The danger of being great at what you do
The first half of our lives is dedicated to learning new things. We go through school with the expectation that we will have to do homework and have tests to evaluate our learning. Some of us participate in sports or dance, learning new skills and doing them over and over at scheduled practices. Some of us are involved in music, suffering through the early stages of learning an instrument for the promise of developing a beautiful skill. Then we go to college and start all over again. We learn to meet new people, navigate a college campus, follow a syllabus, develop a career path. Some of these things are messy to learn, showing up to the wrong place, missing an assignment since no one reminded you. Maybe some classes are so tough we have to take them twice just to really learn the information.
And then we graduate and start our first jobs….
No need to describe the learning curve there, the discomfort of showing up every day unsure of what’s going to happen, if you have the right abilities.
The tears, the lack of sleep, the self doubt… and then getting up and showing up again, no matter how the day before went.
Some of us go on to get married, have families, buy a home. With each stage we have to learn how to do new things, be in a relationship, manage our finances and our time, be a mom. And all of these things have moments that are really tough mixed in with the moments of success.
Maybe you have different components of your story or are still in the throws of one of these stages but you get the point. We learn a lot and have a lot of “failures” along the way until we achieve the things we want.
And then we get really good at doing many of these things. We become experts, especially in our jobs. Not unexpected since many of us spend huge portions of our day to day lives at job “practice”. I spend 40 hours a week “practicing” my work.
It’s so great when we reach this level of expertise and settle in. The frequency of the discomfort of “not knowing” is less. We get into a routine of work and home life and we “get by.”
So what’s the problem? What's the danger of being great at what you do?
There isn’t a problem, unless you decide you want more than the status quo, that you want to do something new. You want to lose the weight, or start exercising, or maybe look into a new field of nursing. Maybe you want to start a business or learn how to dance. You want to get good at scheduling and following through so that you have time to prep meals, or spend time with family, or have a clean house.
Maybe you don’t even know what you want to do but that you want to do something.
Again, how is being great at what you do keeping you from doing these other things? It’s a subtle problem that we aren’t always even aware of.
It’s the problem of decreased discomfort tolerance.
What does that even mean? It means we get so settled in to knowing what we’re doing that we lose the tolerance for being a beginner. We try something new and when it doesn’t “work” right away we think something has gone terribly wrong or that we are flawed.
So of course we throw in the towel and go back to what we are already “good” at.
Here’s the good news. We had the skill of being a beginner before so we are definitely capable of having that skill again. We didn’t get to where we are today without going through the drama of
having to practice and learn new skills. The key is to remember, you can’t build the roof of the house before the walls.
You can’t develop the new skills you want without following the steps in
sequence, experiencing some hardship and setbacks along the way.
This may sound like terrible news but it’s not. It means when you try and fail you are doing something right, you are pushing the limits and experiencing EXACTLY WHAT YOU NEED TO.
What would have happened if you gave up after your first bad grade on a Pathophysiology exam? Did it mean you weren’t meant to be a nurse? Of course not. It meant the subject material was hard, and maybe you didn’t study the right things (or maybe you had Dr. Russo like I did.) We expected the process to be hard.
The same is true when we make a plan to eat healthy and we mess it up at dinner time after making good choices all day. It’s part of the practice of becoming a healthy person. Practice can be scheduled for every day. If you stay in the game you will definitely make progress, you will learn how to change your strategy to build your skill and achieve the outcome you want.
The moral of the story?
If at first you don’t succeed, you’re totally normal. Embrace the patience of being a beginner, commit to the practice, show up tomorrow ready to go again, even if today was a debacle.
Being a beginner can open all sorts of new doors, if we drop the self judgement.
What door are you going to open?
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