Your first day on the job: Stoicism and the absorption of failure

Before you start your first day, repeat this mantra: “I have a brain that occasionally makes mistakes. There are many like it but this one’s mine.”

Few things bear the potential for terror quite like the first day on the job. Any job.

Plumbers, astrophysicists and cat burglars crumble much the same beneath the weight of “so tell us something about yourself?” As the day progresses we become paralyzed by insecurities. Is it weird if I capitalize on the catered breakfast? Will people think I’m a mooch? Or maybe a go-getter? How soon is too soon to attempt a risqué joke? Am I gonna be the office unfunny guy?

New environment, new people, new challenges – a Saturnalia of aspiring tales of shame. Maybe you’ll say the exact thing that makes you meanly thought of or god forbid inspire the wrong kind of laughter in the break room. But that’s okay. Tranquility is the acceptance and proper evaluation of failure.

In the worst possible scenario – the one wherein you stumble out of the bathroom with toilet paper clinging to you, unwittingly confessing your hatred of peanut butter to William Washington Carver IV – you’re still the savvy, hardworking go-getter that got hired in the first place. No social blunder, whatever the extent or breed is capable of injuring that fact to anyone that would matter.

The anxiety parasite

The charming electric versions of ourselves too often become menaced by the threat of folly. Anxiety wields a lash against the back of a mind at ease, obscuring both our worth and our potential. Here, I think the values of stoicism can be of great assistance. It teaches us that happiness is a virtue achieved only when we are no longer bound by the shackles of expectation.

Indifference provides the most reliable manual to temperament.  When forced to consider the long view, you’ll find the little occurrences that pepper it to be of comparatively little importance.

Freedom of interpretation

It isn’t really the shady remarks or subtle eye rolls that tail the faux pas that torment us, but our own internal interpretation of these responses. We have very little control over other people’s perception of us but we are in complete control of how we chose to evaluate said perceptions – “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts … everything we hear is opinion, not a fact, everything we see is perception, not the truth.”

Course correct the agency of criticism, repurpose it and make it serve you and your betterment. Moreover, it’s important to learn how to demarcate the useful critiques from the superfluous ones. Who cares if you overheard the guy from HR talking about how awful your pants are, we’re all gonna die someday. You probably should talk more during the meetings though.

First impressions are overrated

To succeed in any environment you must give yourself the liberty to fail. Miserably and resolutely.

Seneca once wrote: “Nothing happens to the wise man, contrary to his expectation.” Accept the badge of failure and adopt an eagerness to employ it. To fail is to grow and thrive.

At any rate, first impressions are exactly that, you’ll have plenty more opportunities to convince the higher-ups you deserve that promotion or to nail that joke (you lifted from your buddy from college that lifted in from Mitch Hedberg). Relinquish your idée fixe on the future and remit it to the now.  When perception and immediate success cease to matter, you’re left with only yourself to consider.

Before you start your first day at your new job be sure to look in the mirror and repeat this mantra: “I’m a fool that has a brain that on occasion makes mistakes. There are many like it but this one’s mine.” Oh, and your fly is down.

CW Headley|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com.