How to Thrive in a New Startup Job
Starting over with a new job is hard.
Starting over with a new job during a pandemic? Also hard.
Starting over with a new job, during a pandemic, working for a startup moving at lightning speed, headed for the stars? Yup, Hard with a capital H.
SuperHi's Brian (@islawolfe) walks us through his journey in starting over at SuperHi.
To be fair, starting over with anything is hard, regardless of the situation.
However, hard work doesn't ever mean the goal is impossible to achieve, rather that the goal is worth it. There's a saying that growth happens at the end of your comfort zone and it's 100% true. While my SuperHi story is unique, and we hopefully won't always be in a pandemic situation, I did learn a lot of tips and tricks along the way on how to find sanity, safety and success when starting over in new job at a startup or any kind of fast-paced environment.
I don't want to call this a "survival" guide because the goal shouldn't be to survive, but thrive, so let's call this a "Thrive Guide" to anyone who wants some insight on how to start a new job, pandemic, or not!
Before we dive in: Hi! I'm Brian, one of the Community Specialists here at SuperHi. I identify as He/Him or They/Them.
If you're a student within the community, by now you've likely seen my threads in our Student Slack, in channels like #chat, #help-visual-design, #selfcare-club, #cats, and #accountability-club. If you're a "SuperSuperHier" (aka students who are consistently active in our channels and attend our virtual meet ups), you also may have seen my eccentric attempts at hosting virtual study hall sessions and meet-ups with the SuperHi Community.
I ended up at SuperHi quite non-traditionally and actually met Rik, the CEO, about two years (before I was hired) during a friend's company party back in 2018. I was sipping a gin and tonic, had no idea he was the CEO of anything, and eventually ended up joking with him that he should hire me in the future if an opening ever comes up. Low and behold, about two years later, here I am.
On to the tips! 🏃🏻
Learn to let go of past experiences, habits and perspectives
While you can't exactly prepare for any type of new work situation, here are some of the things at SuperHi that I was completely unprepared for:
Working with a small, world class team, in the most literal and figural sense you can imagine.
Adjusting to working in a completely remote workflow and environment.
The level of collaboration and communication needed to succeed on a daily basis.
Learning how to adapt and stretch myself in ways I didn't think was possible.
The ability (and necessity) to think and work creatively every day.
The level of authentic support that I would receive from my teammates (I had a gnarly beginning-of-quarantine situation).
Obviously, most things on that list read as positive, and they are.
However, it took me a long time to adapt to the shift because I simply wasn't used to it. Prior to SuperHi, I had spent three years in a much larger company that had the time, resources, and people power to build a well oiled machine that worked for them and their profit margin. There was a high churn rate and the tenure of the role I started with was about two years. I was just another bee in that hive with specific responsibilities that I grew into slowly. I also didn't really prioritize sharing my voice as much, since it wasn't something that I felt was valued.
Enter SuperHi: a complete 180, upward spiral, from the previous company I was working for. Even with all the positive changes in culture and growth, I wasn't prepared - mostly because I didn't even have the idea to prepare for it.
I started by hitting the ground running, but soon learned that my work muscles needed a tune-up and I wasn't building a sustainable approach to work. I wanted to do all the things because I finally had the opportunity to do so.
To get out of that mindset, I had to identify the work baggage I had carried over and I needed to do the Hard work to reconcile my previous work experience with what I was experiencing now.
I needed to give my work perspective a reboot and refresh.
To make sure that you're not bringing in that older baggage:
Take the time to get to know your coworkers!
We're all humans, with real human feelings, goals, aspirations, and woes. You might not be able to connect with everyone on a friend level, but that basic empathetic connection is important, especially with a remote team. This approach helps inspire trust, streamlines communication where there's less of a chance for any misunderstanding, and is a positive contribution to the overall culture.
Remind yourself that this is a completely new work environment
While there might be patterns, positive or negative, that you pick up on that might relate to your previous experiences, they're not the rule. Give yourself time to adjust.
Be as agile as possible, but don't stretch yourself too thin
Especially with startup environments, there's a lot of opportunity to try different things, do different things, and support different things. Embrace it! It might get messy, but this is where trust in coworkers helps. Also, don't beat yourself up if you're not getting the immediate results that you're used to - it's a new balancing act with new gears to discover and turn.
Instead of carrying in your previous work baggage, carry in your positivity, insight, experience, and unique perspective.
Part of why I chose to work at SuperHi was because the role I applied for was a mix of what I used to do (Customer Operations and Support) and a mix of what I've always wanted to do, but had no official experience in (Community Management and Social Media development).
After the beautiful rush of finally getting to work exactly where I've always imagined myself, suddenly everything felt extremely daunting. The SuperHi community has grown so much and it was a bit intimidating.
