You know the opening credits to the original “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” where the machines are squirting out chocolate, and stirring chocolate, and smoothing chocolate? You know the ones I mean. They’re the most soothing opening credits in the history of movies.
Well now I live in them. By “live,” I mean “work,” and by “in them,” I mean “in a similarly soothing candy factory, but one in which no one wears purple velvet suits or performs a dance routine when children have potentially fatal mishaps.”
Yep, I have a new job! No cults for me just yet. I’ve left the world of higher education behind and taken a position in an industry that actually makes a positive difference in people’s lives — candy.
It’s great! The people are lovely, the field is interesting, and candy is one of my greatest passions, right behind Owning Cats and Discouraging People from Climbing Mount Everest. Everything is perfect, except for one thing.
I forgot how weird it is to be the new person.
I’ve been the newbie a couple times before, at my previous job and twice in sixth grade, for example. (We moved halfway through the year. I promise I passed sixth grade the first time.) But this time it’s different. Since my last job was at my alma mater, I at least knew my way around. And I was really hoping I’d gotten smoother since sixth grade. No dice.
Things I Forgot You Do as the New Person
- Pretend you know what’s going on. I’ve spent a lot of time staring at spreadsheets for the past three weeks, wondering what the me-who-knows-what-these-symbols-mean will be like. Cool, probably.
- Avoid small talk at all costs. Approximately 5,000 times a day, sweet and well-meaning people walk past my desk and say sweet and well-meaning things to me. But all they know about me right now is that I’m new, so everything they say is a variation on “Hey, new person. You’re new, am I right?” Every morning, several people act surprised that I came back and that they haven’t scared me off yet. I’ve started taking the back stairwell that doesn’t require me to pass as many desks to avoid this.
- Yearn for an actual conversation. I bless these sweet and well-meaning people even as I curse them, because I’m pretty sure that as soon as we have a conversation that goes a little deeper than what’s happening right now, I will learn more about them than their job title, and they will learn more about me than the fact that I am new. They’ll learn I’m a human with interests that include cats and not dying in the Himalayas, for example. This is going to take a while, though, because…
- Forget how to speak to other humans. I used to think I was quick on my feet, but that was before I started a new job. “I’m Henrietta,” Henrietta says.
And I say, “Nice to meet you! I’m Stephanie.” All good so far.
“I run part of production,” Henrietta says.
“…Neat,” I say.
And that’s all I say. And Henrietta and I stare at each other in dismay for the rest of our endless lives.
- Pretend you know your way around the break room. Today I went in to fill up my water bottle and someone else was already there. I panicked and walked past the water dispenser towards the nearest drawer. Then I opened it like that’s where my empty bottle and I were heading all along. “Good,” I said. “These salad tongs are right where I left them.”
- Become unsure of your actual personality. I think I’m being myself at my new job. I’m just being the version of myself that spends most of its time nervously laughing or feigning deep interest in salad tongs. The real me will come out when I get more comfortable, which should be any day three years from now.
The weirdest part about being new is that it feels like I’m being scrutinized by everyone in the office at all times. I know that’s almost entirely in my head. My co-workers are doing their jobs and not thinking about me until I ask where everyone is getting their coffee. (“What do you mean when you say ‘from the coffee shop directly beneath us where we sell the candy we make here’?”) As long as I don’t set anything on fire or start answering the phone with fart noises, they don’t really care what I do.
I need to relax. It’s not so bad, anyway. Sure, I’m the new girl, but I won’t be as soon as the next open position is filled. Someday I will walk by that person’s desk and ask if we’ve scared them off yet. They will politely laugh, then take the back staircase to avoid future interactions with me. And on that day, I will finally have arrived.