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