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Reclaiming the Driver’s Seat in a Pandemic Year: Reflections from a Junior Employee

Experiencing Change

Working from my childhood bedroom for the past seven months was not quite the high-speed, social work environment I had imagined for myself in my first year of work out of college. But, of course, none of 2020 has been “normal.”

Over the past six-months, I’ve watched leaders around me making impactful decisions for their families, their teams and entire organizations. As a young professional, I had decisions to make, too. Decisions about whether or not to keep my lease, when to return to the city, and whether I should take my vacation days. I felt paralyzed to make those moves because my fate was in the hands of the leadership team.

The leaders of my company were ahead of the curve. They acted preemptively and were not afraid to make hard decisions. Yet, as the pandemic wore on, it felt as if there was no end in sight. Return dates and deadlines were extended, the uncertainty continued. I told myself, “Keep your head down, they will tell you when they know.” I knew that eventually I would learn when I had to be back in the office, when we could meet with clients again in person, and if I would even have a job come September. I waited patiently for my old life to return.

As months passed with no end of the pandemic in sight, I became restless and anxiety filled. The future felt intangible. Worrisome scenarios of what might happen swirled in my head. Before I knew it, I had become a passenger in my own vehicle, instead of sitting in the driver’s seat.

During this time, I came to the realization that not everything is controllable – in this time of unknowns, not even the people in charge know exactly what the future will hold. Yet even when you can’t control the future, you can control yourself.

Changing My Experience

Here are the changes I made that allowed me to get back in the driver seat as a junior employee. If you are a junior employee, these changes might help you, too.

  1. Ask, don’t wonder: As simple as it sounds, I started asking the leaders of my company questions. They didn’t always know all the answers, but they helped me to understand more of what was happening. Plus, by asking the leaders questions, it felt like I was helping to bring a new perspective to their thought processes. Asking the questions that weighed me down helped me eliminate the “what if” scenarios swirling through my mind, and helped them understand what I was wondering about.
  2. Save for the future: Now is a great time to put as much money as you can in your savings account. Many young professionals I know are fortunate enough to be living in their childhood homes to save money right now, but even if you are not, you might consider changing your spending habits. As we have seen, the world can change in a second. Give yourself peace of mind for the unimaginable by having a savings to fall back on.
  3. Lean on your peers: No longer are the days of casual water cooler chats or happy hours with your peers. So, pick up the phone and call your colleagues, whether you have a work-related question or not. Do your best to create those moments that made the office special. Don’t forget: they are living through the same unknowns as you–don’t be afraid to share your vulnerabilities–they will understand and be able to commiserate. You are not alone.
  4. Don’t look out too far: When driving through fog, the rule is to turn off your high beams and focus 150-feet in front of you; those too-bright lights reflect off the fog and blind the driver. The same is true here. Don’t let your fear of what could be true in a year paralyze you from acting in the present. Change your mindset to focus on one month, or even week, intervals. Reach the destination that feels tangible to you, even if it’s not the long journey you originally imagined.

When I was first starting my job in Washington, D.C., everything was new. The office, co-workers, and responsibilities were just as unknown as the future feels right now. Those new things eventually became “normal” with patience.

While the challenges ahead are unprecedented, remember that you actually know how to drive even though the road looks different.

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