When the Pressure’s On, Shrug It Off

Post Welcome Week, I had two tasks dominating my to-do list: a Welcome Week debrief report, and self-reflection. The debrief report, although it took three straight days of writing, and was over 6000 words, was relatively straight forward. The self-reflection- not so much.

In my post-Welcome Week one-on-one with my supervisor, one of the main questions she asked was, “why didn’t I know?” I knew I wasn’t quite ready. I knew certain events weren’t quite ready. I knew certain things may or may not go 100% well. So why didn’t she?

Probably because I’m terrible at communicating with my supervisor.

Part of this is simply that I’m terrible at communicating, in general. I’d much rather sit in a corner talking to myself that talk to someone else, especially when it comes to admitting that I’d failed, that I hadn’t met expectations- even if I’d only failed myself, and the expectations were only mine. But there’s another part too.

There was simply too much pressure to perform, to prove myself.

There was a lot of external pressure to have this week be a success. The whole university was interested in what was going on, and the slightest mistake would have put us on the front page of the newspapers nationwide- again. This external pressure was evident all the time- in many of the conversations we had, and in all of the decisions we made. None of this really bothered me though- I was fairly confident that we weren’t going to have a repeat of the year before. I knew if I just did my thing, we’d be fine in that regard.

More influential than any external pressure was the pressure I put on myself- and there were a lot of reasons that made this so.

I wasn’t the first choice candidate for this position, and I know that. Everyone knows that. Someone else was offered and accepted the job, the announcement was made, and then he later rescinded the offer. That’s when I came into the picture. To the majority of people at the table, I was just a secretary who all of the sudden became an Orientation Coordinator. I can only guess that some, if not many, were skeptical.

I was repeatedly told that this was my opportunity to prove myself. This was my chance to show people what I could do. This was my chance to ‘break into the field’. It’s like I was an actress starring in my first ever movie, and one performance could dictate an entire career. This was said with the best of intentions, but ultimately, was more harmful than helpful.

I was (and am) on a one year contract. What happens come June is 100% up in the air. Presumably, the position will become permanent, or at the very least, another contract position will appear. But said new position doesn’t automatically belong to me. They could easily cut me off and set me sailing.

When, in the back of your mind, in those unknown recesses, you’re trying to change the mind of skeptics, trying to prove yourself, and trying to convince people that they should keep you around, you tend not to tell people what your struggling with, because “struggle” is the direct opposite of “prove yourself.” You tend not to shout to the world about the things that aren’t going all that well, or that aren’t quite finished.

I’ve never worked this independently before, and I’ve never really had a supervisor before. When it comes to communication, I’m not always sure when the conversation with my supervisor should happen, or what I should be going to my supervisor for, and what I should be trying to figure out on my own. Where’s the line between independence and support? Where’s the line between asking for help, and being totally incompetent? When I tell my supervisor I’m not ready, we’re not ready, am I not simply telling her that I haven’t done my job well enough?

All of the above may answer the question “why didn’t I know?” (although there really isn’t a good answer to that question, I know), but my supervisor’s second question still remains: “How can we make sure this never happens again?” I’m not sure I have a complete answer to that, but here’s a start. I need to be more open about what I’m working on on a daily basis. I need to be more open about what concerns me, about what I’m worried about. Those conversations need to happen. I need to be able to say, “can we talk about this more?”. I need to stop hoping, or even assuming things will work out, because while it may be easier in the moment, it definitely doesn’t help in the end. I need to be vulnerable, ss much as I hate it, despise it, loathe it. And when the pressure’s on, I need to learn to shrug it off.

Featured image by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

Nicole Crozier

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