Eight months have passed, since I left Bonn/Berlin behind. Back then, I had decided to quit my job, which I liked a lot, to take on a new one here in Brussels. So I began my new job as press officer with the EU, and at the same time, my new life. And it would be a lie to say that I didn’t have my difficulties, even though new beginnings are kind of my specialty. I love being in new environments and around new people.
Changes on all fronts are exhausting
But something was different this time around. In addition to all the little and somewhat “harmless” changes that such a new beginning in a new city brings about, I also struggled to cope with an extremely demanding new job – a job, which I really love, but which devoured pretty much all the energy I had to give.
I had almost gotten used to this feeling, to the many parallel fronts of change: getting comfortable with your new environment and meeting new friends. Adapting your biorhythm to the hectic and, above all, long working days. Trying to navigate yourself through the new work processes. Simply constantly learning new things – all day, every day.
And above all, there is this unconscious and self-imposed pressure, the need to prove yourself, no matter what. So I got used to constantly feeling under pressure – only to then wonder why I was so God damn exhausted all the time.
Because I had tremendously underestimated how tiring all of this is. Blogging after work? Going for exciting weekend-trips? Engaging in any other energy-consuming activities? Forget it, that’s completely unrealistic, as I already struggle to see my friends, work out every now and again, and do my laundry every once in a while.
Relief, when you finally managed (kind of)
But never mind all this – because how amazing is it, when you finally feel that you have arrived and mastered this challenge, at least a big chunk of it. It’s like a tough session at the gym: despite the fact that every single muscle in your body is hurting, this great feeling of having done it, is glossing over everything else.
Because indeed, something has changed in the last few weeks. It’s like some switch has been flipped, something happened, which made it all a little bit easier. I am more balanced, more relaxed and more energetic. And recently, I have been thinking a lot about why this could be.
The first of my three fronts was the easiest to tackle. Building a social life in Brussels didn’t take very long. In fact, in a city, where so many different people gather from all corners of Europe and the world, the crowds tend to be rather open and outgoing. Connecting in Brussels is really not hard at all.
Of course also the many wonderful people, who may not be in the city, but are non the less deeply rooted in my life, have made many a day, when I felt down. I’m lucky enough to live not too far from my home-place. And indeed, there are very few things more calming than driving home to see Mum and Dad and leaving all the stress behind, even if just for a couple of days.
Jumping between happiness and frustration
Coping with the second front, meaning the new job, took a bit longer though. From the very first day on, it was unbelievably exciting, and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. But at the same time it was incredibly exhausting. The frustration over the fact that this was changing only very slowly, had crept into my thinking almost unnoticed. I had started believing that this is just how I’m going to be from now on: exhausted and tired. Get used to it, Christina, this is the price you have to pay, if you’re not capable of doing it better.
Maybe you’re just not as good as you thought you were. Too bad, tough luck.
But all this time – and I can see this more clearly now – I had just underestimated how strenuous such a learning process can be. And today, eight months into my new role, I have reached a point in my learning curve, where everything has somehow become pleasant and nice. I know now how things are done around here. I know what I have to do and how I have to do it. The energy, which I had previously invested into barely coping somehow, I can now invest in other things. For example in working faster and more effective, to leave work at less unreasonable hours – and to actually have a life. This process along the learning curve feels strangely familiar.
Quite often, learning curves are similar…
On the one hand, I have never had a job quite as demanding as this one before. But nonetheless, I am experiencing something, which I have seen many times in my life: it this turning point in my learning curve. It is a point, where (even though I had enjoyed it already before that) everything becomes a bit less exhausting, and a lot more fun and satisfying. It is this magical moment, where you realise: Oh, ok, I can do it after all. And I can do it well.
It reminds me of what it’s like to learn a new language. Like back at University, where during my first two semesters, I had to bone up on Russian vocabulary and grammar day and night. I could already speak it well, thanks to the fact that I lerned it from my parents, but only in a family context. Academic language – not so much.
Back then, I felt like I was constantly studying and struggling, but not improving at all. I didn’t see any progress and was about to despair – just like in this job a few months ago. Back in Uni, my friends told me: “Trust me, the first semesters are tough for everyone. But it will get better”. I’m not sure I believed them back then. Instead, I had unconsciously convinced myself that, maybe, it was all simply too tough for me.
Maybe I’m simply not good enough for this. Tough luck.
Above all, they require time
Right up until the moment when, thanks to all the binge-learned Russian vocabulary and grammar-rules, my brain started connecting the dots. I could finally have a conversation about a variety of topics. I could suddenly translate a text, not wasting the whole day, but just a couple of hours – because I didn’t have to look up every single word any more, but instead had a good stock of vocabulary in my head. I remember this moment very vividly, when all the studying finally paid off and gave me that sense of achievement I needed to stay motivated and keep at it, instead of throwing the towel. I am experiencing this again now.
