When You Start Something New

By Scott Westerman
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“There are always two voices sounding in our ear: the voice of fear, and the voice of confidence. One is the clamor of the senses, the other is the whispering of the higher self.” ~Charles B. Newcomb

Few things are more exciting than watching a baby take his first steps. We record the requisite video after he’s figured it out and show it proudly to everyone we know. What we forget is what happened before we turned on the camera; how he crawled, stood, fell, crawled some more, stood again, fell again and kept doing it until he learned out how to take those first tentative steps. Even after he gets it down, what happens? He falls again.

It’s only through sheer will, repeated practice and the continual encouragement of people we care about that new skills are practiced and perfected.

This is the case whenever we try something new.

By now, our Spring crop of Spartan seniors have mostly launched into the real world. Here’s a taste of the feedback loop I hear every year at this time.

“This was harder than I thought it would be.”
“This is NOT what I expected.”
“I’m not sure this is the career I want after all.”
“I feel in over my head.”
“What happens if I screw up?”

Whether you are starting something new or are contemplating expanding your current horizons, here are some thoughts to keep in mind as you approach a growth opportunity.

If it was easy, everybody would be doing it. Success belongs to the people who can stay with a skill until they get good at it. You will experience obstacles, often right at the finish line. It’s how you approach obstacles that will determine how quickly you will achieve what you seek.

Everything is harder than it looks. People are quick to judge others, until they have to put their own skin in the game. From politics to the athletic field, the world if full of Monday morning quarterbacks who will shoot you down and second guess everything from your skills to your motives. At some point in your career, you will work for a Monday morning quarterback. Ignore the negativity and prove yourself by your actions.

You will make mistakes, sometimes big mistakes. This is how you learn. Mistakes and failure are essential to human growth. It’s ok to make them. Productive people are likely to make them more often because they attempt more things that are outside of their comfort zone. One of the most inspiring scenes in the film Chariots of Fire is the race where Eric Liddel is tripped up in the opening turn. The film switches to slow motion and we see him struggle to his feet, setting his eyes on the runners ahead of him. He gets back in the race, catches pack and is ultimately victorious, in spite of his fall. There are only a couple of situations where failing becomes real trouble: If you don’t learn from it or if you let it deter you from your goal.

You must do what you said you would do. This means showing up every day, on time and ready to work. Not hung over. Not unprofessionally dressed. Not unprepared. You were hired to add value, to solve problems. This means offering constructive feedback with solutions attached. Keep your promises. Do a little more than what is asked. No complaining allowed. At the end of the day it’s all about the results.

Always be honest. Achievement means nothing if you cheat. Play fair. Tell the truth. People will ultimately admire you for it. Honesty demonstrates character… and you won’t have to remember any other versions of your story.

There will always be someone who is better at what you do than you are. That’s why the best athletes are always training. They believe that there is continually room for improvement. Seek out elite role models. Serve them. Learn from them. Incorporate the best of who they are into the best of who you are.

And there will always be someone out there who would love to be in your situation. People don’t “give” jobs, they invest in problem solvers. You must earn the privilege of serving in the capacity you have chosen every single day.

Long term success never happens when you try to take short cuts. There is no substitute for “seasoning”; the word I like to use that combines experience with wisdom. Pace yourself. Be patient but persistent. Keep your eye on your goals but don’t miss the opportunities that may appear in your peripheral vision. Sometimes the road to success includes a few side trips.

Here’s the best kept secret about success: It’s much easier to achieve than you might think, because few people have the guts to go the extra mile.That’s where the money is. That’s where the opportunities lie. That’s where you’ll find your best friends. That’s where happiness lives.

And the extra mile starts early. US News and World Report quotes a study that notes, “Self-professed ‘morning people’ reported feeling happier and healthier than night owls… Society caters to a morning person’s schedule.”

Once we hit the office, the day has a way of getting away from us. Do your planning the night before and write it down on a to-do list. Get a full night’s sleep. Schedule your workout before you go to work. Eat a good breakfast. Tackle the big projects first thing in the morning. These are just a few suggestions for getting ahead of the day. One of my faves? Check in with your boss and / or team members every morning. You’re setting the bar for others and it can be a great way to catch potential issues early while there’s still enough day left to react.

Anything worth learning requires repetition. You will not get it right the first time. And that’s the rub. The major difference between children and adults is this: We grown-ups don’t want to look bad. We don’t want people to see us fall. Most of us may already secretly believe that we don’t deserve our good fortune. We’re afraid our rookie mistakes will confirm that, and our dreams will evaporate like raindrops on hot concrete.

Banish these unreasonable fears from your mind. Buckle down. Point yourself toward your goals. And start deliberately and tenaciously in that direction. Even when you move from crawling to walking and finally to running, you will take an occasional spill. Do your best Eric Liddel impression. Get back up.. and keep running.

That’s how beginners become experts!

Quotes worth re-quoting:
“The greatest inspiration is often born of desperation.”  ~Comer Cotrell

“It is not about the quantity of the friendships you have – it is about the quality of the relationships that you build.” Fred Jacobs @jacobsmedia

“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” Abraham Lincoln