One of the great myths of personal or professional growth (one of the classic blunders, if you will) is that we should wait until we’re ready in order to try something new. Now, I can already hear you asking, “What’s wrong with being ready? I don’t want to set myself up for failure by starting before I’m ready.” The problem with that, though, is that we’re almost always using our own judgement to decide whether or not we’re ready. In my experience, waiting until we ourselves think we’re ready is almost never productive.
I totally get the desire to be successful in this new thing that you’re trying. But, chances are that your first attempt is not going to be so great, and that’s totally fine. The first attempt is going to be the things that sets you up for the more successful second attempt, which sets you up for the more successful third attempt, and so on.
Early-ish in my career, there was a bit of a shakeup at the company where I worked, and one of the results of that was that I was offered a promotion to a managerial position. And, as you might guess by the fact that I’m mentioning it here, I didn’t feel ready.
I talked to some people I trusted, including my dad, and a couple of them shared with me an insight about this sort of offer. That is, when someone responds to an offer of greater responsibility with something like “I’m honored but I don’t think I’m ready,” the offer tends not to be repeated for a long time—if ever.1
I knew that the responsibility that came along with the position was something that I wanted. So, in spite of the fact that I didn’t believe I was entirely ready, I accepted the offer. Now, there were definitely things that I did wrong or poorly during my first few months (and years!) in that new role. But, that’s inevitable when we try something new; perfection is a myth.
This situation of getting ready to try something new is another case where it’s to our advantage to not believe everything we think. Sure, I was having thoughts that I wasn’t ready. And, those thoughts were provoking feelings of anxiety and fear. But, I don’t need to believe those thoughts.
And, believing our thoughts is the root of the problem here. When we say “I don’t feel ready” we’re misusing language a bit; “not ready” is not actually a feeling. We think or believe that we’re not ready, and that leads us to feel anxious or worried or scared about what will happen if we try this new thing.
One of the things I’ve found, both in my own life and in talking to others, is that “I feel not ready” almost always means “I’m scared.” And, okay, fine. Be scared. Nothing wrong with having human feelings, and fear is a human feeling. One of the most profoundly useful things my sponsor ever told me was that “Fear is not an excuse.” My inner critic and inner saboteur want to use the fear as an excuse not to try, but the only way to succeed is to try to do the things that we don’t yet know how to do, in spite of the fact that we don’t yet know how to do them.
As I said above, I totally get it that we want to set ourselves up for success in whatever new endeavor we’re attempting. When I’m trying something new, I want to feel confident about my ability to be successful. But, if I’ve never done it before, how am I supposed to know what it takes to be successful?
One of the most profound things I’ve heard in recovery was also one of the ones that took me the longest to understand. That was “Don’t judge your insides by other people’s outsides.” Essentially, this is a reminder that I know everything that goes on in my head, but I only see the curated stuff that you decide to present. Because you’re curating what you present, it’s easy for me to conclude that you must be better, or more qualified, or more confident, or whatever. And, since my fully-informed image of me is different from the image that you’re presenting, it’s easy for me to conclude that I am, in fact, not ready.
However, in our professional lives, the people offering us opportunities have almost always been doing this for a while. This means that they probably have plenty of experience determining what it is about people that makes them able to succeed in these new positions. And, it’s a truism of personal growth that we almost always judge ourselves more harshly than the people around us judge us.
This is all particularly applicable in the case where we’re being offered a new opportunity. In my case, the person who was offering me the promotion had spent over a decade in a managerial position at Microsoft, and had managed managers in addition to individual contributors. He knew that I was ready, even though I didn’t.
So. If you find yourself telling yourself “I’m not ready,” consider the idea that you might just be scared, and maybe the best course of action is just to do the thing anyway in spite of the fear.
- I’ve read the exact same thing in a lot of military fiction. I’ve never been in the military, so I can’t say, but this is at least a widely held stereotype of practice, if not widely practiced. ↩