Coping with a new job takes time… and patience. Keep at it and don’t despair. Click To Tweet
Just like back then, my colleagues in Brussels also kept telling me that it takes at least six months before you get used to the new job. “A whole year even, until you feel truly comfortable in your new position.” I have come to realise that, even though I had heard these words, I didn’t really take them in, I didn’t really believe them. In an energy-draining and discouraging way, I had somehow assumed that it is just me, who struggles. That I just cannot do it.
I guess I am simply not good enough for this job. Tough luck.
But I have realised not only that it is perfectly normal to not be doing everything perfectly from day one, but also that it is a completely unrealistic ambition.
This moment, when you finally cope
And now, everything has suddenly become a little bit easier. I don’t waste all of my days with “looking up vocabulary”, but can go ahead and actually do my work – and that’s really beautiful and satisfying. I know my file much better, I have practiced most things at least a couple of times, I have made my mistakes and learned from them.
And even if I don’t always know how to solve a certain problem, at least I know where to start and who could potentially help me. I know which traps to avoid, and who or what can help to make something happen much quicker. This feeling of finally having learnt the ropes of the job is priceless.
Your inner pressure is the most stubborn
All that remains is the third front, which I’m still working on, even though it got much better already: it’s the pressure I put on myself. This pressure to prove yourself, no matter what, driven by the fear that somebody could think you’re not doing your job well enough. Sure, in all my previous jobs and traineeships, everyone was always very happy with me and my work. But that was before, and what if this time it’s different? What if this time, everyone realise that I’m not that good at it at all?
Maybe I’m just not good enough after all. Tough luck.
And it doesn’t really matter whether we admit it or not: I believe we are all, in one way or the other, familiar with this so-called impostor-syndrom. I have noticed that, ahead of, and especially during every tough challenge, I think to myself: I’m not going to make it; I will just not manage. And seriously, this is untrue almost every time.
Because, of course, it is always difficult (it wouldn’t be fun otherwise, would it?), but in the end, you always make it. And it’s not “luck” that helps you do it, but your own strength and capability – just like all the times before that, too.
Remember your strengths
That’s why I have compiled a little list for future challenging situation. I intend to dig it out the next time I feel the way I felt a few months ago. It’s a list with all the nice words that I keep repeating to comfortable my friends when they feel down or struggle to believe in themselves. It’s a list that reminds me to be kind and sympathetic not only to others, but also towards myself:
7 Master-Tips, when you feel you’re not up to the challenge: Click To Tweet
Be kind to yourself – It’s okay to make mistakes, even if at the beginning you repeat some of them a couple of times. We are creatures of habit, but we will inevitably learn from our experiences.
Remember your abilities – Remember that you rock, and think back to all the difficult moments in your life that you coped with. It was no coincidence that you made it, inspite of all the difficulties and hindrances. No, it was not luck either. You did it, because you have all the resources and skills that you need already in you. You just need a bit of time.
You’ll manage. Not by chance or luck, but thanks to your own strength. Click To Tweet
Rest – It’s okay, if you neglect other things for a while. I learned that my motivation for everything else will come back on its own after some time and without pushing. It’s okay, if all you want to do today, is sleep. At some point you will wake up, and the need to go after your hobbies again, will come back on its own.
It’s okay, if all you want to do today is sleep. Click To Tweet
Hang in there – and I don’t mean physically, but mentally. Take care of yourself, and first and foremost remember that it is not a sprint, but a marathon. This is a tough phase, but it will pass. Don’t give up and keep at it – because even if you feel like you’re moving too slowly, at least you’re moving in the right direction.
It’s not the pace that counts. Some people are very fast in going nowhere. Click To Tweet
Please note: I am talking about my own personal experience, which was not a burnout. Nobody can tell you how much is too much, and how long is too long. If you feel like you’re losing control, speak to someone you trust or try to get help.
Celebrate your success – Isn’t it horrible to endlessly keep chasing one goal after the other without ever feeling like actually arriving somewhere? After all, there’s always higher, there’s always faster. Don’t compare yourself to people who seem to have achieved much more than you; enjoy the fact that you have come a long way. And if you insist to compare yourself to someone, take yourself – one or two years ago. Isn’t it great how far you have come since then? Cherish that and be happy.
Celebrate your own success instead of comparing yourself to others. Click To Tweet
Talk to others – in challenging and frustrating times, we quite often feel additionally isolated, because we think we are the only ones who struggle. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. All of us feel like this now and again, whether we admit it or not.
Work hard, play hard. No matter what it is that makes you feel good. Treat yourself, you deserve it.
I hope that I will remember this list the next time I’m feeling down. Because now, after eight months in my new city, my new life and my new job, I finally feel like I arrived – and the fears I had creeping in my mind did not prove true at all.
And look at that, I am good enough after all. Tough luck.
How do you feel in situations like this?
Does this sound somewhat familiar? Or do you think it’s all nonsense? Tell us about your experience, and about how you coped with it.