The day I started my first adult job was one of the most stressful days of my life. To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. I felt lost, hopeless, like I was drowning in a sea of ineptitude. I was straight out of college where I had graduated top of my class, and I realized for the first time in a long time that I had no idea what I was doing. Like seriously, no idea.
I didn’t know how to use the phone (do you dial 9 and then 1? Or 1 and then 9?), the copy machine, or how to log into my email. I didn’t understand how to log my hours into the timekeeping system, how to set up my email signature, or how to reserve a meeting room. The list of things I didn’t know how to do was long and seemingly endless, and I felt crushed under the weight of it. How was I supposed to do this? Why did I think this was a good idea? I don’t have any idea what I’m doing.
When my first day was over, I called my parents and promptly burst into tears. “I don’t like it”, was all I could manage to eke out. I didn’t want to tell them the truth, which was that I felt like I couldn’t do it. Like I was in over my head. Like I had no clue what to do. I was so ashamed to admit that I felt lost.
But lo and behold, I figured it out. I survived. I learned how to do the things I didn’t know how to do. I asked for help. I messed up. I tried again. I learned a little more and got a little bit better every day. And before long, I actually did know what I was doing.
Being a new mom reminds me an awful lot of that first job.
The list of things I don’t know how to do is incredibly long. And like my first job, I feel overwhelmed by everything there is to learn. Except this time, it’s not copy machines and email signatures, it’s breast pumps and sleep training. The details are different, but the underlying feeling of being in over my head is achingly similar.
It helps to think about how far I’ve already come. Before my son was born, I didn’t know how to breastfeed, how to give a baby a bath, how to rock a baby to sleep. I didn’t know what milestones to look for, what tummy time was, how often they ate. Literally nothing.
But now, a mere two months in, I know how to do all those things. Hell, I know how to do all those things well.
Just like my first job, I figured it out. I’ve survived the first two months of motherhood. My son is healthy and happy and thriving. Somehow or another, I managed to do it without having any idea what to do.
And yes, there is still so much that I don’t know about. Crawling? Walking? Baby proofing? Screen time? Talking? Potty training? I’m completely clueless.
The feeling of overwhelm or ineptitude hasn’t gone away, and I suspect it never will. Because motherhood – and life in general – is full of change, and change can be overwhelming. The trick, I’m learning, is to embrace the transition and trust that you’re smart enough and strong enough and capable enough to figure it out.
I stumbled upon this quote recently: “Every next level of your life will demand a different you.”
When I read those words, it all made sense: I’m not supposed to know what I’m doing! Being out of my element isn’t the result of some character flaw or lack of preparation. I’ve just moved up a level. Of course, I don’t know what I’m doing, I’ve never done this before. I have to rise to the challenge. I have to change and grow and evolve.
There are a lot of different levels in motherhood. And as soon as I get comfortable, the situation will change. But I have to trust that I’ll figure it out. Just like I did at my first job. Just like I did these first two months of parenting.
Maybe you’re a new mother like me. Maybe you’ve just started a new job or moved to a new city or gone back to school or recently gotten sober. Or maybe you just feel lost or inadequate or underqualified to face this new season, this new challenge in your life.
Breathe. Trust yourself. This is just part of the process. This is just the next level. You won’t be lost forever. You’ll find your way. After all, you always have.
Jillian is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty on Tap. To apply to become a Contributing Writer, please click here.
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