Part of my role includes administering a grad programme.  It’s work that I love.  It’s work that keeps me up at night.  I waver between feeling a huge obligation to the amazing young people who are part of the programme and a kind of hurt surprise when they don’t grab every opportunity the programme offers them with both hands.

But I’ve only recently realised that in most cases, what I’m registering as reluctance (at best) and an attitude (at worst) is just fear.  Fear of failure.  Fear of not making the right choices.  Fear of success.  Fear of letting people down. 

And so I’m learning to address the fear first and the attitude later.  To take a lesson from Ben Zander and speak only to the best of their possibility.

And to remember all the great mentors I had and be grateful (damn grateful) for their own patience and guidance.

Those lessons and this one have taught me this; when starting something new (a job, a project):

  • Be enthusiastic (even if you aren’t).  People, even difficult ones, respond to positive energy.  And people will remember that energy the next time they’re putting together a team.
  • Be willing.  Follow through.  And communicate.  (This is just as true for senior team members as it is for the newbies.)  People who are willing, who put themselves forward, often get a stab at choosing good tasks.  But delivering on even the boring parts, brings you attention.  People want willing participants.
  • Be brave.  Even if you think you can’t do something, volunteer.  The quickest way to prove yourself is by doing.  And the rush from nailing a task you didn’t think you could do is always worth it.
  • Ask for help.  People love to share their knowledge, it makes them feel good.  So use it.  Get in there.  And the more you ask, the more you learn who gives the best answers.  And so you find your natural mentors.
  • Embrace failure.  If you’re aware and open to learning, you’ll never make the same mistake twice. 
  • Ask for feedback.  Ask specifically for one thing you did well and one thing you could have improved.  Develop a thick skin.  And be prepared to take action on improvement areas.
  • Use your fear.  Challenge yourself to use the emotion as an impetus to move forward, rather than letting it hold you back. 

It’s strange, but I was afraid to take on this role.   I’m still scared.  Scared that I’ll make mistakes that will affect the trajectory of someone’s career.  But the fear is my prod to do better, to try harder.  And it’s taught me more about myself than I ever imagined.

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