The argument for change

I recently started a new job. This is maybe my seventh? Eighth? Full-time gig, and so far, I like it a lot. The people are really friendly; almost everyone I’ve met is eager to do the right thing, professionally speaking, for the organization’s success.

I am fairly sure that everyone at my new job is tracking me as significantly younger than I am, not because I look so startlingly fresh and un-aged, I assure you. It’s just that I know I have that affect, in general; it may have something to do with my lighthearted approach to most things, including work, and it may have something to do with my appearance. I went to Korea a couple of years ago with my mom and hung out with my uncles, who are both re-married after being widowed, and their wives are not that much older than I am, but they dress and behave in a much more mature way—like wealthy Korean wives, who all wear tailored clothes and carry fancy handbags and wear glittery diamonds. One of my uncles looked at me, in my off-the-plane outfit of black track pants and a soft gray sweater and black sneakers and commented, “You dress like a kid and you look like a kid.” He wasn’t being insulting; it was that special brand of Korean directness, and I found it funny.

I led this piece with my age (50-ish) because I want to talk about how hard job transitions are, and how they get harder as you get older. With this job, I’ve had to drastically shift my routine; I have international and East Coast colleagues and some mornings, I’ve started meetings at 7 AM after hurriedly squeezing in a run or a workout at an insanely early hour. My husband and I work at the same place: when we commute together, we’ve already had mornings when we are both on our phones, hurriedly inserting our Bluetooth earbuds, taking turns driving depending on how much our participation is required on our respective calls.

And then it seems to get harder with age to learn all of the new work systems–are there more of them? —how to use my phone, my computer, and access the various online portals and apps to do things like book travel and take online trainings. I feel so very grateful that I can learn them at all, and that I came of age just as digital was happening (she said in a quavery, creaky voice). My first year at Brown was the first year that Apple started selling the 512K Mac: just the year before, I had painstakingly typed all of my college applications on my Brothers typewriter.

So yes, job transitions are hard, for all sorts of reasons, and I don’t wonder why many people choose not to take them on. I have worked at organizations where people stay there ten, twenty, thirty years, and past a certain point, I am not certain that those people CAN envision leaving, and I know exactly why. When you leave a job, you leave behind all sorts of stored, intangible assets—especially the goodwill and trust of your colleagues that you’ve earned over the years. At a new job, you have to prove yourself all over again. It’s HELLA SCARY.

And ultimately, I think, so worthwhile. I still have deep feelings about the one job I had; it was such an amazing place, so many caring, wonderful, wise people, and also, such a plethora of opportunities they gave me to develop and grow. I had no good reason to leave that organization other than I wanted to do something different, and push myself to a new level. “Something different” turned into a whole new lifestyle, a cross-country move for my family to northern California, on top of learning the new job. But I gained so much, despite the pain of upheaval and change. I learned how to manage a team, how to think about communications for an organization, as opposed to a subject area. I also learned how to create a space for my nuclear family, so far away from our extended family members, as we grew together into a new life of gorgeous outdoor spaces and dogs and amazing produce.

I guess what I’m pointing out is: As tough and as painful as job transitions can be, for me, they have been a tried-and-true forcing mechanism for me to take stock of who I am and what my talents are and what value I can add to an organization and a shared mission. Updating my resume, updating my LinkedIn Profile, going through the interview process—these are all things that help me stay fresh and relevant on the subject of, well, me.

So as I stumble through these first few weeks of my job, I think: wow, am I tired. I need coffee. I need to find a conference room. I have no idea who you are, can you remind me of your name? I don’t know how to do what you just asked me to do, I’m sorry. These feelings all kind of suck.

But I’m learning a boatload of new things. And that all gets added to the sum total of knowing what I can do and what I am capable of. That knowledge, of what you’re good at, what you know and what you don’t know, is, quite frankly, one of the best feelings in the world.

So I vote for change. Even though I understand why not change. Because if you manage to grow your confidence and self-awareness and human-being-ness throughout multiple phases, you’ve demonstrated the best skill of all: becoming better at being you.