The Five Stages of Everything

Similar to The Five Stages of Grief , starting a new job is a rollercoaster ride of emotions. I originally started writing this blog post three years ago, a year after joining my current company and never finished or published it! At the time, I’d wanted to capture my thoughts and had reached an inflection point and discovered some things about the journey and myself that might be worth sharing. This is my story but could honestly apply to any company and any person, especially in Technology.

Excitement

Looking for a new job is like dating. You have to have some idea of what you’re looking for, so you know when you’ve found it. As I searched for new opportunities, I developed a decision-making matrix:

  • Belief in the company product and vision & mission
  • Solving exciting technical and engineering challenges
  • Opportunities for professional development and career growth
  • Am I compensated accordingly

Also, I looked for companies of specific sizes, at a particular phase of growth, and with specific opportunities. It is a great time to be in Tech, especially in the Bay Area, and there were no shortages of opportunities. I ultimately created a giant spreadsheet and ranked all my opportunities based on these criteria. There was a clear winner on top.

I was excited! I believed in the company mission, but was also excited by the people that I’d spoken with and the opportunities & challenges presented. After some negotiation, I accepted the offer to join the company. I was ecstatic. Then something interesting happened.

Doubt

There was a gap between when I accepted the offer and when I started at the company. Part of the time during this gap was officially declining the other outstanding offers that I had, but I also began to share the news of where I’d be going to my business network, family, and friends. The more I did this, the more I started to doubt my decision!

Now no one knew the level of depth I’d gone into and the time I’d spent in making this decision. They were working on limited information, often influenced by articles in the media and anecdotes they’d heard from others (and remember this was before 2017), and there was a common thread …

“Oh, you’re going to work there?”

Justification

One of the things you have to remember about interviewing is that you’ve had an opportunity to meet and talk with the folks you’ll be working with. I’d actually talked to people in my network and friends that were actually working at the company.

I was not working at the company yet, but I already had more insight than the general public, most people in my network, and my friends and family. It is easy to get caught up with outsiders’ opinions about a situation, but one thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that I’ve got to trust my gut.

So I had to fight this tendency to doubt my decision and instead always remind myself why I made this decision, the people I’d be working with, and the problems the company was trying to solve. I did find myself getting defensive and always justifying my decision to myself and others, and just recognized it for what it was.

This was eased by about a thousand times the day I started at the company. I’d officially entered the honeymoon period, but wow, my first week of onboarding, my second week of meeting more of the people at the organization, a surge of excitement shot through my body and lasted for weeks, I was high on the possibility! Then something interesting happened …

What the hell am I doing here? These people all know so much more than me!

Impostor

There’s an interesting phenomenon in tech, although I suspect it is much more pervasive across society as a whole. It is called Impostor Syndrome.

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which one doubts one’s accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”

The crazy thing was, as much experience as I had both on the technology and organizational front, soon after joining the company, I again started doubting myself and wondering if I’d made the right decision. It was compounded by the fact that I was now in the thick of things at the company, surrounded by all these energized people with way more context than I had, moving at 1,000 miles an hour. How the hell was I going to figure anything out?

The crazy thing about Impostor Syndrome is even if you’re aware of it, you still have to fight that tendency to doubt yourself. And I did but had to continually remind myself that I would figure things out over time, that many people probably felt the same way that I did when they first joined, and that this feeling was sure to return throughout my entire tenure as what I did evolved and changed.

The thing about Impostor Syndrome is that it can be useful. The opposite of Impostor Syndrome is what I’d call Bay Area Hubris. This notion that just because you’re an engineer or in tech and have easy access to information, that it somehow makes you smarter than everyone else, even in fields you have no prior experience in. Fighting Impostor Syndrome improves your hustle; it is a thing that can help drive you to learn more and do more. Bay Area Hubris, on the other hand, can make you miss obvious things and think you’re much more capable than you are.

Ultimately, recognizing where you are and what you’re experiencing and being honest to yourself about it leads to the last stage …

Acceptance

Just like the Five Stages of Grief, we all have to accept that we’re not immune to any of this (and if you are, you might be a robot). Recognize when you’re in a new situation, recognize what stage you might be in, and do the homework that you need to do to work through it. Whatever you resist, persists, and that is true in this scenario.

I ultimately accepted that I would eventually figure things out and that it just required time and a whole lot of hard work. I also recognized that I was likely to go through these loops several times during my tenure (and I did). I shared these thoughts with many people I worked with and hired to help prepare them, and many of them found this extremely useful.

It appears that we are all, after all, not unique snowflakes.

Never trust a skinny cook