3 Tips for a Perfectionist Navigating a New Job

Starting a new job is overwhelming. The new people, new rules, and new environment can quickly make you feel like you’re in over your head. This newness can be particularly difficult to handle if you’re a perfectionist like me. In my book, my boss needs to love every piece of work that I complete, every project must be finished before its deadline, and every assignment needs to deliver work that goes above and beyond. That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself as a brand-new employee.

From my many college internships to my first job after graduation, I’ve experienced my fair share of first days on the job and struggles that come along with them. You can imagine the panic that arose in my perfectionist brain when I experienced a subway delay that made me late for one of my first days on the job or when a boss didn’t have a single good thing to say about my work. As much as I’ve always wanted to start off as a picture-perfect employee from day one, I’ve realized that instead of striving for this unrealistic goal, I should instead learn how to face my on-the-job failures in the best way possible.

From one perfectionist to another, here are three tips for how you can best manage the blunders that will unfortunately (but undoubtedly) come about during your new job.

Take each mistake as a learning opportunity

During the first weeks (and likely first few months) of a new job, it’s common to make a lot of mistakes. Once, during my first week at a merchandise job, I walked into what I thought was a hallway, but was really a room where a private meeting was being held. I also goofed up a transaction on the register and needed to call over a coordinator to help fix it. Whether your mistakes are small or large in scale, you’re bound to have some pitfalls when starting your new job. Perfectionists might get hung up on a mistake or struggle to move on, but it’s best to lean into discomfort and turn these mistakes into learning opportunities. (I knew I had learned my lesson about that door not leading to a hallway.)

You’ll have an easier time feeling comfortable at your new job if you are a sponge and take in all of the information that is thrown your way. As a perfectionist in the workplace, I always make sure I’m writing down notes about assignment instructions or other important information. My notebook is also a way for me to ease into the company culture. By writing down names of employees, pieces of history I learn about the company, and even the favorite candy of a coworker, I’m able to keep up with the conversations in the workplace and feel more at home. You can bet that my coworker was pleased with me when I brought in Starburst, his favorite candy, to add to the communal candy bucket.

Be confident in your abilities

It only takes a few mistakes to send me spiraling into endless thoughts of self-doubt. What if my boss thinks I’m incompetent? What if my coworkers hate me? What if I’m not cut out for this job? We perfectionists can be pretty hard on ourselves, especially when a misstep occurs. When adjusting to a new job, it’s important to be confident in your abilities. Remember that you were hired for a reason, and you have skills and talents that will allow you to succeed.

When I’m having an off day, I try to take control of my negative thoughts by affirming myself (in my head or in my journal) and reminding myself of my talents. Don’t underestimate the power of a personal pep talk or striking a power pose before you head into the office. These small steps allow me to begin a new workday feeling good about my abilities. If you need more hands-on work to give yourself that boost of confidence, try volunteering for a task you know you will ace. Channeling my confidence has helped me to silence my inner critic and keep self-doubt from getting the best of me.

Celebrate your progress

As much as I hate to admit it, perfection is unattainable. If I only celebrate when I do something “perfectly,” I find myself down in the dumps more often than not. Try not to dwell on your slip-ups, but instead, focus on making progress and being your best self.

And make sure to recognize and celebrate your accomplishments, big and small. Even on a bad day when I feel like I’m doing everything wrong, I choose to celebrate my hard work as an accomplishment. After the first few weeks working at my new merchandise job at a gift shop, I decided to celebrate my hard work by putting my employee discount to good use and buying a souvenir I had been admiring in the store. It was a great way to reward myself for the fact that I was still standing and still striving to do my best even amongst my failures.

When starting a new job, it’s likely that you’ll be able to tally up more blunders than successes in your first few days, but the key is to not let these bumps in the road get you down. As long as you turn your mistakes into valuable learning experiences, do what you can to boost your confidence, and celebrate your hard work, you’ll start to find your way in a new position.

Originally published on September 10, 2018.

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