Starting a new job is a great way to test your confidence.

SusanWipingSaladBarI spent the month of August as a work scholar at Esalen, a personal growth retreat center on the Big Sur, California coast. In exchange for dormitory housing, three scrumptious meals a day, a month-long self-development workshop, and time to soak in the hot tubs and take yoga and dance classes, I did physical labor 32 hours a week. My assignment was to the kitchen, where I would very definitely not cook. I’d clean the lodge. Chop vegetables. Wash dishes. Not exactly glamorous. Yet I knew I wanted to experiment with living in community for a month.

Something I didn’t count on was having my confidence tested.

I knew I needed to report to my first day of work in the kitchen at 6:45 am. I tend to be more of a night owl, so I tossed and turned my first going to bed in dorm room space at Esalen. I barely slept, in anticipation of actually being present for work at 6:45 am. At home, my alarm clock usually awakens me at 7:00 am. Getting to work on time would be a stretch.

During the limited sleep I did get, I had a nightmare. I dreamt that I awoke at 7:00 am and missed the directions for my new job. Unfortunately, actually played out! Somehow, I overslept my alarm, awakened at 6:40, threw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, brushed my teeth, and zoomed down the hill to the lodge. Amazingly, I arrived at the orientation training at 6:50, decidedly dazed and disoriented.

Fortunately, the kitchen manager did not berate me, but in my own mind, I told myself, “Sheesh, Susan, what were you thinking? This is no way to start a new job!” I looked around at the knowing smiles from my fellow work scholars, all gathered around a table in the communal lodge, letting me know that they, too, were tired. Their warm glances helped me to regain my center. But I could feel the tension in my body, the frustration with my tardiness. So I deliberately focused some attention on my breath to re-center myself. I needed to listen to the orientation to discover what my new kitchen job was all about. Since I’ve been to Esalen many times over the last decade, I knew that breakfast was served at 8:30. Hmm…I figured I had, at most, a little over 90 minutes to stay present before I could take a break from concentration to fuel myself with the morning meal.

As a group, the newly appointed kitchen work scholars were shown around the kitchen. This is definitely not the kitchen in your house. It’s a commercial kitchen that prepares nearly a thousand meals a day. It has a dishwashing zone, three areas for preparing food, a zone with ovens and stoves and steam trays for cooking the food, and a bunch of areas to store ingredients, utensils, and tons of other supplies. It’s a lot to remember. One of the storage areas is nicknamed “Garth” and another one is called “Igor.” While they are labeled, I kept mixing them up. One has cold storage and the other has dry storage. Yet another area holds plastic containers, rice cakes, canned foods, napkins and dishrags, and granola, among other items. Keeping this all straight was going to be a challenge.

PondWindowOn our orientation day, the kitchen work scholars got a tour of the kitchen and were told what we’d be doing. I found out about the three major jobs: keeping the lodge looking great, washing the dishes, and helping the chef in whatever way was needed, which generally included chopping vegetables. That first day, we did nothing hands-on until right before lunch, when I would get to wipe down tables and chop some vegetables. With so much explanation and not enough chances for me to try things out, I started getting confused. My confidence in myself dropped. I wished someone had told me to bring a paper and pen to keep all the incoming information straight, but none of the other work scholars had these either. I started to question my mind. “How are all these other people retaining what they’re hearing? Maybe I’m getting old and my memory is shot?” I found my stomach churning, and decided to stop questioning myself.

On Day 1, which fell on a Monday, my only responsibility was to listen and stay as alert as I could. During our kitchen tour, the staff showed us where the schedules were posted. Oooh! I had Tuesday off! That would be fun. I could relax. Do what I wanted. Wow, time to myself to play — that would be great! And then, when I came in on Wednesday, I would be working for the chef. That sounded great.

Until I realized that I had so much to remember that taking a day off in between would leave me open to forgetting everything I had heard.

Which, mostly, I did.

