I have a job that is not always easy — and this is unusual for me.
I say this without any intent to brag. I don’t mean that everything in life comes easily to me. It doesn’t. What I am saying, instead, is that I rarely put myself into situations that are genuinely strenuous. And this is to my own detriment.
For that reason, this job is largely unprecedented.
In the beginning, about a year ago, the recruiter for this company found me and invited me in. Throughout the interview process, I was sure the company would decide I wasn’t realistically qualified to fulfill the role they needed filled. But they didn’t. Instead, they hired me. Weird.
So there I’ve been for the past 10 months, surrounded by a small team of people who are utter pros, accomplished experts, cool operators, who bring an integrity and precision to their work that is universally admirable. And all of them are at least 10-15 years older than me. And did I mention I don’t know what I’m doing here?
My coworkers are all inadvertent mentors to me, because they are all good at what they do. It is a great place to learn. But meanwhile, I have a job to do, which requires me to put my grown-up pants on. And I’m finding that I just don’t own that many pairs of those pants. Not yet, at least.
So this past Monday, things finally got strenuous for me. A deadline was approaching and I discovered that the work I had done so far was no good at all. The boss needed the thing delivered in good working condition, and I hadn’t understood that it still had a long way to go. She was not happy. I had my work cut out for me. In a hurry.
Having comprehended the present urgency, I threw myself into the work for the afternoon. But the technology would not cooperate, and to my frustration I realized how few chops I have acquired here in the past year. For every three steps forward, I had to take two back. I sighed a whole lot.
The frustration I was feeling was not necessarily new to me. What was new about this was suffering these embarrassing setbacks while under pressure from other people — e.g. my boss who was depending on me to complete this part of the project. That pressure and embarrassment, I found, was totally crippling. My face felt hot the whole afternoon. My neck muscles were tense and clampy. My resting heart rate was not at all restful. I felt totally uncomfortable, and afraid. Not afraid for my job security as such, but for my personal security, my comfort with myself. Why? I was caught out in the open, in my ineptitude, at a time when the team needed more from me.
After a day like this, would I be known as incompetent and untrustworthy? Seen as the entitled young Millenial who coasts much and learns little?
Through all of this, I couldn’t help but notice how surprisingly fragile I was. I found myself struggling for a clear view of my internal value. Where was that sense of interior esteem that on a typical day is so stable and abundant? How scarce it was now. It had broken down in a matter of minutes, that day. I felt so very small.
So. The hours stretched on in this fashion until about 4:45. Still with much work left to go, I took a walk in the woods around the complex. I took many, many deep breaths. The cool air helped. I felt the heat leave my face. I listened to my heart rate slowly subside. I reminded myself of what I know is true.
And in the midst of all this, I saw that this kind of pressure is good for a person — provided they don’t break down or quit in the meantime. Because in the remainder of my life from here, frankly I would like to do things much more difficult and important than technology work. I’d like to do things that bring even more pressure to bear on me, and that will inevitably expose me as even more of a fool. E.g., I want to be a good husband — not just now, but for the next 50 years; I want to be a good father — and I don’t even know the half of how hard that is; I want to start and run my own organization one day — Jesus, what an endurance race that is; and I want to care for and add to the lives of the people that I love — doing that will lay bare every single flaw in my character, and it will cost me everything.
Thus in my mind’s eye, I slotted Monday’s present ordeal into a much longer timeline. Laid over the next few decades, I can dimly see mountains of character growth, maturity, and humility — and these will require scaling, if I want to even attempt the things I hope for. So in this larger context, the immediate project and the few hours’ work still ahead felt suddenly very approachable, and very appropriate. I have kept myself coddled for too long with jobs and commitments that require relatively little from me. Here finally is a job that will, at least occasionally, remind me me how weak and fragile I am … and will ask me to grow into something more.
With all this in mind and a cooler head, I stepped back into the office. I worked into the evening along with the boss, and managed to incrementally knock down the major obstacles that remained on the project. I finally went home at 7:30 or so, which is not rare for some my coworkers, but was unprecedented for me. And rather than feeling exhausted and run down, I rode home with a surprising elation, joy, and relief. It turns out that overcoming this sort of strain makes you feel pretty good, in addition to its other benefits. Maybe I should try it more.