Changing jobs comes with a lot of hope, but also a lot of risk. No matter how many questions you asked before accepting your job offer, there are always unexpected aspects, not to mention an uncomfortable learning curve. Although many of these may be relatively benign, some of them may be far more frustrating than you anticipated—your new boss may not be as helpful as you want, the job duties may be more difficult or time-consuming than you expected, or the workplace culture may not be a good fit.
Short of just up and quitting, if your new job isn’t going as well as you had hoped, what should you do? According to Amy Drader, a management consultant with Growth Partners Consulting, the key to adjusting to a new job that isn’t what you had hoped it would be is to exercise a little bit of patience, and to understand what the learning curve for a new role looks and feels like.
Make a commitment to stick out the job for at least a year
As long as your new workplace isn’t crossing any legal or ethical boundaries, or creating workplace conditions that put your mental or physical health at risk, Drader advises making a commitment to sticking out the new job for at least one year—two if you are mid-career.
Making the decision to stay for at least one year helps eliminate the uncertainty of what to do, while it also gives you the opportunity to gain a fuller understanding of your new job and its responsibilities. As Drader wrote, “[O]ften the initial years are the hardest, especially as we increase our expertise and scope of responsibility. Getting a full picture of the job won’t happen until you’ve experienced 12 months.”
Sticking it out for a specified period of time will also give you the closure you need, in case it turns out that it is, in fact, the job that sucks and it isn’t just you. It’s always easy to second-guess past decisions; when it comes to changing jobs, you want to do so with the understanding that you did so for the right reasons.
Understand that the learning process is uncomfortable
A new job is often uncomfortable in the beginning, given that things need to be learned for you to feel at your normal level of competence. This can be a hard stage to deal with, while there’s often a sense of loss about the ability to feel competent at what it is you’re doing.
As Drader writes, “In your past role, you had a level of expertise and knowledge that gave you confidence. You didn’t have to think about who to talk to or how to do something, you just knew.” When you start a new job, you often lose all that.
Drader advises using the Conscious Competence Model in order to understand what the different stages of learning a new job will look and feel like. According to the Conscience Competence Model, there are four stages of learning, which are:
Unconscious incompetence is when you don’t know what you don’t know, such as before you start your new job, when you maybe didn’t realize what knowledge or skills you lack. Basically, this is the “ignorance is bliss” stage. As blissful as this may feel, it’s not a good stage for growing as a person.
Conscious incompetence is when you start to realize just how much you don’t know. This is a really uncomfortable stage to be in, one in which it’s easy to feel lost or lonely. When starting a new job, if you feel overwhelmed by everything you need to learn, or you feel like you are making way too many mistakes, then you are experiencing conscious incompetence.
The important thing to remember is that everyone goes through this stage at one point or another, and that it is an essential part of growing as a professional. After all, if you never realize what your gaps in knowledge and skills are, how will you ever fill them?
Conscious competence is the stage where you have gained a fairly broad understanding, and have experienced some success, but you realize that you still have more to learn. However, when you are consciously competent, there is the assurance that although you may not have the answers right now, you know how to get them.
After a while, what you’ve learned can become so engrained that you no longer have to consciously think about what to do, you just do it. This is the case with a lot of elite athletes who have practiced their skills until they no longer have to think about how to do something—they just do it. For example, if you ask a tennis player who has spent a lifetime practicing their serves to describe exactly what they are doing, they will probably fumble to explain, as these movements are so second nature to them that they no longer have to think.
As you progress in your new job, you will hopefully make the transition from realizing just how much you don’t know, to having the confidence that although you don’t know everything yet, you have the skills to find the answers we need. This is a hard journey to make, so it’s important to be patient with yourself and to remind yourself that learning is a lifelong journey, rather than a destination. As difficult as the new job may be, it’s often worth it to persevere through the uncomfortable stages, so you can have the satisfaction of learning the new skills you need to be successful in your new role.