  There were many times in those first few weeks on the job that repeating this to myself was the only thing that got me through the day.  A year is a long time when you are feeling miserable, but by putting an expiration date on how long I was willing to suffer somehow gave me a sense of comfort.  I didn’t have to do this forever, just for one year.  ‘One year’ was my way of giving myself a light at the end of the tunnel.

“So are you just loving your new job?!” a friend asked me at a party one night.  “This is like your dream job, isn’t it?”  What could I tell her?  My ‘dream job’ doesn’t consist of sweeping and mopping floors, scooping poop and getting bitten by cats.  It also doesn’t consist of eating lunch alone in the lounge because I really don’t know anyone, nor does it include sniffling, sneezing and wheezing all day.  “Oh yeah, it’s great!”  I told her.  I lied.  But I couldn’t tell her the truth; my pride was at stake.  She was still at Microsoft and I couldn’t let her know how much I was struggling.  I didn’t want her or anyone else to smugly think that I had made a mistake, because I still had faith that I had done the right thing.  I was just in that awkward “newbie” stage and I knew if I just hung in there I would eventually make it through this.  I guess that’s the real reason why I told myself I could do this for one year; I knew by the time my one year rolled around I would be long past this stage.

Fortunately I don’t think it will take that long.  I’ve been with The Humane Society just over 2 months now and I’m just starting to feel like I’m settling in.  I’m feeling more and more a part of the team, I’m starting to make friends, and I’m feeling more knowledgeable and competent every day.  I’m still a long way from achieving the same level of comfort and belonging in this job as I had when I left Microsoft, but I think I’m through the hardest part.  Thank God; being brand new sucks.

As hard as it’s been – and as many times as I’ve repeated “one year” to myself – deep down I’ve never regretted making the change.  Not even when the cats bite me.  (The cats and I still don’t quite see eye to eye).  My job at Microsoft had grown stale and I was burned out.  I wanted a change for over a year and had spent a lot of time seriously exploring the idea.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do instead but I felt my work lacked meaning.  After much soul-searching I realized more than anything I wanted to be doing something that I felt was having a direct impact on making the world a better place.  So when I came across The Humane Society job I knew I needed to go for it.

Let’s face it – we’re all afraid of change.  Anyone who says they’re not is probably lying.  That’s because change is hard, even changes for the better.  It’s a painful process that takes us out of our comfort zone, leaving us feeling vulnerable and unsure of ourselves.  No wonder we dread it!  What’s sad is when people allow fear to stand in the way of the things they really want out of life.  Time and again I’ve seen people spend enormous amounts of energy trying to convince themselves they can’t change or they shouldn’t change, or even trying to convince themselves they are happy when they’re really not.  Instead, they could have been spending that energy on making the changes necessary to make their life better!  I never want to be like that.  I don’t ever want to be so afraid that I’d rather stay comfortably miserable than take a risk on being happy and fulfilled.  There is nothing wrong with being afraid, but life is way too short to be paralyzed by that fear.  Sometimes you just have to muster up the courage to push past the fear to make the changes you know you need to. 

I knew making this job change was going to turn my whole world upside down and I knew it was going to be a painful transition.  Even now I’m still experiencing some of that turmoil.  But that first time I brought a dog into the lobby and handed the leash over to his new owner I had no doubt I made the right choice.  I watched from the window as “Spud” rode away in a fancy convertible with his new dad, his ears flapping happily in the wind.  He had made it out of the shelter into a new home, and I helped make that happen.  Nothing I ever accomplished at Microsoft ever made me as proud as I was at that moment; nothing I had been a part of had ever been so gratifying.

Change can be unbelievably hard, but the reward is worth every second of the trouble.

Copyright © 2002 2008 Susan B. Metters.  All rights reserved.

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