Recently I was asked to lead a project that would have a positive impact on not just my team, but on other teams across my company. Because I have a hard time turning things down at work, I accepted the challenge without a second thought.
But there was one catch: I’d never led a project like this before. And frankly, it’d been a long time since I led a group of people toward a shared goal—and the last time I tried, it didn’t go particularly well.
I struggled throughout and as we made our way through the process, I thought I’d made a mistake in accepting the challenge. I kept thinking it would have been better for everyone if I had said, “Maybe next time.”
But then a funny thing happened—the project got done and I became an authority on something I previously knew nothing about. Even though it’s easy to believe you’ll fail when you say yes to doing something new, it’s just as easy to believe in yourself. (OK, almost as easy.)
If you need encouragement in the right direction, here are a few things I learned from taking a leap and saying “yes.”
1. You’ll Find Out That You Were More Qualified Than You Realized
Here’s the thing: Unless your boss is trying to get herself fired, she’s also under a lot of pressure to get things done. She has goals she has to hit and she can’t do it herself. As tempting as it would be to assume that she’s given you this assignment because there’s nobody else to do it, the truth is that your manager wouldn’t have trusted you with it if she didn’t actually think you could get it done.
I know that your impostor syndrome is making you say, “You’re not up for this and you don’t know anything.” But here’s the thing—the only person telling you that you’re unqualified is you. After all, your boss asked you because she thinks the exact opposite. It took me a few days to realize this, but when I did, I knew that the only person who was skeptical of my abilities was me.
2. You’ll Learn That Asking for Help Really Doesn’t Make You Look Dumb
The natural conclusion to taking an assignment you’re unfamiliar with is to keep all your questions to yourself. You want to prove that you can crush it, so you take it upon yourself to find every relevant resource out there that’ll help you become a subject matter expert in no time.
But what I ended up learning is that approach can actually make you look less qualified than simply asking for help.
It’s OK you don’t have all the answers. Your boss probably knows that’s the case. But he also trusts you to figure out the right people you should be leaning on for help. So don’t rely too heavily on your own skills (or Google), especially since you know you’re lacking some of the necessary experience to get this task done—and done well.
3. You’ll Realize It’s OK That the End Result’s Not Perfect
In terms of the project I was leading, I didn’t maintain the process we established at the onset perfectly. At times, I ran around like a madman because I had no idea how to resolve certain issues. And ultimately, while we completed it, there were plenty of things I wished had gone differently.
But the good news for me? Most of my “I wish I’d done this differently” thoughts didn’t matter to the end product. I turned in what was asked, even if it wasn’t exactly what I would’ve liked to submit.
In the likely scenario that your final result isn’t exactly what you hoped it would be, focus more on the lessons you’ve learned throughout the experience. Were there breakdowns in communication that you can resolve for the next time? Were there knowledge gaps that you currently have the answers to for future attempts?
Even if the project wasn’t executed perfectly, you’ll learn plenty of valuable lessons from the experience. In my case, I learned so much about a completely new area of the company’s business that I’ve now become the subject matter expert on it.
Hey, I get it. It’s easy for me to sit behind my computer and tell you to accept more assignments at work, even if your previous experience would suggest that you’ll fall on your face. But I’m a total scaredy cat about new challenges. And not only did the project get done, I learned a few things that will impact the rest of my career. So, if someone like me can survive this harrowing experience, I’m totally confident that you can too.
Photo of person thinking courtesy of jacoblund/Getty Images.
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.More from this Author