How not knowing can be your most helpful asset

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Whenever you start a new job, team, or major project, there’s always a learning curve involved.

It usually starts with a few weeks of blind bliss and low expectations over all the new things you don’t know. You go around soaking it all in and getting a pass on adding any real value. After all, you’re just the new kid. Monthly Business Review doc due next week? You get a pass this month and can own it next time. Need to escalate that the team is going to miss key deliverables? You get a pass on the worry and stress because you are just the messenger. Need to respond to a question mark email from the CEO, you get a pass since you don’t know the background. These are the days you sleep well and start to get a feel for work life balance.

Then you hit the middle stage. This is where the acute anxiety kicks in because you now know what you don’t know. You’re freaking out the team is going to find out how under qualified you are and how much you need to learn. Deliverables are being thrown your way at a quicker pace and your new kid pass has expired. When your manager asked you for a status update, you know how many holes are in your report. Or maybe you are asked to write the business strategy doc for a key team project and you have no idea how to approach it. Or it’s now time for the quarterly business review and you don’t even know who to work with on it. This is usually when you start working crazy hours and drinking coffee like it’s water.

Then miraculously you get over the hump and start feeling a bit more confident. When people ask you questions, you start to know the answer. When your manager throws a last-minute request your way, you know how to handle it. When the team makes a mistake, you are able to write the Cause of Error report. You still work ridiculous hours, but have stopped second guessing your decision to work on the team.

Today I was coaching someone that is feeling stuck right in the middle. They are very aware of what they don’t know and finally realized getting help was going to get them so much further than pretending they knew what to do. They nervously reach out for a free coaching session and laid it all out there.

Talking through it, they could logically see why they were feeling stressed and anxious (spoiler: it was all because of their thinking and drama around their project), but could not get to a happy place about it.

That’s when I offered them a different solution.

So often we just want to feel good, but it’s hard to go from anxiety and stress to excitement and confidence. Instead try to get neutral. By better understanding what thoughts were stressing them out, we were able to look at the facts and realize, they are not good or bad. They are just facts. Being neutral about their project not only felt better, but now they are actually doing the work necessary to get out of the middle stage. Instead of seeing what they don’t know as a disadvantage, they see knowing what they don’t know as the answer on where to start. Don’t know how to write a PR/FAQ? Start reading wikis and asking coworkers for example docs. Don’t know how to provide the right level of detail in the weekly business review? Ask you manager for feedback.

Taking massive action is what will get them out of the middle stage and adding value to their team and their career goals. Removing the drama and just getting neutral is the first step to feeling confident.

If you want help applying this to your situation, sign up for a free mini session today.

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Hey, I’m Lindsay Lyman

I spent the last ~12 years growing my career at Amazon. I’ve built teams, launched new products, and created my own jobs. As a certified coach, I teach people how to manage the noise in their head to feel motivated and valued at work again.

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