Being a new grad is equal parts exciting and terrifying. I remember my own excitement in my first week of practice as a Rehab Counsellor, so excited by the prospect of finally using all these years of training to help my clients.
It can be incredibly difficult to hold onto that excitement when you start working for the first time. Your first job will feel a bit like information overload. If you work in vocational rehabilitation like I do, you're adjusting to the dynamics of your new workplace, how to bill and track your time, the different systems of insurance and welfare, how to communicate with the gajillion different stakeholders you will work with, and of course, the art of working with your clients.
So it's completely understandable that you might be feeling overwhelmed - even doubting yourself and your ability to help your clients.
What Makes Being a New Grad so Hard?
Lots of things! Especially in this industry, we health professionals have a naughty habit of helping our clients practice good self-care while totally neglecting our own. I put this down to the fact that, because we care so much and are so heavily invested in our clients doing well, it can be exhausting to try to make this happen in a job where we often have insufficient time and resources to help people as much as we want to. We compensate by giving it everything we've got.
But there's also something else: as a new grad, nobody warns you! I really wish my uni had told me that my first year in practice would tough as well as rewarding. Maybe then, my first experience on the job wouldn't have been so confronting.
My Experience as a New Grad:
Within the first month of my new job, I felt like someone had slapped the rose-tinted glasses right off my face. My confidence took a huge dive as I learned how to navigate this new world. I had a caseload with a vast range of clients - some with really serious mental illnesses, some who had been away from work for so long that the idea of working again literally made them angry - and I felt like a new grad wearing clown shoes.
I started to feel anxious about the idea of going to work. I felt like a failure because I wasn't sure if I was helping anyone, let alone meeting my own lofty expectations about the kind of impact I wanted to make as a Rehab Counsellor. I've since learned that it's normal to feel this way (and my expectations needed a reality-check), but at the time it impacted my confidence in ways that I still find hard to express.
Before I get into some practical advice on how to look after yourself in your first year of practice, I want you to know this:
How you feel is completely normal.
It will get better.
You CAN do this.
...just in case no one else had told you that. I'll put my pom-poms down now. Just know that the overwhelm and doubt you feel is normal - and it means that you care deeply about your work and your clients. There isa way that you can care without burning yourself out. It's all about self-care!
Self-Care Tips for New Grads:
Evaluate Your Sources:
I tackled my feelings of overwhelm by taking the time to explore whether the pressure I felt was self-imposed or coming from external sources. I was really surprised to learn that most of the feelings of inadequacy I felt were almost exclusively self-imposed! Not a single person had told me that I wasn't good enough. Try it yourself: take the time to really evaluate what is making you feel the way you do - what are your information sources? Is your biggest critic... you?
I spent far too long being afraid to tell someone that I didn't feel like I was coping. Is there someone at work you could turn to for support and guidance - somewhere who has done it before? Expressing the fact that you want to do well but aren't sure if you're meeting expectations is a great way to get some concrete advice for moving forward from someone who's already been there. There's a good chance that the person you speak to has totally felt what you do right now.
Reality Check your Expectations:
Have a chat with your boss about what they'd like to see from you in your first few months of the job. Even though you might like to make a big impact right away, no one expects you to be a rock-star when you're just getting started. Focus on the small things like managing your schedule (I like to plan my tasks for the day the night before so I feel prepared), and getting back to people's calls and emails on time. The best thing you can do for your performance at work right now is to make sure you are on top of communicating with your coworkers and clients.
Remember That You Don't Need to Have All the Answers Right Now
Oh and... you never will! This is my favourite self-care tip. I really thought that I was expected to know the best plan of action at all times for all my clients. Of course, this was impossible, but I didn't know that then. Your clinical skills are still developing, but even as you become a pro, it is so important to remember that your client is the one with the all the answers. It's your job to begin working with them on what matters to them and how they can get there. This article explores this idea in more detail, but one of the best books I read as a new grad was 1001 Solution Focused Questions. It's a fantastic reminder that we aren't here to solve other people's problems - an impossible task in itself - and that usually, our clients are already doing something that is working in the right direction. We just need to help them amplify it.
You might notice that I haven't spoken about things like: getting enough sleep, taking time out for the things and people that matter to you and looking after your health as best you can. This stuff lays the foundation for good self-care for everyone, but the above points are more about dealing with the root causes of stress you might face as a new grad. Dealing with these issues head-on will give you a solid foundation for reducing stress and good self-care in the long term!
Let me know in the comments below: how do you look after yourself?