Drive off a cliff

Starting a new job is like starting a new relationship.  It can be intoxicating, making you want to spend all your time with it.  It can be stressful, learning new things about yourself and others.  It can be as comforting as a warm blanket.

While each job is different, as each relationship is different, there are patterns that emerge over time.

Recognizing a pattern, and determining if it’s a healthy or unhealthy one, is the only way to make sure we achieve the outcomes we desire.  This can make the difference between a long-term commitment and a short-term crash and burn.

Too Good to Be True

TooGoodToBeTrue“If it’s too good to be true, it probably is”

No job is perfect, fitting like a glove on day one.  There is always an adjustment, whether with a new team, a new manager, or a new mindset.

Even returning to an old team – we are not who we were before.  A new role should not start out feeling highly comfortable.

If things feel smooth on day one, this is a warning sign that trouble is ahead.  That trouble could come from a variety of sources, but in all cases, once the cliff occurs, it takes time to adjust and recover.

Situation:  This is a new role where I expected to be challenged, but it’s coming so easily to me. 

  • Cliff:  There is something that has not yet been discovered.  Either there was a major disconnect in the job description to reality – meaning the cliff of disappointment when that is revealed OR there is something about to come off the rails.
  • Opportunity:  Talk to the hiring manager about the expectations of the job, and confirm whether there are expectations of the job that have not yet emerged.  They may be around the corner or the manager may have intentionally waited until some time has passed.  If it looks like the role is clear, soundboard approaches with someone else in the organization with a similar role and then someone with a different role and perspective, such as a mentor.  There may be unspoken expectations about how things are done, such as socializing change or engaging leaders, that are better to know sooner than later.


Constant Chaos

ConstantChaosLike any relationship, there are jobs that look great on paper, but may not be a match.

New opportunities introduce change, which is chaotic by its very nature.  There are new people to meet, new things to learn, new norms to establish.  While all those new things take some time to get our arms around, a manageable rhythm should emerge over time.

Sometimes, chaos is the rhythm.  Things don’t come easier.  They don’t become more manageable.  They are non-stop, break neck and insane.  Until they aren’t, because we are out straight for two weeks, recovering from a myriad of illness.

Situation:  I cannot get a handle on the job.  Every time I think I have it, I learn something new that sends me in a tailspin. 

  • Cliff:  This job requires experience, skill or support that isn’t present.  There may be insufficient resources or some sort of critical capability missing that is forcing on-the-job immersion.  A 24-hour workday cannot be maintained indefinitely, so if expectations do not give, family and health will.
  • Opportunity:  If it feels like the capabilities are there – it doesn’t seem like a law degree would come in really handy – then look at opportunities for additional resources or other support, such as mentoring, during a ramp period.  If there is any opportunity to deprioritize some of the work, take it.  There will be no end to the work – life if a marathon, not a sprint.  Trying to solve every problem day one is a formula for failure.  Finally, if there are lacking capabilities absolutely required to do the job, talk to the hiring manager to determine whether it is possible to job shadow, take other measures to address the gap or if there is another role that is more appropriate.


Is there such thing as Normal?

NormalRampThe cliff is avoidable.  There is a “normal” and it is possible to find it.

There will be initial chaos in a new role.  We can choose to recognize that there will be a lot to do and a lot of time to get it done, remembering we are starting a marathon.

New roles may seem like a never-ending series of urgent problems and deadlines.  It will get better.  There will be bumps in the road – challenges we experience when things are particularly busy or new needs emerge – but they will be less chaotic than when everything about the job was new.

To get to that more manageable place sooner than later, it helps to think about getting through the learning curve with the best support we can – BEFORE we start.

During interviews, ask questions about what kind of support can be expected during the initial learning curve, such as helping navigate politics or meeting critical stakeholders.  If there certain aspects of the job that will be a stretch, ask about opportunities for mentors or job shadowing.  If the manager has not considered support and does not seem open to discussing it, this may be a sign that the role is not the right one.

New jobs do not just impact the person taking the job.  Think about those first few weeks or months and the impact at home.  Talk openly with spouses or significant others.   It’s not forever – what can we live with in the short-term?  It will help ensure late nights and the stress of the new role do not become higher stress and arguments at home.

Even with the best planning, we can fall off a cliff or crash and burn.  Having trusted partners at work and home can help us anticipate the coming disasters to limit their impact or help us get back up and running again.


What other patterns have you seen in your roles over time?  Do you find yourself repeating the same patterns from role to role?  If so, what successes have you had in repeating positive patterns or breaking negative ones?

I’d love if you could share your experiences in the comments and keep the conversation going.