Have you ever had a job where you were really busy but bored?
At one point, when I worked for the biggest ad agency in London, I found myself standing too long in the ladies’ room, having to will myself to walk out the door.
I’d been working on the same account for eight years. I had seen endless junior brand managers come and go. If I could get myself to leave the bathroom, I was headed to my client’s office to have the same tedious discussion, about the size of their logo on a poster, that I’d had repeatedly over the years.
I was so bored with it.
I knew I needed to do something else.
Give me something new
Fast forward several years to my current role as a coach, helping other people figure out what they want.
Some clients hire a coach because they want a change and can’t see the way forward. They’re adamant, saying “I need to do something different, really different – like a whole new industry kind of different.”
I understand the sentiment. Learning something new is motivating. It’s great to figure things out that you have never done before. It’s exciting to see yourself getting better at something, understanding how or why it works. Building your experience is a joy in itself.
Oddly, when we’ve absolutely dominated a skill or ability, it no longer holds a challenge. It’s just repetition and repetition is dull.
That makes it easy to understand the pleasure of learning. If you take up a new activity, golf, dance, meditation, skiing, there is an immediate satisfaction as you learn and improve.
Equally, when you change jobs and have to figure everything out, you feel like all your senses are on alert and you can’t afford to do anything on automatic, it’s exhilarating.
So why do we dread being in that learning seat?
Give kids a chance to learn something new and they leap on it. They are quick to give it a go. They laugh, concentrate and often point to what they’ve done with pride, they just learned it.
As adults, when we think about a new job and what we’ll be learning, we often sink into dread, losing all our confidence and wanting to run.
We somehow think no one will tolerate our learning period and we’ll be constantly humbled. We’re embarrassed to sit in that learning seat and have everyone watch us learn.
I coached with a woman recently who was clearly bright, charming and considered. She’d been in production but wanted a role in the creative department.
She’d been doing some work in her own time that impressed the Creative Director. As a result, they came up with a new position, as a junior creative, and gave her the role.
When she came to talk to me she had moved from that ecstatic place of “I got the job” to the terrified thinking of “I don’t know anything, they’ll find me out, I won’t be good enough, I’ll be embarrassed.”
Now how can we learn in that state of mind?
I asked her what the Director would expect of someone in a junior role? She admitted they would expect to be training them on the work and managing the clients.
I asked her if they hadn’t wanted to train someone, who could they have hired? It turns out, there were a lot of experienced candidates available for the job.
Then we talked about how to make it more acceptable for her to be in that learning seat.
At that point she shifted gears and started talking about the pleasure people get from explaining what they know. It feeds people’s confidence to share their knowledge and expertise.
It can also bring new life to a seasoned team. When someone’s learning they bring a new enthusiasm to the role, their energy, interest and desire to learn is contagious and lets the pros see their job in a new light.
Is willingness a must?
A new person asking questions shows a willingness and interest. Another client I worked with recently was struggling with one of his direct reports. He had two new staff members, one was doing great, the other was slow on the uptake and making mistakes.
I ask what the difference was in their approach and he immediately identified that the good one asked a lot of questions. She wasn’t hesitant to say she didn’t understand, needed more information or a bit of help. She was learning quickly, and building her confidence.
The other guy seemed reticent to ask anything. He’d hold back, lose time and miss deadlines because he didn’t know how to do something and wouldn’t admit it.
He’d make excuses, I’m sure you can imagine all the reasons he came up with that he couldn’t get things done.
He didn’t want to be seen in that learning seat. He’d rather suffer the indignities of being bad at the job then ask someone to help him learn.
It’s all in the mind set. He believed they expected him to know and if he didn’t then he should hide that fact. She believed they expected her to learn, so she felt comfortable asking for help, questioning the next steps, checking on how it was done at that company.
I’m not saying it’s easy
The learning seat is no rocking chair, it’s more like a rollercoaster – but what an exhilarating ride if you can hang on.
There is little room for boredom when you’re learning. If you embrace the experience it can put you in that state of Flow where you are totally absorbed and unaware of time.
To get there, you have to let yourself be seen as the amateur, the beginner, the new start, the junior – no matter what your age.
Give yourself permission to let the learning begin, and you’ll hang on to your confidence.
You’ll find the intersections where your experience meets the new challenge and you’ll move faster than you ever imagined into mastering that new role because you relished learning.
What are you missing out on?
What would you be doing now if you absolutely embraced learning something new? Would there be a new job that you’d apply for? Would you jump at the chance to manage a new project or be involved in a different area of your business?
Would you try something outside work, a new sport, photography, singing?
It is never too late to learn. I’ve had people tell me they didn’t know if they could change industries because they were over 50. Oddly, I’ve had someone say the same thing, but it was because he was 38. Recently, I had a woman tell me she didn’t know if she should try a new job because she was already 26…
It’s not a question of age, it is a question of confidence. It is far better to be a confident person learning, than stuck in a job where you are busy but bored.
Gather your courage, climb in the learning seat and try something new.