The New Guy

Being utterly hapless and helpless on your first day on the job

By Brian Doyle | November 28, 2014


A fresh-faced young man is enduring his first day of employment in the office where I have worked for many years, and I am watching with amusement and empathy as he tries, with admirable earnestness, to remember people’s names, and procure his identification card, and meet with the gimlet-eyed human resources staff, and fill out endless forms, and establish friendly relations with his computer, and grapple with the concept that someday he will actually care about the proportion of his salary that goes toward the pension plan, and I feel the sharp pang of memory, for I too several times have been The New Guy, hired because you seemed able to not only do the job but also do it well, with panache and creativity, but instead you found yourself, all through your first day and first week and probably first month if you were me, utterly hapless and helpless and useless, unable to speak the coded slang of the people in the office, unable to get your computer to pay any serious attention to you, unable to be of any real service on any current projects, and unsure even where and when and how you might eat lunch.

It seems to me that we rarely talk of the rattled nerves and awkward smiles of that first day on the job, the confusing whirlwind of meetings and the rapid rattle of instructions from various sources as regards hours and mail and weekly meetings and goals and objectives and outcome assessment and holidays and parking spots and employee discounts and the unspoken rules for how much stuff you can pin on your wall and whether you can use push-pins to do so. We hardly remember how nervous we were, how proud and excited but seriously nervous, and how, late in the morning on that first day, we’d pause in our new chair at our new desk, and stare out our new window, and think silently, in the recesses of our hearts, that maybe this was a mistake, maybe we would not be up to the job, maybe we are in over our heads. Everyone else is so confident and accomplished and busy, and we have nothing actually to do, and oddly the skills for which we were hired are applicable to nothing whatsoever as yet, and so we feel foolish and small, though we will keep smiling, and saying, Great! when people ask, How’s it going?

Still, it is not great, and you feel just like you did that first day in the new school, when you were the new kid and you did not know a soul and what you wanted more than anything was for someone to sit and talk and be honestly friendly and not just officially friendly.

Which, of course, does happen; there are always two people who grin and say something like, Isn’t it funny how totally useless you feel on your first day, we remember feeling completely at sea, can we take you to lunch? And then at lunch they introduce you to six other people, two of whom will end up being your good friends in the years to come, and then when you are back in the office the boss says, Listen, here’s a wild project we have always wanted to try, you want to take that on for us? So by the time you gather up your coat and keys at the end of the day, after carefully watching to see what time everybody else trickles out, you feel just a bit more comfortable, just a bit more anticipatory that maybe this will work out, and you will maybe be good at your job, and maybe even love it, and someday yourself be one of those grizzled staffers who seems a little intimidating to the new guy, until you remember suddenly to step into his office and chat with him and make him laugh and tell him that you were him, once, and someday maybe he will be you, in which case he ought to remember to try to spend a few honest genuine moments with the new guy, to ease his passage from possible to promising.

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