Last July I got my first job. The four months prior had been spent carefully editing my CV and perfecting a unique cover letter for each job. The response was underwhelming, to say the least; from April through to June I received a slew of rejection emails. And then, one day in mid-July I submitted a chance application, not expecting much. Within a day I was attending an interview, and within two days I was starting my very first job.
I was over the moon; I felt like all my hard work had finally paid off. It was a huge confidence boost for someone to look at me and decide they wanted me to work for them. The bragging rights for being the first of my friends to get a job was also a plus. I showed up on that very first day full of enthusiasm and energy. I was nervous too, of course. Starting your first job is a new experience and a slightly terrifying one at that. For me, it was the first time I found myself in a situation where I was fully on my own. Unlike at school or extracurriculars, there was no one there to hold my hand and guide me through it. Regardless of that, I was genuinely excited to start working and do my best. Unfortunately, within a week I was in a state of constant anxiety because of my job.
Feeling out of place
My first day wasn’t some nightmarish hell, it was fairly on par with what I expected. But I quickly began to feel like I was out of place. It seemed to me like working came much more naturally to everyone else. Everyone learns differently, and I need to be clear on what I’m supposed to do; set out what my responsibilities are, and I’ll fulfil them to the best of my ability. I didn’t get that in this job. It seemed like I was expected to know exactly what I was meant to be doing and when I was only given minimal training. I began to dread going to work the next day, working myself into a panic and crying every night. I was a normally confident person, but I began to feel sick with nerves over receiving phone calls and texts for work.
After a few weeks of feeling on edge, receiving phone calls on my scheduled days off, and even making myself so anxious that I had to call in sick one day, I left my job. I didn’t suddenly walk out or anything; I submitted my two weeks’ notice, and then due to a scheduling issue finished earlier than expected. Strangely, however, I didn’t feel immediate immense relief. I felt quite guilty over it.
In my workplace, there was a certain culture around prioritising your job over your life. I remember hearing co-workers giving out about people asking for weekends off, and others (teenagers like me) working up to two hours past their rostered end of shift. I never felt like I fit in with this view, but in submitting my notice after just a few weeks, I proved I didn’t.
A few months later, I can look back and say that feeling guilty over leaving my job was unnecessary; I know it was the right thing to do for my mental health. But I also know that sticking it out for as long as I did was equally important. It was an overwhelmingly negative experience at the time, but it ironically had a very positive impact on me. I tended to be slightly shy in my early teens, which this job completely eradicated. Going into a completely new environment, where I received very little advice or guidance was one of the most beneficial experiences of my life. As a result, I’ve become far more confident in myself and my abilities.
This too shall pass
Most importantly, having a negative experience with my first job showed me that I can get through awful experiences and benefit from them. I honestly think that this job is to thank for the confidence with which I started 5th year. Before this experience, I would have been anxious about being thrown in with a new year group, but afterwards, I knew I would get through it. I often think about the adage; ‘This too shall pass’. I used to think it was the most useless saying in the world. Now, in hard moments, I find myself whispering it like a mantra.
Oftentimes we assume milestones will be extremely positive experiences, but sometimes they aren’t. Getting my first job was a huge milestone but getting through it and standing up for myself was a bigger one. Milestones aren’t always positive experiences, but they give us the experience to learn from and an opportunity to grow.
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