In less than two weeks, I’ll be jumping from an established career in marketing and business strategy to a new track in social media. It has left me with feelings I haven’t experienced since I made the similarly jarring leap to becoming a father for the first time.
Having reflected on this over the past few days, I’ve realised that these two life-changing events – a significant career move and impending parenthood – really do have rather a lot in common.
Here are five ways in which starting a new job is just like becoming a first-time parent.
1. Breaking the news
You can’t tell everyone immediately. If you work for a company of any decent size, you generally have to wait until you have been given the official all-clear before announcing your good news to the world (so that unsuccessful candidates can be informed and so on). It’s a bit like a baby’s 12-week scan – it’s considered poor form to jump the gun.
Moreover, as with baby news there’s an etiquette about who you tell when. With a baby, you tell close family first. Similarly, with a new job you tell your boss first, then your immediate team and so on. You don’t wait for them to find out on Facebook, Twitter or from the gossipy lady at Starbucks.
2. Exhilaration followed by terror
At first, all you can see as a prospective parent is Kodak moments, strolls in the park and experiencing all baby’s big milestones together as one big happy family. And then you realise that your days (and nights) will be dominated by constant feeds, interrupted sleep and an endless stream of dirty nappies, washing and well-meaning (but annoying) advice about how you should be doing this or that rather than what you’re currently doing.
It’s the same with a new job, but without the nappies. At first you exist in a state of blissful ignorance as you don’t know what you don’t know. And then reality dawns. For all the things that attracted you to the job, you soon discover all the things they didn’t tell you about up front. The endless meetings and reports. The difficult, demanding customers. The fact that everyone else thinks they can do your job better than you.
Where you were excited at first, now you’re just terrified.
3. Day 1
That first day you hold a new-born baby in your arms is your proudest day ever. And then reality kicks in.
That first day in your new job is the easiest day ever. Everyone has time and a smile for you. People offer words of encouragement and support. And then reality kicks in. The problems that need solving yesterday. The imminent deadlines. The realisation there are huge gaps in your knowledge that people expect you to just learn on the job.
If day one as a parent or in a new job is all about the glamour, day two onwards is all about the grind.
4. Discovering new talents
Necessity, as the saying goes, is the mother of invention. And there’s no better way to learn and develop new skills than when you get plunged straight in at the deep end.
As a new parent, you learn to cope with less sleep and fewer lie-ins (okay, actually none). You become super-efficient at getting stuff done in those tiny windows of time between feeds and nappy changes. You get used to drinking cold, half-hour tea and random meal-times because it’s better than no tea and no food at all.
In a new job, the need to survive and prove yourself also means you learn fast. I was told by one of my first managers that 90% of what you learn in a job you learn in the first three months, and that 90% of what you learn in the first three months you learn in the first three weeks. I’ve never forgotten those words because they have been true in every job I have ever had.
5. You meet all sorts of new people
We moved to a new area less than nine months before Isaac was born. We knew nobody.
But by the time he was a few months old, we had developed an extensive network of local friends through ante-natal classes, baby playgroups and so on. Many of the people we met then remain friends now.
A new job offers similar opportunities to break out of the mould of existing work relationships and friendships. My new job involves a completely new team, most of whom I have little or no prior experience with. And I will get to meet and build relationships with new sets of peers outside of my company. That’s a little scary (remembering that I’m a natural introvert) but also hugely exciting.
Like having children, a new job in a new space is a leap into the unknown and it’s as scary as it is exciting. But it’s something we only get to do a handful of times in life – not everyone gets to do it even once – and, like a rollercoaster, it’s better experienced with eyes wide open.
It’s almost time for me to climb aboard. Let the adventure begin.