Admit it. You’ve done this too.
Your boss hands you a task you have never done before, and your mind begins to race. ‘I have no clue how to do this. Why would they stick me with a job I can’t handle? How am I going to get this done?‘
These brief and unexpected moments of panic place us squarely at the crossroads of stagnation and development. You can easily tell your boss, “Sorry, I don’t know how to do that.” Or you can take the professional road less-traveled, trusting your instincts, current skillset and the belief that somehow you will get it done.
The second strategy sure is working for many 20-somethings on Capitol Hill as was made clear in a recent National Journal article from the publication’s “Hill People” issue, which includes data and profiles of high-level Congressional staffers.
Take, for instance, Katie Grant, a 28-year-old communications director for the House Minority Whip, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). Do you think Katie has that job – at that age – by shirking from new and potentially unnerving opportunities? No way.
To climb the ladder at any organization, we (young folk) have to be willing to step outside of what is comfortable and just go for it. There is no possible way we have the knowledge base in our 20s to do any and all tasks effortlessly. But the savvy among us know something just as valuable: your experience thus far combined with the ability to learn as you go will almost always lead to success.
Recently at my own job, I was handed a task that, at first, I thought I couldn’t do. My boss asked me to write a consulting “white paper” for a client. I didn’t know what a white paper was much less what goes into it. But my answer was simple: “Sure, I can handle that.”
After we finished our conversation, I went to work… learning about white papers and how to write them. I found some examples online and determined what mine should look like. Then I leaned on my writing and research skills to put it together. A week later, the job was finished, and I presented the white paper to my appreciative boss. Mission accomplished. At the jump, I kinda panicked. I really had no idea what to do. But once my nerves settled, I began to think strategically about how to tackle the project. I already had the necessary skills to write a white paper. I just needed to think it through, take my time and trust myself.
Our generation is smart, capable and unparalleled in our ability to learn quickly. You might even amaze yourself by taking on a project that once seemed scary and unfamiliar. Plus, you will impress your higher-ups, and the next time they will hopefully give you larger responsibilities (i.e. Katie Grant).
At our age, respect in the workplace is earned, and proving yourself to a superior is a great way to build a reputation. The only sure guarantee of failure?
Saying ‘No, I can’t’ right from the start.