SuperHi not only does things differently, but there was also a lot of room and encouragement to do things differently. So, while it was exciting to be allowed the agency to try new things, it also came with the added pressure to succeed, paired with the incessant worry that I would fail (#impostersyndrome, anyone?).
I did eventually break through that wall and here's what helped me:
Remind yourself that you were hired for a reason!
Seriously, you were hired because you were seen as an important investment to the company's future. Own it!
A lot of skills are transferrable: you just need to figure out when, where, and how to use them
For example, I use a lot of my background in education, managing feedback loops, and my experience as a freelance designer to help support our design students here. I'm also able to support my amazing teammate Mirna with operations insight because of the work done in my previous role.
Carve out your own space!
Your unique perspective and background is why you were hired, remember? Use your background to carve out your own little space to live in and own completely. This approach is perhaps more readily available in startup environments where opportunity abounds, so take advantage of that!
Allow yourself to change your mind and make mistakes
I used to have a work hard / play hard mentality, as in: I'd do as much as I could during the work day, then "reward" myself with crazy weekends or after work shenanigans. It's not for everyone, and eventually, it was not for me.
These days, I'm very grateful to say that my work actually feels like I'm working hard and playing hard simultaneously because my days are filled with fun and interesting conversations with students and fun, creative projects with teammates.
However, It took me a long time to get to that level of comfort because I didn't have it at my last job. In hindsight, I would have benefited from exploring my adaptability and the new environment sooner rather than later. A way to get there is to learn the art of active listening and observation.
You will make mistakes - embrace them, own them, learn from them, rinse, repeat. Again, we're all human.
Learn to manage yourself
There's always room to get better at managing yourself and the projects you're working on - take time to learn what your strengths and weaknesses are in this area to see what your truest potential is.
I've never been the best at project management - mostly because there wasn't a huge need for it in my day job, and because I like flirting with danger (just kidding! Kind of.) I've had my spells of really good moments of being super organized, and I do have experience managing myself and my own projects when I was a freelance designer and illustrator. But, I never really was committed to integrating project management mindsets and approaches consistently within my work.
SuperHi follows the typical startup narrative in that everyone wears multiple hats, we're collaborative on almost everything, and we're all running or working on really important initiatives and projects for our student community. Ramping up to a solid project management approach is key to how we're able to ship so many things here with just a 14 person team.
So, what does project management look like for a world-class, international team of SuperHiers doing it all?
Start with a foundation of empathy
One of the first tenants of project management that I've identified is learning how to communicate as clearly as possible, with kindness and openness at the forefront and assuming positive intent as the foundation.
While I definitely consider the SuperHi Team to be SuperHuman, none of us are mind readers as far as I know. And, everyone at SuperHi, comes from a unique personal, professional, and cultural background. Use these backgrounds as opportunity to relate and empathize so that communication streams are built around trust. This helps when you need to communicate tasks that require a quick turnaround, or even when communicating that you're behind on a task.
Trust, as you can see, is a common theme in thriving at a startup.
Stick with a system long enough to see its value
Even the most adaptable person has their hangups - most humans, at the end of the day, are creatures of habit that like doing things the way they like doing things.
This makes implementing new workflows and systems sometimes a pain, but it's important to fully see it through! If it doesn't work, so be it - it's one less approach that needs to be explored, and one step closer to tightening that rickety wheel.
Don't be afraid to ask for help
I learned how to do this at SuperHi. Thankfully, the team is a super supportive bunch and I definitely needed it when I started - my first three months at SuperHi was spent in a basement apartment at the start of the pandemic. I had just moved back to New York right before lockdown really started and I was a nervous wreck.
While not everyone will start a new job the way I did, this approach can work anywhere; you just have to find the right workplace allies to get started.
Also, as a pro-tip to anyone within the SuperHi student community: check out our student Slack channel #accountability-club - it's a solid community of students who support each other to stay on track and accountable to the work they want to complete.
Break things up!
When things get overwhelming, or to avoid that altogether, break up the harder tasks into small, manageable chunks. It's better to chip away at things slowly and sustainably, than to try and create a Michelangelo level marble statue from the start. Also, another version of breaking things up is to take mini work breaks!
I bet you were anticipating to read about more hard project management skills, but that's better done by our lovely Digital Project Management instructor, Rachel. ;)
So what's the TL;DR of how to thrive at a startup?
Allow yourself time to grow in the role - it can take a year to fully get into the role, no matter what level you're at in your career.
Build trust in yourself and your teammates! We all learn best, together.
Own everything you do - wins and losses.
Learn the art of communication, and start with a foundation of empathy.
Hope to see you in the Slack channels!
Brian is a Californian expat, living in Bushwick. He spends his time learning more about how he can best support the SuperHi student community. On his off days, he loves writing, making music, painting, and reading.