In my previous post, I revealed how I really felt at the beginning of my career. This letter is the one I wish I could go back and send myself at the start of my career as a new graduate.
Dear New Grad Jenna,
Congratulations, you made it! Yesterday, you put on your cap and gown and said goodbye to the PT School chapter of your life. You’re excited, ready to start your career, and you’re incredibly nervous. You haven’t started day one yet, but you’re already worried that you won’t be successful. You don’t know it, but your classmates share the same fear. When your fellow new grads are asked what stresses them out the most about starting their career, “not being good enough,” will surprisingly rank 4th behind the expected passing the NPTE, finding a job, and student loans.
PT won’t be what you expected
You just spent 3 years of grad school fantasizing about what your career would be like and I’m sorry to tell you that the reality is going to fall short of the fantasy. It is not that physical therapy won’t be rewarding, but it won’t be easy. In every daydream, you had during lectures you were smiling and getting patients better. These depictions never included the difficult days so you are going to be slightly blindsided when reality doesn’t live up to the daydream.
Don’t stress though. It may not be what you expected, but it is going to take you places that you never could have imagined. You just have to be patient…which you won’t be. You’re going to expect things to happen much faster than they do. The sooner you come to the realization that a career takes a lifetime to build, the happier you’ll be.
You’ll sometimes wonder if you are a fraud.
There will be this voice in the back of your head that wonders if you are doing it right. You’ll discharge a patient and she will tell you that she is going to recommend you to all their friends. You’ll smile happy that you got her better, but you’ll feel uneasy because you won’t know if you’ll be as successful with her friends. This insecurity won’t feel good. Use this feeling to help you improve rather than allow the fear to stunt growth.
You’re going to want to compare yourself to your co-workers. Don’t. They are on a different part of the journey than you are. You’re going to need to look at the success of your experienced co-workers as something to aspire to, not something you should have right now. You will need to keep reminding yourself that you are a new graduate and it is okay to be unsure. Give yourself some credit and start to build confidence. Don’t be surprised when that confidence goes up and down with your caseload, your mood, and your circumstance. You’re going to need to give yourself permission to not be perfect. This will free you and you’ll start to enjoy what you are doing once you let go of the fear of failure.
You’ll want to pass off difficult patients
There are going to be patients that you struggle to get better. You’ll be tempted to ask a more experienced co-worker or mentor to treat them instead. You’ll believe that the patient is better off with someone that has practiced longer than you have. But, you’ll be wrong. What you lack in experience, you can make for with your desire to learn. You’ll need to ask your co-workers for advice, you’ll have to lose yourself in research articles, and you can’t stop trying.
These difficult patients are more important that you can possibly fathom. They are the patients that will teach you the most. You will continue to think about the “tough” patients for years to come. They will be your motivation to work harder and to keep going. Don’t give these patients away, you need them more than you know.
You’ll think you’re not improving
You’re going to feel like you’re not improving more often than you thought possible. The feeling may be real, but the reality is not. You ARE improving. I need to tell you that every time you learn something new, you will realize there are more things you don’t know. Every continuing education course, every lecture, and every mentor session will expose weaknesses that need work. You need to recognize that what you are experiencing is the journey of your career. Your feelings of not being good enough are normal, but don’t allow them to dictate your actions. Accept that you’re not where you want to be, but know you are on your way.
Throughout it all you’ll wonder if anyone else feels these things, but you won’t ask. You’ll keep it to yourself. And because you stay guarded, sometimes you’ll feel alone. You’re not alone. But, you will have built walls around your insecurities that make it impossible for you to see those that surround and support you. Break down these walls. Tell someone about your insecurities because when I look back now, it didn’t need to be as difficult as you made it. I don’t want you to change the circumstances of your beginning (they are there for a reason), but I do want you to change your outlook.
Don’t waste time and energy worrying about not being good enough,
instead use it to work toward being better than good enough.