“Yikes. I have no idea what I’m doing.” That’s often the first thought when we embark on something new — whether it’s a location, place of employment, or skill. The anxiety of unknown challenges and experiences often impedes our career success. This anxiety often leads to avoiding the situation altogether and to behavioral inertia that can stunt both career and personal development.
What to do? There’s a counter-intuitive advantage true to almost all fulfilled innovators that my team and I have both researched and worked with: Open up to what you don’t know instead of pretending to know it all.
That advantage? Think like a beginner and get curious.
The beginner’s mindset and a curious demeanor are powerful tools when it comes to combating situational anxiety and avoidance. It involves looking at events without preconceptions and judgements, focusing on the prospect of learning and growth instead of negative emotion. Even for those who reach a high level of success in their field, there’s lots of benefit to adopting a beginner’s mindset when facing unprecedented challenges.
Personality traits like neuroticism (the tendency to overanalyze things) and openness to new experiences can play a big part in determining avoidance. People high in the former and low in the latter view these opportunities as dangerous, discounting positives like growth and learning experience.
Some people are, for whatever reason, more prone to these traits than others, but nearly everyone experiences them at some point or other — especially when it comes to the professional arena.
We’ve noticed that as people progress throughout their careers, they naturally want to appear more competent, not less. And this is especially true for people wanting to get promotions. Unfortunately, the Peter Principle, which states that employees rise to their level of incompetence, is turning out to be more than just a joke.
Data demonstrates that people are often promoted despite lacking the skills necessary for their new position. But, by adjusting how we relate to growth and development, it’s possible to overcome both the Peter Principle and the more general aversion to learning on the job.
Leaders and managers, like their workers, need to keep in mind that aversion to growth is a natural feeling, but workers and leaders alike can learn to train their minds to foster a more productive emotional response.
In the same way that learned optimism is important to success across many of life’s most challenging domains, embracing the curiosity of a beginner’s mindset is essential to becoming more productive, agile, and engaged in the era of constant disruption.(more…)