So you're in your new job and feeling like a stranger in a strange land? Welcome to the workplace. It can be a bit overwhelming and certainly stress-inducing, especially if you are a twentysomething hopping in there for the first time. It's no longer a comfortable world of roommates to run home to, professors you can easily argue with or work-study duties you can complete mindlessly.
Many young workers find that first experience isn't all it was cracked up to be. You were psyched to get that "dream" job at the cool company. Then you get there and find yourself at the copy machine more that at the client's office. Or you thought you'd be brilliant, and you make an incredibly stupid mistake.
That kind of disconnect between expectations and reality may mean that you find yourself in the bathroom, trying to stop the tears, or popping off in anger. Fine when you're by yourself, not fine when your boss is nearby.
Young workers need to learn to "give themselves the luxury of making little mistakes and then letting them go," says Bruce Pomerantz, a licensed psychologist based in Chevy Chase. Until you can face up to the fact that mistakes happen and that workplace stress can be handled, work is going to feel like, well, work.
Remember the Scouting slogan, "Be prepared"? That also goes for times when you're not wearing the Webelo badge or Brownie beanie.
Take an active role in the life you are about to lead. Before heading into the workplace, says LaVern Chapman, associate director of the undergraduate business career center at the University of Maryland, take an internship to get yourself used to the new culture you're about to enter. "If you do an internship, that's the best way to do your research and investigation about a career," Chapman says. "`Is this the type of culture I want to be a part of?'"
You can even have an "externship" these days, which is a shortened version of an internship. It usually lasts one or two weeks, and students can take part in one during semester breaks, among other times. "It brings students in to route them through the divisions in the companies. And it exposes the students to a number of different things," Chapman says.
If your internship days are past and you are already in the full-time working world, get involved in a professional organization related to your career. This, says Chapman, will provide you with possible mentors, a great networking group and a chance to listen to guest speakers who have experience in your field.
"I think everyone needs to develop some type of mentor, whether that person is in the organization or outside of the workplace," Chapman says.
Everyone seems to be big on mentors these days. They can be important assets to young workers. Find that person you can trust and ask him how he dealt with his new job. Just ask ... everyone.
Remember that even though you may feel alone in this new atmosphere, you're not. Even though more experienced workers might seem as if they never felt uncomfortable in their new workplace, they did. Seek them out and remember that, yes, they are experienced. Use that to your advantage.
Calling for Calm
Sometimes we find our new job to be not what we expected. You may have thought that once you started a real job, you'd get to use that college degree for what you got it for.
Then you find yourself stapling faxes, answering phones and standing by the copier.
That situation can leave you feeling less than happy to be there.
"Really wanting to have more responsibility can be a sense of frustration coming into your new position," says Mary Louise McMahon, associate director for employer development at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland. "Star projects may not come on as quickly as you had hoped."
And with that, you have to learn how to turn your frustration into something positive. "Learn how to get promoted. Even if your position title doesn't change, attract better work. Set up to be recognized as someone who has potential," she says.
But remember that may take some time. Try not to lose it, especially in front of your boss.
In a situation like this, you must "work with your anger before the anger-provoking situation occurs," says Doris Wild Helmering, author of "Sense Ability: Expanding Your Sense of Awareness for a Twenty-First Century Life."
She suggests that workers put an "X" on their calendar every time they get angry and start tracking that anger. "People don't think they get mad or they think that they get over it in a few seconds," she says. "But we can all remember when someone blasted us."
Co-workers don't forget it, and certainly your bosses won't. "Companies are no longer tolerating anger. They get fearful that if they let an employee spew anger on everyone else, they're going to face a lawsuit," Helmering says.
Ever feel major anxiety because you slipped and called the boss "Dude"? I'm sure she didn't like that. But get over it.
"Feelings only last for three seconds, unless you feed them with thoughts," Helmering advises.
In other words, if you keep thinking about how idiotic it was to let "Dude" slip out, it becomes counterproductive.
By the end of the day, you will have yourself convinced that you're about to be fired. Meanwhile, your boss has either forgotten the comment or is on the phone with a friend laughing about the fact that someone called her "Dude."
So how do you get over it? "Say some positive statements that promote coping -- `I don't have to be perfect to be a good worker,'" advises Pomerantz. "Learn to let go of these things. Focus on not making the really big mistakes like forgetting about an account for the week."
And if you make that mistake, suck it up and move on. Realize that everyone makes mistakes. It's a part of being human. So make them, fix them, learn from them, but don't dwell. "So you made a mistake. To err is part of being human," Steckel says. "Own up that you made a mistake. [Figure out] a way to repair this."
Just by acknowledging a mistake, rather than trying to hide it, a solution can come about, she said. "I find that managers are much happier with people who come forward, because then they know there is a problem to be fixed."
In the meantime, how do you actually learn to handle stress? How do you avoid dwelling on the bad stuff?
Don't ignore the feelings of stress and anxiety that may leave you in the bathroom crying it out for a while, said Pomerantz. But don't concentrate on them either. It will cause you to lose focus in your job, and disrupt co-workers.
Take those negative energies and channel them to other outlets. "Substitute comfort for discomfort," Pomerantz suggests. Take that pent-up anxiety and go running, or work on a hobby.
Now if you'll excuse me, there's some half-finished origami I must attend to
If you have questions about getting ahead, you can e-mail Amy Joyce at firstname.lastname@example.org