500 Days of Post-Grad Bummer
I wake up late because I haven’t slept all weekend. It’s awkward and embarassing to show up late and with bloodshot eyes on your first day of your grown-up job. Pro tip: don’t do a 24-hour movie marathon the day before you start, even if it is your new girlfriend’s annual tradition. The relationship ends somewhere around Day 240. The embarrassment lasts a few weeks.
It’s my birthday. I haven’t told anyone. I bring cupcakes, but I leave them in my car because I realize I don’t feel comfortable celebrating with people who feel like strangers to me. I eat the cupcakes for dinner for the next two days.
After a series of mistakes and misunderstandings (mostly on my part) over the course of two weeks, I can sense that my manager is frustrated. I flounder on most assignments except the easiest because, ironically, I’m too scared of failing to put forth much effort. He suggests indirectly (through the person who will become my manager on Day 94) that I schedule an informal chat with HR. I meet with the large, friendly man the next week. We talk about my career goals, my work environment and tips for focusing, my relationship with my manager, and millennials (I resist rolling my eyes). At the end of our conversation he says things seem to be going okay and that I should stick with it. When I return to my desk, I add a recurring 2-hour appointment every Friday afternoon to my calendar to set aside time to look for new jobs.
Thanks to a quirk of my company’s HR system, they think my anniversary is 8 months earlier than when I actually started my job. I get a card with a note thanking me for sticking it out for the last 12 months, even though it’s only been 4 months. I hang the anniversary card on the cubicle wall anyway because it has my name on it and I still don’t have a name plate. I won’t get one for 4 more months.
I have my first official review, which covers my performance through the first half of the year. On a five-point scale, I get the second lowest, which is as good as I was hoping for. I still feel like I don’t really understand how to do anything valuable. One of my strengths, according to my manager, is “professionalism”. I’m pretty sure this just means I’ve worn a clean shirt every day and I haven’t lost my temper in front of anyone.
I have my year-end performance review. I get a “passing” rating, the middle of the five grades, which surprises me. I don’t feel like I’ve made much, if any progress, but I guess it’s not so bad as I think.
I realize that, somehow, I became somewhat competent at my job. I know where to look to find answers to my questions. There are some requests that come to me where I just know the answer from experience and I don’t have to go hunting. This realization is a comfort, an annoyance, and slightly terror-inducing. A comfort because over the last year I’ve realized I like feeling competent and smart and being recognized for it. An annoyance because a job that I disliked for months and months has become only slightly more positive than neutral in my eyes. Terror-inducing because I’m scared that when I get a new job, I’ll face nearly a year of feeling dumb and incompetent before I feel like I can actually perform. By the end of the week, the only feeling that remains is slight annoyance. The strength of the annoyance usually depends on how hungry I am.
I realize I never want be promoted to do my boss’s job. Not just because he’s constantly stressed and works long hours, but because despite how busy he is, his job sounds completely boring to me. And it’s not just his job, it’s the other managers’ jobs, too. I don’t understand how they’ve slogged through meetings and slide decks and “high priority” e-mails day after day for years, just to reach the first rung of management. I pretend to look busy while I listen to him argue on the phone with an auditor about minutiae for an hour.
I realize after my first cup of coffee while sitting at my desk that it’s my work anniversary. Nothing special happens. I mention it to my manager on Day 370 and he says “Oh, really? Huh.” We move on to discussing my growth opportunities for the month.
It’s Friday and the day before my birthday. A co-worker brings donuts and I joke that they’re for my special day. He laughs and asks me if I have any plans. “Oh nothing special,” I say. I will end up eating cold pizza and watching Netflix all day. It’s exactly how I wanted to celebrate.
It’s another co-worker’s last day and at his going-away lunch party I spend the hour awkwardly talking with people I see every day but don’t really know. I learn that two of them are gluten-free for medical reasons and one of them is vegetarian for religious reasons. I end up wondering when their birthdays are and don’t contribute much to the conversation.
I quit my job and commence a 6 month road trip wherein I live in my car and experience incredible personal growth. I return with renewed focus and energy to tackle the next 40 years of my career, which has shifted to a job which is much more rewarding. (Actually, probably not, but this is 500 Days of Bummer, so I gotta stick to the theme.)