By: Shamyla Tareen
The first real job I ever had was working part time in a Montessori school, a job I loved dearly. I worked with young children of all different ages, but the toddler classroom was my favorite population. It wasn’t just that they were adorable (they really were!); working with and observing toddlers is unique because the world is a bed of roses to them; everything is brand new and fresh, exciting and joyful, and they’re so curious as they master new tasks and language. I feel like we are never that innocent or enthralled by life again as we are when we are 1-2 years old. Come June, those 2 1/2 year olds were in full command of the classroom, so different than the anxious, tearful babies they had been in September. And then, they would move on to the next class… where the fears and uncertainty would start all over. Zachary was one such example; he was one of the first to “graduate” and move on to the 3-6 year old classroom. When I went to visit him a month later, this once joyfully active child sat alone at a table, glumly watching older children expertly use scissors, glue, and pour water out of jugs. I said, “Zachary, why don’t you join in?” He turned to me, big brown eyes filling with tears spilling onto his lashes, little rosebud mouth quivering as he put both hands up in despair, and exclaimed, “But … but… I don’t know how to do anything!!!!”
This month, I finally got a job in a place I had always wanted to work at. And when I started, instead of excitement, I felt the same way little Zachary did all those years ago. This was not my first time being new at something. I’ve done difficult community work and been in the kinds of neighborhoods most people don’t choose to spend their Friday nights. I’ve sat up a couple of nights in hospitals with children because no one else was there, calmly transported children with broken hearts to new foster homes or schools, and comforted sobbing teenage girls at the end of their romantic relationships (“he text me an’ he say we OVA!!!!!….”) However, I had mastered being a clinical social worker, and now here was a brand new, serious academic position and I was supposed to learn as I went along. I felt the opposite of confident. I didn’t even recognize myself this month- so anxious was I to do well at work.
In “The Happiness Project,” Gretchen talks about being okay in the present, as in, just learning to be okay NOW. I tried taking deep breaths all day long, going on walks during my lunch hour around the cold city, and trying to meditate or pray in a quiet room nearby. Letting go of the standards I set for myself, the expectations people had, the comparisons I made in my head, the mistakes and joys in the past, the dread of disapproval and criticisms, the hopes, the fears, and letting myself be- to keep learning- it is a continual process. Trying to relax when in doubt is extremely difficult. Reality is always different, and sometimes when your dreams come true, it’s not so easy to handle. Understanding darkness is one thing, but being thrust into the light – especially at work – well, sometimes you don’t know what your dream really entails until you get it. Every job has its own expectations and vastness. As I struggle to master new tasks, I try to remember that I’m a competent woman who has experienced success and deep life experiences, so updating a mere website can be a piece of cake! I tell myself I can’t cry when Excel doesn’t cooperate with me, and when I don’t know the answer to a student’s concern, I can’t throw up my hands and wail: “but I don’t know how to do anything!” Instead, I swallow my pride, ask for help when I can, figure out other things on my own, keep smiling, keep breathing in gratitude. I’ve made it this far. I know I will continue to make it, no better or no worse than anyone else struggling along. As Florence and the Machine sing, “The dog days are over…..” Now to just keep the faith that it’s true!