One month into something new: Fitting in like a hen in the dark

When you start something new and hit bottom not long after, you can either call it quits or pull and prod yourself up the hill to a better place.

I hit bottom in Italy around Week 2. I didn’t fit in, I couldn’t understand people, I missed my routines.

(Also, I’m in Italy. A friend recently mentioned I have neglected to mention this critical and wonderful detail.)

After giving myself permission to indulge in a few mopey days, I started building internal bridges and soaring Italian fortresses, getting stronger and more confident in this new place.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of a wonderful analogy from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love: You must place a new hen in a chicken coop in the night — if you do it in the day, the chickens will violently go after the newcomer. But in the night, something wonderful (or massively forgetful) happens, and in the morning a newcomer is not new at all, just another one of the flock who seems to have always been there.

I’m starting to feel like the hen that was placed here in the dead of night. Not without some sharp picks from the other chickens (really just my own fears), but overall — I fit. I belong, and that is a precious place to arrive, whether in a new job, place, or relationship.

Beautiful cobblestone streets of Padova Italy
of course i want to belong in these wonderful streets of italy!

Unlike the chickens, I have a good overnight memory, so I needed to do some self-pulling and prodding to get myself out of the slump and into this happy place where I am now, a little over one month in.

Realize that you belong here enough. New job, new place, new relationship — doesn’t matter. You are smart, qualified, cute, and gosh darn it, people like you. Basically, go with the “fake it until it’s true” strategy.

Sure, I don’t necessarily look like I am from here (I’ve asked many people many times if I could pass for Italian, and the answer is always, unequivocally and immediately, “No”). I’m only just learning to speak the language. Mostly I speak a Spanish-Italian mix that requires correction every other word, making for very long conversations.

But I love to talk to new people and make new relationships over a glass of wine, and I agree a little shot of coffee is all you need in the morning, so I’m telling myself that I belong enough to walk down that street with confidence now.

italy loves bikes! i love bikes! italy, let’s love each other!
italy loves bikes! i love bikes! italy, let’s love each other!

Know you can bumble through anything. Ideally, you’ll gracefully sail through the challenges something new throws in your path. You will offer a new idea, and your coworkers will all congratulate you for your brilliance and shower you with champagne for taking the initiative and making the company gobs of money.

Maybe more likely, as you are learning the ropes of this new place, you will mess up. Repeatedly. You will offer a new idea, and you will get silence, blank stares and a raised eyebrow.

The key is to realize that when you mess up, no one other than you will remember tomorrow. Even that awkward moment when you misunderstood the situation or instructions or said “I’m sorry, excuse me” to your boyfriend’s parents when you meet them instead of “nice to meet you,” like you meant to say — it all passes.

Which brings me to the most important getting-out-of-the-slump technique.

You must laugh at yourself more often. Fake laugh, if it’s not real yet. Try out different laughs. Find yours and have it at the ready. I prefer the confident, “oh I’m so charming that I just totally messed that up” laugh, shoulders back, a toss of the hair, followed by a wink.

Laughing will get your happy hormones to kick in, and even if your cheeks are deep red and you want to crawl into a hole, you’ll physically start to feel a little better. Which hopefully will then trigger your “I can do this—I do belong” internal monologue.

verona italy at night
i actually used my little confident fake-laugh to recover after a night in Verona when i hit a low point, crying in a pizzeria because i was feeling homesick. if you can’t laugh at the fact that you are in a stunning historical city and crying in a pizzeria, you’re in trouble.

Say yes more often than no. Saying yes, even internally, is another confidence-booster. Even if your brain is exhausted and you really want to eat lunch alone, or that dish looks gross, or happy hour with coworkers doesn’t sound great — say yes anyway. You will start feeling like you belong more with every yes.

Be honest with yourself and say what you want. Not saying what you want is unhealthy. We all know this, and some of us have paid thousands of dollars to shrinks to help us spit out what we already know we want to say, but just need a little (read: a lot) encouragement to actually say it.

Unfortunately, knowing that doesn’t make it easy, especially for a Midwesterner who would rather avoid anything that feels even remotely like confrontation or disagreement or surfacing of emotions.

At two weeks in, when I was feeling caged and antsy and lonely and everything bad, I was holding in what I really wanted—some space to write and be alone. But I was afraid that asking for this would be hurtful to my boyfriend. Fear held me back and was creating all this ugly internal icky-ness inside me.

With encouragement from a friend, I said what I needed out loud to him, and like magic, all of the icky swamp inside me drained away. Beautiful bright fields of space opened up.

well, since i’m in italy, it’s got to be a field that is covered in succulent grape vines, of course.
well, since i’m in italy, it’s got to be a field that is covered in succulent grape vines, of course.

What feels like a miracle is that these beautiful bright fields have stayed with me. I’m making friends, I’m bumbling through speaking a new language, and I’m eating incredible food. I feel whole. I belong!

I am a lucky hen in a medieval stone city, drinking a little café in the morning and local wine at night.

3 thoughts on “One month into something new: Fitting in like a hen in the dark

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