613.260.3256 escullion@rogers.com

I forgot how hard it is to start a new job. You know nothing about, well, pretty much anything, while everyone else whizzes and zings happily along. You feel totally inept (well, I do) and have to ask questions like, “How do I dial out of the office?” and “Uh, where’s the washroom?”  And of course, you’re trying to impress everyone, fit in and exceed expectations, not that you know what those expectations are, exactly.

There is something to be said for familiarity and staying in the same spot. It’s safe. You know the people. You get used to the routine, your office space, your drive to work. The work that comes your way. You can also get stale, of course. And complacent. And possibly bored. What’s it all about? What am I doing here? What am I contributing?

I have these thoughts because I have finished my third week at the United Way Ottawa while on a six-month assignment thanks to the generosity of several layers of government management (at least four) and United Way Ottawa who bravely accepted me into its Loaned Representative program. LRs, as we’re commonly referred to, are employees of the public and private sectors who are “loaned” to the United Way for professional development, to gain new experience and return to home base recharged. It’s a fabulous opportunity, and I am pumped.

And scared.

It doesn’t take long for my government mindset paranoia to invade. Ohh, ohh. My shiny new manager has given me an assignment and I need to consult others. I type up an e-mail. Am I supposed to send it without him reviewing it? Should I ask him? Or just cc him? Does he need one more e-mail to read? [Visual: me pulling my hair out.]

I don’t know! My finger hovers over the Send button. Should I take a chance? My grumpy inner voice: “Oh for pete’s sake, Erin, get a grip. You’re 58 years old, not six.”

My calm and soothing inner voice: “Wait, cut yourself some slack. You’re way too conscientious. You’ve had 11 hard years of government conditioning. Must. Always. Be. Careful. Very. You don’t have to prove anything here. Just be your usual hard-working helpful self.”

I keep it simple and ask.

“Oh,” says new manager, “just keep running until you’re apprehended.”

This, of course, is music to my ears. (Clearly he has no idea who he’s dealing with.)

In any event, my paranoia recedes and off I go to talk to others. I’m not shy, but my brain starts to get muddled with new names and faces and the information I am trying to gather. I am stuffing my mind with all things United Way, and bits and pieces are falling out willy-nilly, making a mess. New fear set in. I’m getting old. This place is full of younger people who have more confidence in their little fingers than I do in my ever-expanding middle-aged body. (Damn, don’t you hate it when that happens? Live in an ever-expanding middle-aged  body, that is.)

What am I doing here?  Well, I’m here to work hard and try, in a small way, to make a contribution to my community. This opportunity is a gift and a privilege. And I’m going to take full advantage of being let out of my government cage, and fly free until I’m apprehended!

Or until it’s time to return. The cage is not that bad, by the way. And it’s lined with silver. It would have been gold if I had gotten there years earlier, but c’est la vie! Freedom 75, wait for me. I’m still working on getting there.