For a very long time in my career, I have looked up at leaders envious of their abilities, but most importantly, envious because I thought they always knew what they were doing. I strongly believed that somehow, somewhere, they had learned all they had to learn and they knew exactly how to be, how to act and how to move forward. Yes, I know… I am a little naïve at times.
A couple of months ago, I changed my job internally. Through this process, I have said goodbye to my previous team and to responsibilities I have had for +4 years. With this change of role, I have now taken on a new set of responsibilities and I will be honest, a lot of what I need to do now, I have never done before… And this means, I actually don’t (always) know what I’m doing. And in all honesty, it is scary to do something completely new and not know how it’s done.
But why am I writing this?
A few days ago I turned 40 and looking back at the last decade, I came to realize how I wished I had told my 30 years old self not to be so naïve and that most of us, older and in leadership positions, try our hardest, but we don’t always know the way forward. We are not immune to worries and self-doubts in any way.
Over the last few months, many young professionals have approached me to ask me for mentorship and this article is for them. As I can’t tell my 30 years old self any of this, I can at least tell young professionals that even with years of experience under my belt, I am now facing new challenges and opportunities, and I find myself in unfamiliar territories and I wonder how to move forward the best way. That being said, with age comes experience and over time, I have learned that when doing new things that are scary, there are ways to manage the uncertainties and be able to do what’s best, even when I don’t know what I’m doing.
Here are 4 tricks I use when I don’t know what I’m doing at work:
1. I don’t know what I don’t know: admitting that I don’t know what I don’t know is the most important thing I’ve learned in the last 10 years when it comes to doing new scary things. Although it puts me in a very vulnerable place, admitting that I don’t know what I don’t know enables me to both take a step back but also let my peers know that I don’t know everything. This enables me to seek advice without feeling incompetent.
2. Pragmatism: I’ve come to realize over the years that we often seek a complex solution to problems or a complex way forward when facing the unknown. When we do, we forget to be pragmatic and we forget to go back to the basics. I have come to discover over the years that pragmatism and simple solutions are often the way forward and we shouldn’t be scared of suggesting something simple to solve complex problems. Simple solutions are not of lesser value and being pragmatic is usually the way forward. Next time you face a complex situation, just ask yourself, what is the easiest simplest solution here...
3. Google it: in many situations, someone, somewhere has faced a similar issue and for some unknown reason, decided to post related content on this matter online. Sometimes, finding a way forward can be simply done by googling.
4. Use my gut: for some reasons, my gut almost always seems to know better than my head what to do. I listen to my gut as much as I can.
The 4 tricks presented above can seem obvious and shallow and to be honest, they are. But when you don’t know what you are doing or when you take on new responsibilities you’ve never had before, going for the obvious and easy way forward is the easiest path. Complex problems don’t always require complex solutions. Simplicity is often the way to go and being simple doesn't make anyone less intelligent. And it’s important to remember that no matter the age, no matter the scope of responsibilities, all of us struggle to figure out what we are doing because, let’s be honest, no one has life and work completely figured out.
For those of you who have never read any of my articles before and would like to know more about my thoughts around imposter syndrome, stress, being a leader, being an expat or more. You can read more from me at the following links:
I am 39, I am a director and I feel like an impostor.
I wear the same clothes everyday
We should all get a coach!
Anyone else getting social hangovers? (confessions of an introvert)
My love hate relationship with presenting: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/my-love-hate-relationship-presenting-laurence-paquette/
The future of work: what skills will a leader need in 10 years? https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/future-work-what-skills-leader-need-10-years-laurence-paquette/
I am learning to be present so I stop stressing out about being on vacation.
A year ago, I got overtaken by stress and I told no one about it…
Open letter to my fellow expats in Denmark
Let's talk about my pronouns - (she/they)
My 10 Best Things About Being An Expat
I confess, becoming a people leader was really hard. Here are my 20 leadership principles.
How do I manage my time: my top 25 time management hacks.
Canadian by birth, Dane by choice
7 lessons I learned from fighting COVID-19
Stop negotiating with myself.