We all know that relationship baggage is a thing. But I have recently learned that so is career baggage. I’m I the only one who didn’t know this was a thing? Let me explain. You know how every time you get into a new relationship you are surprised at how much different it is from the last one? Like yes, there are still flaws, things that aren’t perfect but it’s not the same, it’s better. Careers are the same.
The other day at work I had to explain to a boss at my job something that was not quite on track. At my old job, my boss would have yelled/gotten angry, sent a very rude email, belittled me, ignored my attempts to ask for guidance and so my anxiety kicked in. I spent 30 mins or more trying to figure out how to exactly word this message to them to avoid the worst of the fury, and at the same time take ownership of what had happened. After painstakingly drafting the message, second-guessing the wording, I hit send and my heart rate shot through the roof. And I waited, chest-thumping, head-spinning waiting for a response, knowing that the inevitable disappointment from a higher-up was coming.
You know what came instead? A perfectly, calm, level response. They asked me if I could justify it in a way that helped the client, I could. They asked me if I had a plan to have things balance out in the end, I did. And that was it. They thanked me, we chatted, told a few jokes and it was over. I could feel that sense of euphoria that happens after heightened anxiety leaves your body.
I will admit, I was perfectly stunned. Was it really that easy? Could it really be that simple? Surely not because it had always been a fight, a struggle. So I sat there going through the rest of the day working, wondering if I had stumbled into the twilight zone or some kind of an alternate reality. Like the first time, you realize you are in an adult relationship. What do you mean they show up on time, well dressed, and can carry a well-versed conversation without sounding like a know it all?
At that moment I realized something interesting had happened. My anxiety at my last job over interactions with the aforementioned boss had got to the point over my 2 years there, that it induced full blow panic attacks during work. A first for me. In turn, before I even let my new co-workers prove me wrong, that familiar panic settled back in causing a not as serious but equally concerning reaction. I assumed their reaction would be of the same, demeaning variety, making me once again feel small, pun really not intended.
Isn’t that unfair? I have only been working at this job for 2 months and I was already judging it based on a previous situation. By that’s how the baggage gets you. Similar to how you have to learn to trust a new SO after being cheated on in pasts relationships, career baggage sneaks up on you in different ways. And while you most likely aren’t going to start an argument with your co-workers over your trust issues, you may find yourself blindsided by understanding and kindness.
Over time your career baggage teaches you to look for different things in new positions or changes what you want in future jobs. Similar to how you look for different things in men you date over time it might take years but eventually, you stop falling for the cute shell new jobs try to sell you on in interviews and you look deeper. It might start with asking a certain question you never thought to ask in an interview, or you look for certain things when walking through an office during the process. Whether you realize it or not all of this is because of the impact previous jobs have had on you.
Career baggage. The scars of past misfortunes, or misgivings from a previous position creeping into your mind and causing anxiety or fear at a new one. I didn’t know it was a thing, until that moment. I know I had experienced it before but now it has a name, a face so to speak. And you know what? I think it’s a sign that you are moving up in the world that you don’t fall into the same positions with the same problems. Again much like relationships, each one teaches us something new, something different, so hopefully, we don’t keep going back to the same bad stuff.