So it’s September. When we see all those “Back to School” photos and another batch of teens head to “Freshers Week” at university.
But September always makes me shudder just a little bit. You see, I didn’t handle the transition to ‘big school’ very well. I was shocked to be a small fish in a big pond. For me, this manifested itself in an astonishing ability to lose things.
Basically, if it wasn’t attached to me, I’d lose it.
I lost so many lunch boxes, my mother started giving me empty ice cream cartons instead. I lost my coat, mislaid my school bag. I left my rugby kit out on the pitch, never to be seen again. In fact, I completely lost whole kit bags.
Above all, though, I lost fountain pen after fountain pen, to the extent that it would make me cry with frustration. Even now the “clop” of a closing fountain pen gift box makes me shudder. And only recently, when I received a fountain pen for Christmas, a small voice within me asked:
Am I going to be able to look after this? Do they think I’m responsible enough?
My mother must have been furious with me, but she never showed it. Instead she showed me kindness and love, and taught me to laugh at myself. I remember one weekend afternoon when she managed to turn my tears of frustration into hysterical laughter at the absurdity of the situation.
Eventually, I settled.
But why am I telling you this in my blog?
Well, firstly to reassure friends and relatives going through similar life-changing periods that these traumas are not the end of the world. I got through them and turned out relatively OK. You will survive. You will grow into yourself. You might even laugh about it one day.
But there’s also a parallel here with starting new jobs. More than mid-way into my career now, I suppose, I’ve been the new kid at school in quite a few places. Even more so, having worked as a contractor over the last six years or so.
What do you do if you hear that small voice asking if your new colleagues will think you can handle it?
Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way:
It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it
People notice kindness. Make time to ask questions and really listen to the answers. What frustrates them? What makes them laugh? Offer to make drinks. Wash your mug up. Really work hard to learn people’s names as soon as possible. If there’s rubbish on the floor, pick it up. Doesn’t matter if it wasn’t you who dropped it.
Find the conscience of the organisation
Wherever I’ve worked, I’ve sought out the person or people who’ve worked there the longest. They’re not normally the most senior. There’s so much knowledge there, of course, but there’s more to it than that. They can point you towards key supporters, examples of times the charity did something similar so you can learn from them, shortcuts in IT systems, where to get the best sandwich, and more besides. Sheila, Jim, Jo, Devina, and so many others – I salute you.
Be clear about what is expected, and deliver against it
All of the above is doubly important as a contractor, of course, if you’re expected to hit the ground running, but my final bit of advice applies to all new starters. Work hard to define what is expected of you, in the short-, medium-, and long-term. Is it realistic but also exciting? What steps do you need to take? Who do you need to bring with you? How will you report on your progress? What will you deliver?
Showing that you’re thinking seriously about answering these questions will help you settle in fast in your new ‘school’.
Oh, and write your name and phone number on everything. You don’t believe me? You should look inside my pencil case.
Take it away, Fun Boy Three, featuring Bananarama.