I retained so little of what I’d learned on my orientation day that when I walked in for my first shift, I forgot where to find the apron I was expected to wear. The chef had to remind me to wash my hands. And when she asked me to cut some carrots, I confessed to her, “Um, I don’t know where the carrots are.”

I wanted to hit my head, Homer Simpson style, and say “DOH!” How silly of me to say what I didn’t know. Why didn’t I simply ask, “Could you kindly remind me where to find the carrots?”

Hmm, this getting acquainted with a new job was going to tax my confidence, even in seemingly small ways.

That first working day, I had to ask where to find ladles, knives, pans, seasonings, and so much more. I was not sure how long tasks were supposed to take, nor when I needed to have them completed, or what task would be next. I found myself near tears at least a few times, until I realized that it was my expectation of myself that I be some kind of expert. I had to consciously allow myself to be a beginner, but my perfectionistic tendencies reared their ugly self-deprecating claws and tore at my confidence.

I secretly wished that some wise kitchen staff member would take me aside and say, “This job takes a while to learn. AkikoandLouiseinKitchenGive yourself the time to learn it. No one expects much of you.” That did happen, nearly a week later, when I had a full-on melt-down, which I’ll share with you in a future blog post.

For now, I want to say that starting a new job (or a new project, or a new relationship, or anything unfamiliar) can tax your confidence. It’s so vital to give yourself permission to be a beginner. To make mistakes. To not know things. To be easy on yourself. And that’s easier said than done.

I’m curious to know what you’ve done to boost your confidence when you take on a new endeavor? Would you kindly share some of your best confidence-builders, so we can all benefit? I promise to post back and acknowledge your wisdom.

Exploring confidence together with you,

Susan's signature

What would YOU like to feel more confident about? I’ve decided to write a whole month of blog posts on creating Kick-Ass Confidence, from mid-September to mid-October. Each day, I’ll be sharing stories, ideas, and practices for cultivating feel-it-in-your-bones, deep-rooted, self-confidence. Get the whole series delivered to your email box, for free! Plus other fun goodies to help you boost your confidence. Subscribe now by clicking here.

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Category : Inspire yourself / Kick-Ass Confidence

3 Responses to “Confidence: Can you have it when you start a new job?”

Regina Turney September 14, 2011

Hi Susan!

Thanks for your honesty!!

Over the last year, I started like 5 new jobs. I consult in Accounting and Finance – hoping to go permanent … On the first job I was suppose to learn the different roles of 4 people. I worked really hard. If mistakes weren’t going to eventually happen, I was so slow.

It’s always nice to have someone supportive to tell you that you are human and not to take it so personally. This is rare in the business world. So much is expected from today’s workers. Even entry level roles have high expectations of being able to master the role quickly.

Boosting your confidence… hum. Get a dog? Seriously, I think surrounding yourself with friends and family who love you and believe in you is essential. Someone who can remind you what you have accomplished in life.

Also, you are a like-able person. The truth is that the chef would rather have someone fun in the kitchen like you who ASK questions than someone with an amazing memory that is rude or drag to have in the kitchen. Also how important is the location of carrots in the bigger picture?

    SusanB September 14, 2011

    Wow, Regina, 5 jobs in a year! That’s a lot of “newness” – you must have learned the lesson not to be hard on yourself, yes? And I agree: It IS nice to have someone supportive to tell you that you are human AND not to take it personally. I did, ultimately, hear that from kitchen colleagues at Esalen. I also discover (or re-discovered) my perfectionistic tendencies. Not necessarily pretty to look at, but important to see. And ABSOLUTELY, friends and family who love us — that’s crucial for reflection. We all need that. Alas, the location of the carrots is not that important…unless it’s your job to shred the carrots. And sometimes, that was my job…so I came to know where to find those big orange babies! : ) Thanks so much for your perspective here, Regina. Much appreciated! ~ Susan