Pause for a moment and recall the last time you accepted a new job or a new responsibility with your current employer. Hold tight to that moment when you learned the job was yours, but you didn’t yet have any of the responsibilities of actually doing it, the point where you’re just starting the initial climb of the roller coaster.
You likely felt like you had “won” the position in a competition or perhaps you thrilled others when you accepted a challenging responsibility particularly suited for you.
Being chosen because of who you are or what you have done is a high like no other! You feel acknowledged, accomplished, and respected.
Remember the excitement you felt and the sense of possibility?
Maybe you began envisioning the future–how it would unfold, problems you would solve, ideas you’d bring, and new possibilities that would await you on the other side of this success.
Your imagination might have kicked into high gear, producing images in your mind’s eye of you receiving awards, the crowd’s applause, and the unending gratitude of those you’d served.
If you’ve ever been on this soaring high, and I hope you have, you also have likely experienced a host of different emotions when you actually started the nitty-gritty of doing the job.
Whether your new job eventually met your expectations or fell far short, what did you notice about that span of time when you were transitioning into the job? That span of time when you were discovering the challenges, meeting co-workers, discerning the expectations of you, and making choices that would shape your experience long after the transition?
- Anger and frustration
These don’t seem to fit at all with the exhilaration of getting the job. Yet these are commonly experienced during that transition time.
Expectations Meet Reality
Emotions can run high during transitions. Even long sought-after and highly-desired transitions, such as a new job, promotion, or upwardly mobile status change can create feelings of anxiety and stress. An important first step in navigating the transition with confidence is recognizing that intense and negative emotions are typical.
Here are a few reasons why transitioning into a new position can trigger the negative feelings listed above.
- New jobs require new learning.
The greater the newness of the position, the more you need to learn. And learning is energy-intensive! The greater the learning curve, the more energy needed to do not only the critical content stuff but also all the simple things like navigating the new space, developing relationships, and perhaps adjusting to a new schedule. Necessity of mastering a steep learning curve, and doing so quickly, explains much of the exhaustion.
- New positions have a way of undermining your expertise.
- The knowledge base you developed at your previous position isn’t as relevant in the new position.
- The strategies for motivating your former co-workers don’t motivate this new group.
- Worse yet, your strength has become your weakness. In your previous position maybe you became great at shutting the door, working with focus, and preparing great presentations and writing clear and detailed policies. Now everyone complains when your door’s closed, you need to delegate more than create, and you need to offer on-the-spot feedback rather than the carefully prepared variety. Help!
You guessed it. All this takes energy and challenges you to learn more new stuff.
- New responsibilities can also challenge your existing understanding, beliefs, and/or assumptions.
Recognizing that your beliefs, values, or assumptions have been challenged can be tricky. Your assumptions aren’t clear to you. Your beliefs and values can be so much a part of you that you might confuse them with being who you are! Or, you might not realize that a belief you hold, isn’t an accepted truth that others readily agree to.
When new demands, situations, or people challenge your assumptions or long-held beliefs, it can feel like an attack on your very being. When you perceive that you’re being attacked, stress floods your brain with adrenaline and cortisol shifting you into the classic “fight, flight, or freeze” mode. As that happens, you’re not able to think clearly and you lose access to the prefrontal cortex that controls executive functions such as planning, thinking logically, and controlling emotional reactions.
What emerges instead is defending, blaming, and counterattacking! All counter-productive to your mission of navigating the transition successfully to the new position.
Give the Emotional Roller Coaster an Empowering Meaning
Once you experience the emotional roller coaster of a transition, you can assign it many meanings. Perhaps you decide:
- you were naive and foolish for taking the position and imagining it could be different. But such a self-critical interpretation won’t help.
- you are going to muscle your way forward, work long hours, lead with a harsh voice and a heavy hand to get everyone on board.
- a host of other possibilities that create conflict within yourself and/or with others.
Consider an alternative interpretation that empowers you. How can you make the emotional roller coaster the ride of your life?
- Hold tight to the initial joy and soaring ideas. Reconnect regularly with those feelings and possibilities to motivate and renew you.
- Remember that the negative feelings that eroded your initial excitement are part of the human experience. When you understand the reasons, these feelings pop up during a job transition, then you have taken the first step toward responding to the feelings intentionally.
- Then, pause, notice the discomfort when the negative emotions emerge, and take a deep breath. Really, breathe deeply and slow down for just a moment to re-engage your prefrontal cortex, which puts you in touch with your wiser, resourceful self. From there you’ll have access to your brain’s executive functions that enable you to:
- See a situation from multiple perspectives
- Control your emotional responses
- Appreciate the consequences of different courses of action
- Make a plan for moving forward
* New jobs require new learning. So be aware of your energy levels and try to combine high-energy tasks with the time of day you have the most energy,
* New jobs can undermine your expertise. Remember the benefits of embracing novice-hood at times.
* New responsibilities can challenge your existing understandings, beliefs, and/or assumptions. Be mindful of the difference between what you think or hold as true and who you are.
Transitions might put you on an emotional roller coaster, so embrace the empowering possibilities. Make it the ride of your life rather than a season filled with life-draining stress!