Lessons from the First Day of Work: That One Time Meredith was Earnest

I pride myself on being mostly confident.

And this is a real point of pride for me because there was once a point in my life where I was aggressively lacking in confidence. My insecurity raged with the fire of a thousand Flaming Hot Cheetos, but because of the insecurity’s inherent insecurity, that rage mostly just looked like bad allergies.

I’ve come a long way and accomplished a lot of things, but it always astonishes me how that insecurity can all come storming back when life decides to pivot.

I don’t think you can even call what happened today a pivot. More like a glance slightly to your left.

We’ll get back to that.

Sometimes I picture my brain as a board of directors sitting around a table. Each director a past version of yours truly.

I may look 28 and feel 28 and carry the student loans of a 28 year-old, but seated around the table is the 23 year-old version. She’s starting grad school. She understands a pivot more than anyone at that table. She also has better joints than I do, but she doesn’t realize that’s a big deal.

There’s also the 18 year-old version. She thinks she understands pivoting, but let’s be honest, college was more like a jazzy time step to the right.

This was 4 year-old Meredith. She mostly just sits at the table and mumble sings “Love to Laugh” from Mary Poppins.

Then there’s the 13 year-old version. Everything feels like a pivot to her. She’s just looking for steadiness because she feels like that’s all she can handle. I have to remember to be patient with her.

It’s the 13 year-old Meredith, sitting at the table with all her cohorts, hoping no one will call on her that I think of when self-doubt starts inching into my field of vision.

It makes sense that was the year I got glasses. I had a lot of junk to try and see through.

You may have heard of Impostor Syndrome. It’s a state of mind where you feel like you’ve duped everyone around you into thinking you’re good at your job. That you’re a good writer. That you’re dance moves are killer.

And eventually they’ll find out that you’re not. That you’ve stumbled your way into all your success. That you’re really just a 13 year-old sitting at a table full of grown-ups, and they’ll move on.

This week I got to pivot, and the 13 year-old hiding behind the frizz had some thoughts about it. This week I switched specialties at my job.

It’s really not a huge deal. Really. It’s only for 3 months.

But it does mean working with a new group of people and having to learn new things and leaving behind an area I know like the back of my hand. That I worked hard to know. Is this when everyone discovers that I’m just…fine?

If you listen very closely, you can hear 13 year-old Meredith mumbling, “…buy guys. There might be strangers. And there might be dangers. And even worse, there might be stranger dangers.”

That’s the most she’s said in awhile. And what’s astonishing is, she forgot how scary it was to get this far.

Work started on a Monday, and it was snowing. Because of course it was.

This picture conveys with 100% accuracy what Winter in Wisconsin feels like.

I, being very determined to keep my car on my Manifest-Destiny-style journey to the West, and also being really, very stupid, was the driver of a Toyota Scion tC. A precious, silver hatchback that handles snowy roads with the same grace and dignity as a giraffe in a growth spurt.

And is also frustrated that all the other giraffes are getting attention from the boy-giraffes.

On the first day of work, I skidded and prayed and frantically mumbled bravery bravery bravery under my breath as I crawled my way to work, constantly working to compensate for my rear-wheel drive.

Me and my car weren’t doing well. On the bright side, I was surrounded by Wisconsin natives, who stare down inclement weather with the steely resolve of the pioneers I was positive from which all of them descended. They seemed to be doing fine. I was a real and present danger to their safety, but they were doing just fine.

I was not fine. I was about to be stuck in the snow.

Growing up in the mountains of North Carolina, I heard my parents speak enough about rules of the snowy roads:

  • You don’t crawl up hills. Your car won’t get traction, and you’ll get stuck.
  • You do slow when going down hills.
  • Much like on the classic, America’s Next Top Model, you’re not here to make friends. If other people seem like they’re going too fast, you do you. Go at the speed where you feel comfortable

I was not an expert at driving in the snow. To my credit, I think snow-driving experts would also struggle when driving my sweet Scion, but I did know that if you’re driving up a hill, try not to stop, or you might not be able to start again.

The thing is, there are certain situations where you have to stop. Like hammer time. Or in the name of love. Or red lights.

There was a red light. And that red light was on a hill. As much as it pains me to say, I’m not special, and must follow the rules of the road. Even when I yell, “respect my journey! I’m every woman!” Policemen just yell right back, “no, stupid! Stop eating cheese curds while driving!”

I’m pretty sure they’re just intimidated by a strong, confident woman.

I tend to always assume things will be fine. It’s not because I’m particularly philosophical, but because things have mostly been fine for me.

Things weren’t always great, but they’ve mostly been fine.

So when I found myself stuck in a rear-wheel tin can in quickly accumulating snow on my first day of work in a new field, in a new state, my only thought as I pushed my foot to the gas pedal, hearing the whizzing of tires spinning, was not, “good thing I have this kitty litter to help my car gain traction,” or “I’m so glad I have this shovel to help me navigate this situation!” My only thought was, “well, this can’t be good.”

Why would I prep for this? Things would probably be fine. Until they’re not fine. Until you’re stuck in the snow.

My one saving grace was the car immediately in front of me also appeared to be stuck. 

A wiry young woman, wearing a navy and green patterned fleece was frantically running from tire to tire digging deeper divots around her tires to try and give her tires space to gain traction. Her face plastered in a nervous smile, knowing every car that passed her was watching the dance of the uninitiated. Was watching her and thinking, “nope. Her ancestors never saw a covered wagon.” Was watching her admit she messed up.

Don’t worry, girl. I messed up too.

While she kept running, I tried what I thought was ingenious. Slowly pivoting my tires from left to right. Then slowly trying the gas. From left to right. Then slowly try the gas. I was digging my own trenches.

Left to right. Left to right. Left to right. Try the gas

And then as my new friend got the traction she needed, and slowly started back up the hill, I knew it was my turn. Lo and behold, my sweet Scion stopped whizzing and started moving. 

Fun fact: Stop Whizzing and start moving was the original title for Michelle Obama’s fitness initiative.

I made it up the hill and then to work, and only 3 times considered ditching my car forever and hitch-hiking home to North Carolina to continue my thrilling life as an unemployed person on my parents’ couch.

“But really, what am I doing?” I would ask myself.

Unemployment wasn’t so bad. I could go back to the couch. Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura was actually a pretty good show. I mean, sure, they yell-speak a lot, but who doesn’t?

“I vote Plan Couch.”

And I got to hang with my family dog all day! That’s a pretty sweet deal. It would be ok to start back at square 1 while I figure out a plan that feels better. A plan that feels right. A plan that involves less snow.

Who said software development was a good idea for me anyway?

But here’s the thing: Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura is not actually a good show. And it would do no good to go back. It would only lead to stagnation and frustration and lower back pain from sitting on the couch too much.

I think most people have a voice that cuts them down. That tells them they’re not good enough. That makes the world feel scarier. Mine comes from a part of me that’s still very young. Yours could be external.

I know those voices are hard to ignore, but I hope you’ll try stretching and pushing yourself and expecting more of yourself. I hope you’ll try moving forward. And if not forward, then left and right. Left and right. Left and right.

Try the gas.

After all, it might be the 13 year-old version that is making me worry, but 16 year-old Meredith got us the license to get behind the wheel.

Don’t be scared to pivot. You’ll be amazed what traction you can get.

And if anybody asks, yes. My dance moves are killer.

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