If you’re making progress in your career – getting promoted, taking on new responsibility – at some point you’ll be faced with the unnerving reality that you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. Maybe you’ve never managed a project or run a meeting. Or you’ve never given a professional presentation or conducted a hiring interview. Trying something for the first time can be terrifying, and no one wants to screw things up right out of the gate.
But I’m here to let you in on a little secret: Most things just aren’t that difficult.
In the words of Marie Forleo, “Everything is figureoutable.” Or as my Dad used to say, “You can learn anything in the world from a book.“ (Or, these days, a book and the Internet.)
Sure, some tasks are harder to pick up than others. If you work in hospital reception, you’re probably not going to jump into the operating room and just wing it. But let’s be honest – most of what we do isn’t brain surgery. You can probably figure it out. It just takes a little initiative and a healthy dose of confidence.
Here are some things to remember:
When you first dive into a new topic, it will seem like there are a million different resources and perspectives out there. But as you drill down, you’ll usually find that there are a handful of themes and core concepts that repeat themselves over and over. With practice, you get better at spotting those key points and with a concentrated effort, you can learn the basics of most things relatively quickly.
Most topics have a steep learning curve. In the first focused hours of your study you learn a lot. Then, over time, your progress slows as you work to absorb all the nuance and detail that makes you a master of the subject. But, here’s the thing: you don’t have to be a master. You just need to avoid looking like a clueless rookie while you’re learning. It takes years to become an expert at anything and I’m not suggesting that it isn’t worth putting in the time and effort. But if you’re just starting out, don’t underestimate what you can pick up in a short amount of time.
And don’t forget to ask for help. Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know, so it helps to talk with an expert. And “expert” could mean that guy in IT you talk to at lunch or your friend over in Marketing. Anyone with experience can point you in the right direction, so use the resources you have. It’s also often a good idea to figure out the basics with a peer offline. There may be no “dumb questions” but you don’t want to repeatedly test that hypothesis in front of your boss. So work out the kinks with a friendly sounding board first and save your higher level issues for your manager.