Diving Into Scary New Things
Learning is done by doing. Preliminary research should be pursued only to the point it helps you start practicing or getting your hands on the wheel. Any research beyond that is procrastination.
For many of us, myself included, the natural inclination is to over-research new skill-acquisition efforts. But no amount of research will teach you an instrument, or a sport, or how to make films, or how to cook, or how to start a business. It can help you find the on-ramp, but you will not learn how to do it until you do it — over and over again.
So if you know at the outset you have an inclination for hesitating, delaying, or over-researching, then a great approach is to commit to a project in the not-too-distant future with a fixed date and a high cost or high difficulty to abandon.
Or don’t plan a project, just do it. Now. Start today.
Yes, this can be scary. I think of this as jumping off a cliff and building your airplane while in free-fall. That’s a strong incentive to build fast.
You could screw up. You WILL screw up. Do it anyway.
Get some screw ups under your belt, and then the next round of research will mean so much more.
There’s been a lot of talk about “impostor syndrome”, as if doing something you’re under-qualified for were a bad thing.
Seek things you’re under-qualified for, but where you have the desire and drive to persevere through the early struggles. How else do you get qualified? Don’t seek projects or positions or activities you’re qualified for, reach beyond your current state.
This can be exhilarating. It can be scary. And it can be painful.
But you will more quickly get to the point where the results fuel greater drive and passion and growth. Or you will learn how to pivot and change direction to a better path… sooner than you would otherwise.
In college I wanted to go into finance on Wall Street (I was such a lost and confused soul back then). So I got a summer internship at Merrill Lynch. In my first week I was assigned to fill in for the receptionist at the front desk, greeting visitors and being the phone operator for incoming calls. Easy, right? Well, you would not believe how many phone calls come in to a major business center like that. And as they flooded in, I (the new intern) had to slowly look up the extension for each person to transfer to, and by the time I passed off the first call eight more piled up in the queue. “Hello, Merrill Lynch, please hold” over and over and over again as I’m looking up each extension. Then the calls I had forwarded started bouncing back when the recipient was not there to pick up — and the caller would have the gall to ask me to page them. Seriously, now that? I was in the midst of a crisis situation.
So as I’m asking people to hold and looking up extensions and forwarding calls and paging and putting more on hold and transferring and forwarding and paging, I suddenly heard a soft voice overhead. It started gently, then got more aggressive. “Hello?” “Hello?”. It was not coming from my phone, but from the air around me. Oh shit, I had transferred a caller into the paging intercom. How was that even possible? The lost voice floating above, pleading “Hello? Is anyone there? Hello…”, louder and more angry. I watched the massive room across the office in horror as the people I hoped some day to work alongside, hundreds of them, puzzled, all trying to see where the voice was coming from. I wanted to crawl under my desk.
But that internship was invaluable, due to many instances ranging from disastrous to amazing. What I learned changed the direction of my life… as far away from Wall Street as I could possibly get. It saved me from a senior year of looking for a Wall Street position and the lurking catastrophe of landing one.
No book, no video, no conversation could have taught me anything close to what I learned from that experience.
I have found immense value from diving in early ever since. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been so comfortable changing careers as many times as I have — I learn quickly by getting into the action of doing it right away.
I launched a premium online course this past October. I had never done an online course, let alone one designed for life-transformation at a large scale. I had deep knowledge of the course material, but I did not know how to set up and operate the learning platform, or Zoom calls beyond a few people, or how to build an online community, or process credit card payments, or the Zappier automations making all of that work together.
I had started planning to do the course seven months earlier, yet by September none of these essential pieces were in place. This was taking much too long. So I set a launch date and announced it. I was committed, in pure free-fall. With my partner Jane, we had to build fast. If I had not posted a launch date a month out, it would have taken another six to nine months of careful, steady development.
We learned so much with that experience, the feedback was overwhelming with 94% giving it a 4 or 5 star rating out of 5, and twice as many 5 stars as 4 stars. Now armed with that knowledge, the second iteration is poised to be even better, and it will be launching about the same time as the first would have had I not pulled the trigger in October.
Whether the undertaking is big or small, take action early. Get your hands dirty. Mess up. Reflect. Rinse. Repeat.