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  • Writer's pictureLaurence Paquette

The Dunning-Kruger Effect or the cycle of taking on a new role

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

In April 2022, I took on a new professional role which included new responsibilities and a larger mandate. This new role is the 6th position I have had in 11 years working for my current employer. And although one would think I am a master of change by now, I admit that I am not immune to the Dunning-Kruger effect, even as a seasoned role shifter.

For those of you who don’t know the Dunning-Kruger effect, this effect occurs when a person lacks knowledge and/or skills in a certain area, which causes them to overestimate their own competence or abilities. Here is a graph to show the effect in its full admirable course.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect
The Dunning-Kruger Effect

As I said, I changed role in April 2022 and like for any other role change I had done previously, I started the ascension of the steep learning curve with a smile on my face and my confidence grew. I climbed rapidly and as shown in the chart above, I reached the peak of "Mount Stupid" in no time where I felt great and competent about my abilities to manage my new responsibilities. I stayed on top admiring the view for a little while. I admit that although it was a short stay on top of the mount stupid, it was enjoyable. But as I stared into the horizon and looked ahead, I quickly realized I knew way less than I had anticipated and like every other time I took on a new role, I rapidly started the descent towards the Valley of Despair as I realized there was so much I didn't know and so much I needed to be better at.

The Valley of Despair is an interesting place to be. For me, the Valley of Despair feels like being stuck in quicksand and a constant struggle to move forward. Everything is difficult and slow moving. Every step is a giant effort and so little movement forward can be accomplished. For those of you who might need a visual illustration to better understand how it feels to be in the Valley of Despair, I usually compare it to the Swamp of Sadness from The Never Ending Story where Atreyu desperately tries to save his horse Artax from the mud.

Never ending story
Never ending story

Like Artax, one could give up and remain in the Valley of Despair, but as I have been there many times before, I have learned that this is just a phase I have to go through and it is part of learning how to be better at my job. It’s important to trust the process and the process usually includes a rapid downfall before it gets better again.

Over the last few weeks, I have managed to slowly make the walk out of the valley of despair and reach the slope of enlightenment. It’s been a fun and interesting journey as I have learned a lot about myself and my new role. I have a long way to go, but I am slowly ascending the path as I expand my competences and acquire new knowledge. And in all honesty, I am not here for the end goal, but for the journey because that’s the real fun part. 😉

Now, why am I writing this? Because I don’t think we talk enough about this journey most of us embark on as we take on new professional roles. We all try our best to make it, prove ourselves and succeed and often forget to share that all of us, at one point or another, take a walk through the Valley of Despair before we start climbing the slope of enlightenment. In any case, if any of you reading this are currently struggling like Artax and Atreyu did in the Swamp of Sadness, don’t despair, it’s just a phase and it’s all part of the process. Enjoy the journey, because that’s the fun part!


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